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News » Curtain closes on Rooney's dignified career

Curtain closes on Rooney's dignified career

Curtain closes on Rooney's dignified career

Dana Point, Calif. - An NFL era came to an end very quietly last week when Dan Rooney said his goodbyes to fellow owners and league personnel behind closed doors.

Rooney isn't exactly walking off into the sunset. He has been nominated by President Barack Obama as U.S. ambassador to Ireland. The full-time job - if confirmed by majority vote in the U.S. Senate - requires a move to Dublin, Ireland.

Rooney has to place his newly restructured ownership of the Pittsburgh Steelers into a trust and resign from all boards and committees. That means effectively ending all association with the NFL. He has been a part of it for 71 of his 76 years on Earth - starting as a Steelers ball boy in 1937.

Nobody in the NFL has a continuous link to the sport nearly as long as Rooney's.

"For me, it was emotional," Cincinnati Bengals owner Mike Brown said of Rooney's low-key farewell. "I find it hard to internalize he's going off. As long as I can remember, he's been a very important contributor and it's coming to an end.

"Everything does, but it's difficult sometimes when that happens."

Rooney has been the conscience and voice of reason within the league during every one of the NFL's crises during his era. He was particularly effective in labor relations. His departure comes at a critical time with labor strife looming after this season.

Commissioner Roger Goodell sounded like a coach losing a star player when he tried to downplay Rooney's departure.

"This is not to underestimate the role [Rooney] played," Goodell said. "It's just like Football. Change occurs. We have different players. We have different owners. We come together at the right time.

"Dan Rooney will have [son] Art Rooney running the franchise. Art Rooney is an extremely capable guy who brings the same kind of knowledge and understanding of our league and will be a tremendous force. I wouldn't underestimate the ownership and their ability to come together and do what's right for the game."

Marc Ganis, president of sports business consulting firm SportsCorp Ltd., said the NFL will miss Rooney greatly.

"He reminds people of what the NFL is about," Ganis said. "Dan is a generational person. You cannot have a guy like Dan Rooney in the organization and not miss him."

In my 25 years covering the NFL, the only issue I can think of that passed without Rooney's blessing was the move of Art Modell's team in 1996. Rooney and Buffalo's Ralph Wilson were the only owners to vote against it.

Everything else - the election of new commissioners, instant replay, the two-point conversion, expansion, realignment, and so on - only passed with Rooney in favor of it.

"It wasn't so much his power," Ganis said. "If he was for or against something, it caused everyone to rethink their position. When you have a controversial decision, it is an enormous thing to have someone in the room who is impartial, unbiased and so respected."

Although Rooney's Steelers teams currently dominate the Browns, he was around long enough to remember when the rivalry tilted just as one-sidedly in favor of Cleveland. Rooney never for a moment lost his appreciation of the rivalry. The day he realized that the NFL could not stop Modell from moving to Baltimore, he cried.

He has attended more Browns-Steelers games than any person alive.

"He'll be back for those," his son, Art, promised.

Browns draft: In separate interviews, GM George Kokinis and coach Eric Mangini were asked their philosophy on the draft, whether they favor taking the best player available or choosing according to need.

Kokinis: "To me, I always look at the best player, but certainly if it's in the top couple rounds, we need to get him on the field so, hopefully, it's a little bit of a combination. We're going to try to go for the best player available. If you look at the roster, we added some veterans, had some youth, so I don't think if it's a huge need or not it's going to be anything that hinders us from taking a position."

Mangini: "What we're trying to do is go into the draft with the ability to take any player that you'd like to."

More or less: The only things that could derail an expansion of the NFL season to 17 or 18 games are problems with the players union or broadcast partners.

But approval from them is almost a foregone conclusion. More games for TV means more revenue, which means more money for players, too.

The hardships of a longer season fall on the coaches, who have to reassess everything in the off-season to navigate a season of one or two additional games. The injury factor will be greater than it is now.

"All of the off-season is going to have to be reconsidered," Goodell said.

Owners may vote as soon as May on two plans - one for 17 games and one for 18 games. Either may include an increase in roster size and also in bye weeks. The conclusion of the expanded season would not be reached until the middle of February.

Another part of the plan is to create a player development league or a satellite league that would keep developmental players active during the NFL season.

Browns ex-files: New Tampa Bay coach Raheem Morris on tight end Kellen Winslow:

"I've always liked the kid, coming out of Miami. Everybody gave him a big-time rap when he called himself a soldier. Obviously it was bad timing, but I understood what he was saying. He played healthy the last two years. He had a staph infection, but that can happen to us all. You see him move around, you see him practice and you steal his coach from the Browns [Alfredo Roberts] and you feel pretty good about it."

Philadelphia coach Andy Reid on safety Sean Jones:

"If [his one-year deal] works out and he plays well, it's a win-win for him. He either ends up coming back with us or he's able to get a nice contract somewhere else. Sean's a big kid that can run. He's healthy and his weight is down [five pounds] to 215. Putting him down close to the line of scrimmage does not hurt you at all. At the same time, as long as he keeps his weight right he can run very well, too. I'll open up [the safety competition] and let them go."

To reach this Plain Dealer reporter: tgrossi@plaind.com, 216-999-4670

Author:Fox Sports
Author's Website:http://www.foxsports.com
Added: March 31, 2009

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