Top 100 Most Influential People In Steelers History: 2

It’s the final two. The two most influential people in the history of the Steelers. I don’t think there are any surprises here. Nobody will be surprised that they share the last name, that they both are members of the NFL Hall of Fame. In fact, the only possible surprise is who is number two, and who took the crown.

So let’s look at who is number two on the list.

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2 -Art Rooney

Owner 1933-1988

I think any Steelers fan worth their jersey knows who “The Chief” is without having to be told. He’s the founder, he’s the father of the franchise. He’s everybody’s grandpa. Arthur J. Rooney was more than just an owner of an NFL team, but that’s not what this is supposed to be about. Art Modell called him “the most popular sports figure in history”. Art Rooney, Jr says that

“My father always used to tell us boys, ‘Treat everybody the way you’d like to be treated. Give them the benefit of the doubt. But never let anyone mistake kindness for weakness.’”

Art Rooney had the unique ability to make you feel like you were the best part of his day, no matter who you were. He made you feel important.

“When he shook your hand, he put it in there and let you feel it. He didn’t put it in there and take it out. He didn’t talk to you and look away, not look you in the eye. He did that when through the community. His community” – Joe Greene

Here is a fact that tells you almost everything you need to know about The Chief. He lived his entire adult life in the same house on the Northside. Who does that? Especially someone who finds the success, affluence, and influence that Art Rooney did. He was the ultimate everyman and saw people for who they were. He didn’t judge based on superficial things but on a person’s character.

“Teams hire people to be human resource people, or player development people. Mr. Rooney did all that” – Dwight White

Rooney was well known for his ability to know every player by name. But it was more than just knowing their names. He knew their wives, kids or girlfriends names as well. He made it a point to understand what they were thinking about or what was impacting them. That was Art Rooney.

If you want a better sense of who Art Rooney was, watch the play “The Chief” which is available on DVD. Tom Atkins plays the lead role, and has said this about researching Art Rooney:

“There’s nothing bad about him. There was nothing. He was just wonderful. He was the sweetest, most gentle old guy that ever graced the streets of the Northside of Pittsburgh, or this country for that matter.”

The stories about Art Rooney are so numerous that it’s almost impossible to gather them all in one place. The play does a decent job of retelling the most memorable such as:

  • How Rooney missed the “Immaculate Reception” because he was convinced the team had lost and was on his way down to the locker room.
  • How he funded the team from 1936-1941 with a huge payday at the Saratoga Race Course.
  • How he “from time to time” helped to fund the Negro League baseball team the “Homestead Grays”.

That is just the smallest of samplings. There are so many more, and so much more that could be said about Art Rooney. It’s really hard to have him as the second most influential person to the Steelers, there is so much that speaks to him being number 1. He founded the team for goodness sakes – how much more influential can you get.

Still, when I finished the final draft of the list, this is where he landed, and I can’t really talk myself out of the guy who took the top spot. Art would probably agree.


The picture above is maybe my favorite of all time of my daughter. She always wants to visit the Chief’s statue whenever we got to a game, and this was the first time. It just speaks to me about Art Rooney, that even this statue just feels welcoming enough that a child would feel comfortable climbing up and sitting in his lap.

People say that the measure of a man and his impact on the world around him can be attested by how well his funeral is attended. When Art Rooney passed away, his funeral was televised live on all three television stations in Pittsburgh. His wake was essentially attended by the entire city. That in and of itself speaks to his impact on Pittsburgh.

He was a good man. He was a great man.

You can argue that he made a lot of mistakes with the team early on, but I can tell you that he made the best decision of all for the team when he put his son Dan in charge.

And that’s where we will end this one. With only one name left to discuss.

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