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A Few Fun Facts About Art Rooney

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Now's not the time for me to write a lengthy feature on Steelers founder Art Rooney, but I wanted to share a couple of nuggets I recently learned about him. Of course, some of you may be welll aware of every aspect of the Rooney family biography. If so, sorry, and of course fill us in with anything else you find interesting.

  • Mr. Rooney loved the race tracks. In 1933, he won a longshot parlay, then took his winnings to file the requisite $2,500 franchise fee for an organization in Pittsburgh
  • That big win at the tracks was no fluke apparently. A few years later in 1937, Rooney is rumored to have won $338,000 in a betting spree at the tracks. $338,000! In 1937! That's a RIDICULOUS streak of picking winners. Anyway, Rooney had already paid the necessary money to land the team, but having that cash flow at his disposal certainly must have helped him keep the team afloat during the leaner years of the Steelers' early existence.
  • Perhaps all that extra scratch is why Rooney was able to and decided to pay Byron "Whizzer" White $15,000 in 1938, an unheard of sum back then. Yes, that's the same Byron White that Byron White that maryrose had autograph his helmet.
  • "The Chief" would usually use a late-round draft pick on a local college athlete, be it one from Pitt, West Virginia, or Penn State. His intention was giving local fans and citizens a story to follow and be proud of. He allegedly shared a similar fondness for Notre Dame players due to his Irish Catholic upbringing. 
  • When he passed away in 1988, County Commissioner Tom Foerster had this to say about Rooney:

Normally, you introduce the mayor of any city as that city's number one citizen. But everyone knew Mr. Rooney was our number one citizen. I'm fully convinced he did more for this city than R.K. Mellon did for the business community and David Lawrence and any of the mayors who followed him, including Richard Caliguiri, did politically.

  • Stories of Rooney's acts of kindness are legendary - from his hand-written postcards and letters to players and their families to his treatment of every last member of the organization top to bottom. Stories of his toughness are less well known. One night in New York City sometime in the late 1920s, Rooney, and his fellow dining guests at the restaurant he was dining at, were disturbed by a belligerent, loud, and intoxicated guest. Rooney decided to sit down with the man for a few minutes, even buying him another couple of rounds to help quiet him in the interim. When he was sufficiently sauced up, Rooney did what others had been secretly wanting to do all evening: he gave the man a thorough beatdown.
  • Rooney would likely say that his family was never 'big-money- people, but the family's business interests now include the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Palm Beach Kennel Club, and the Yonkers Race Track in New York, to name a few.

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Just a few nuggets about the life of an incredible man who founded the team we all love so dearly.  Of course, a more comprehensive look about Art and the Rooney family can be found in Dan Rooney's latest book, My 75 Years With The Pittsburgh Steelers.