Former Steelers talk about The Chief


On the anniversary of Art Rooney Sr.’s birthday, some stories about The Chief from former Steelers players:

Brady Keys:And nothing but good memories of Pittsburgh and the Steelers. The last day I cried was when Mr. Rooney died. I haven’t cried since. I would not be who I am without him. The town and country were not ready for me – a Black man who wanted to run a business and play football. But he was.”

Tony Dungy: “The first thing was from Art Rooney – how you have to trust your players and coaching staff. To treat them like family and understand your impact on fans too. He told me the team will support you through all kinds of weather. But you can’t just take it in. You have to give back. Art wanted you to be someone who gave back to the community as a player.”

John Jackson: “I met Art Rooney Sr. when the draft picks came in. It was an unbelievable experience sitting down and having dinner with him. He knew who everyone was – he picked them himself. And he was sharp as a tack.

I was really impressed that he knew who I was. We talked about horses – he knew I was from Kentucky I guess. I wasn’t a big horse fan like the Chief though – he was naming horses and was just a lot more knowledgeable than me. It was a really good experience.”

Babe Parilli: “The Rooneys were the best. I remember the old man – he used to being cigars into my office and we’d smoke them together. Chuck couldn’t stand the smoke. I got Bradshaw to smoke the cigars too and we’d all sit in the quarterback meetings smoking them. I asked Chuck if the smoke was bothering him. His eyes would be watering but he said no – he knew Rooney brought us the cigars. But he went out and got a big fan and put it in the room to blow away the smoke!”

Jason Gildon: “ To have an organization like the Steelers and to be able to take part in their success. There’s a reason for that. It starts with Mr. Rooney and his approach. It really is a close-knit organization from the top to the equipment managers. You can’t see it from the outside but it’s a vital part of the success and the reason why the team is continually on the top year in and year out.”

Dick Haley: “After the wilder players I played with in the 60’s, the Rooneys wanted reliable players. One thing kept coming through. They didn’t care how big or fast the players were – they wanted to know how good the players were. Don’t tell me about stats.”

Riley Gunnels: “Everyone who knew Mr. Art Rooney Sr. respected him greatly. You will never hear a negative word from any player about the Chief. He treated all of us the same, like we were family.’

Calvin Sweeney: “When Art Rooney Sr. brought the four of us top picks in to meet the press and coaches. He came up to me and asked me my name. I told him “Calvin”. He said “Calvin? That’s not a good Irish name. I’ll call you Mikey.”

And he never called me Calvin again. He’d come up to me in practice and say “Hey Mikey – how are you doing?” (laughing).”

Frankie Pollard: “I remember after my second season, I just finished packing up my car and was leaving my apartment when I got a phone call from The Chief. He told me about how good he thought my second season was and said that he wanted me to go see his son before I left. Well, I thought he was going to release me. What else could it have been?

Well, I went to Mr. Rooney – and he said he appreciated my effort and that it was a good year for me. That’s the difference with the Steelers – a big difference, to show that kind of appreciation.”

Jim Bradshaw “Mr. Rooney said to me, “Jimmy, you had a pretty good rookie year. You said your contract was for $9,500 – $500 as a bonus. But if you read the contract, it was for $9,000 – the $500 wasn’t a bonus – it was an advance on your salary. If you didn’t make the team, you would have owed us $500!” He and Fran nearly fell of f their chairs they were laughing so hard (laughing).”

Jimmy Orr: “The Chief was great. I remember running into him in the lobby when I worked in Atlantic City. I comped him a room. He later sent me a thank you letter for the room and for playing for the Steelers. He was a great man.”

Donnie Shell: “I observed the Rooney family having a great faith in God and always helping in the Pittsburgh community. Many of the Steeler players had a similar faith in God and enjoyed assisting people in the community as well. The Rooney family is a great role model for the players, their families and the NFL.”

Craig Dunaway: “I remember learning from Ralph Berlin what a great man Mr. Rooney (Art, Sr.) was. Not that I couldn’t tell on my own, but seeing the respect people like Ralph had for him told me a lot.”

Dave Smith: “In fact I went back in 1981 to camp with some guys from Dupont to show them a practice. I starting talking with the Chief and he said “Dave, you were never a bad fellow. You were just ahead of your time.” He was exactly right.”

Jimmy Orr: “The Chief was great. I remember running into him in the lobby when I worked in Atlantic City. I comped him a room. He later sent me a thank you letter for the room and for playing for the Steelers. He was a great man.”

Read more by former Steelers via the book Steelers Takeaways: Player Memories Through the Decades To order, just click on the book:

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