On Thursday, the National Football League lost a pillar of its fabric with the passing of Pittsburgh Steelers chairman Dan Rooney. Rooney was 84 years old.
The average American will change jobs a dozen times in his or her lifetime before settling into retirement. Dan Rooney stayed in the same occupation from 1955 until his death, 62 years later.
Rooney was one of the last bastions of NFL men who treat their franchise as more passion than business. It isn’t surprising, considering his father, Art, was known around Pittsburgh for walking around tough neighborhoods and handing out dollar bills to the less fortunate.
If the measure of a man is the legacy he leaves behind, Rooney stands almost unparalleled. He was the driving force behind a league rule introduced in 2003 that states a team seeking a head coach must interview at least one minority candidate. It’s now known simply as The Rooney Rule. In 2009, President Barack Obama named Rooney the country’s ambassador to Ireland, a post he held for more than three years. He also resides in the Pro Football Hall of Fame and earned six Super Bowl championships with the Steelers.
As remembered by Peter King of The MMQB, Rooney was notorious for his steadfast defense of the common fan. With NFL prices in realms ranging from parking lot and box office to merchandise and concessions, Rooney always believed in making sure the 9-5 worker could grab a few seats and take the kids on a cool October day, even if it meant rankling fellow owners who wanted to line their green pockets.
Working as his father’s top personnel man in the 1960s, Rooney turned around a moribund franchise that had never reached the postseason. He oversaw the hiring of Chuck Noll and was instrumental in the greatest draft class of all-time, landing Lynn Swann, John Stallworth, Jack Lambert and Mike Webster — four Hall of Famers — in 1974. That season would begin a dynasty that saw four titles in six seasons, a feat never duplicated in the Super Bowl era.
But Rooney’s legacy is much more than championships and draft classes. His life meant more not because of rings and finances but a genuine feeling of love left behind. All one has to do is look at the outpouring of emotion toward Rooney after his death. There was the Instagram post from Antonio Brown, who says his No. 84 will be worn this season in dedication of each year Rooney lived. There were statements made by current and former commissioners Roger Goodell and Paul Tagliabue.
In the end, Rooney’s influence and deeds live on. His Steelers are in good hands, owned by Dan’s son, Art Rooney II. Most importantly, Rooney can rest well for eternity, forever receiving the same emotion he gave to so many throughout his life; love.
Top 12 wide receivers of all-time
1. Jerry Rice, San Francisco 49ers
2. Randy Moss, Minnesota Vikings
3. Lance Alworth, San Diego Chargers
4. Cris Carter, Minnesota Vikings
5. Larry Fitzgerald, Arizona Cardinals
6. Terrell Owens, San Francisco 49ers
7. Don Hutson, Green Bay Packers
8. Andre Johnson, Houston Texans
9. Steve Largent, Seattle Seahawks
10. Tim Brown, Oakland Raiders
11. Don Maynard, New York Jets
12. Calvin Johnson, Detroit Lions
"“I’m not surprised,” he said. “I think at this point and time in his career, I think he’s looking for something that’s suitable for his skill set. I think he needs multiple weapons and more importantly, he just needs a new start.”"
– Former NFL safety Antrel Rolle, talking about quarterback free agent Jay Cutler on NFL Network
Cutler was released earlier this offseason by the Bears, and remains on the market. He’s likely going to be there into training camp, where injuries have a way of sorting these things out. While needs for each team will change following the draft, a few fits for Cutler include the Cardinals, Texans and Redskins.
The veteran would have the inside track at starting in Houston, while a backup role could turn into a starting spot should Carson Palmer struggle. While Kirk Cousins remains in Washington on the franchise tag, a long-term deal seems unlikely. The front office might be more comfortable trading him if Cutler is in town.
The Baltimore Ravens are a model of consistency. Since 1999, the franchise has not suffered consecutive losing seasons, while winning two Super Bowls.
Info learned this week
1. NFL schedule unveiled on Thursday
While we already know the matchups and where they will be played, we are about to find out dates and times for all 32 clubs. A week prior to the draft, the league will announce which games are played on Sunday and Monday nights, along with the infamous Thursday night lineup.
Perhaps the most intriguing contest is the first. Will the Patriots open at home on that initial Thursday against the Falcons in a Super Bowl rematch? If not, it appears certain New England will welcome in Kansas City, a game that could be an AFC Championship preview.
2. Giants facing potential problem with Eli Manning
Manning has never missed a start in his career since taking the starting job midway through his rookie season. That streak could be in serious jeopardy. Manning has been named in a lawsuit involving game-used sports memorabilia, according to the New York Post.
In an email sent by Manning in April 2010, the two-time Super Bowl champion asked his equipment manager for “two helmets that could pass as game used.” This would be a major no-no and constitute as fraud. Don’t look for Manning to face legal action, but the league could take disciplinary action if it believes the Giants’ quarterback was in the wrong.
3. Lions reveal new uniforms
The Lions went with some new duds on Thursday, and the result is slick. Detroit changed the stripe on the helmet and went with a more streamlined blue home uniform. The numbers are stronger, the design is simplistic and the William Clay Ford initials remain (moving from chest to sleeve, a la George Halas on the Bears).
Detroit also brought throwbacks into the equation, going back to the Bobby Layne days. Very well done. Come to think of it, a few other teams should follow suit with a new look. The Bills and Dolphins should go back to their 1960s looks, while the Jaguars would be well-advised to get rid of that busy disaster they wear. Also, and admittedly this may be an unpopular opinion, give me the Tom Jackson look for the Broncos. Loved those helmets.
Lastly, do the right thing, Tampa. Put Bucco Bruce back with the Buccaneers.
4. Carolina looking to reload
The Panthers went through a brutal 6-10 campaign last year, and now face the task of getting back to their Super Bowl form of 2015. Carolina has the goods on paper, ranging from Cam Newton and Kelvin Benjamin to Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis. Now, with the eighth-overall selection, Carolina has a tough choice.
Does general manager David Gettleman go with a defensive star — perhaps a replacement for Josh Norman — in the first, or does he help Newton with the addition of Leonard Fournette. The LSU product would be a perfect fit for the Panthers, identifying with their run-first mentality.
If Fournette doesn’t go to the Panthers, look for a fellow NFC South team to strongly consider him. The New Orleans Saints pick 11th, and Fournette both fills a need and is in their backyard. Fans would love the selection.
5. Bengals have HELP WANTED sign in window
Cincinnati made the playoffs in five consecutive years before faltering in 2016. The Bengals didn’t give head coach Marvin Lewis a contract past this season, and if Lewis wants a chance of sticking around, this draft is crucial.
Cincinnati drafts ninth-overall and has a bevy of needs. The franchise allowed Kevin Zeitler and Andrew Whitworth to leave in free agency, while failing to fill any holes. The Bengals can’t afford to slide backwards too far, so getting an immediate-impact player is a must. They would be wise to consider Reuben Foster if he’s available.
Not every team takes care of business with home-field advantage in the postseason. The Dallas Cowboys have played in AT&T Stadium since 2009, and have the same amount of postseason wins there (two) as the Green Bay Packers.
The Kansas City Chiefs have played at Arrowhead Stadium since 1972. In that span, they also have a lackluster two postseason victories at home (1991,1993). The Indianapolis Colts match that amount (1995,2003).
The Cleveland Browns and Tennessee Titans control the upcoming draft. Each could improve rapidly with two selections apiece in the top 18 overall picks, courtesy of move-down trades last year. Cleveland got a bevy of picks from the Eagles, who moved up to take Carson Wentz, while the Titans received multiple choices from the Rams, who selected Jared Goff.
Cleveland has the first and 12th-overall picks. After taking Myles Garrett, the drama builds. Will the Browns go with a defensive star at No. 12, or do they nab a quarterback and hope he’s the future. Tennessee could go a litany of directions at Nos. 5 and 19. The Titans have to address their secondary, and likely will with their first pick. After that, it could be a receiver or piece to the front seven.
Don’t be shocked if Tennessee is in the playoffs and causing trouble nine months from now. The Titans have a power running game to go with Marcus Mariota, who continues to rehab from a broken leg.
The rest of the draft board is at the mercy of these two teams. Tennessee and Cleveland control 20 percent of the first 20 picks. If the Browns and Titans go rogue and make surprise moves (including trades), every mock draft in America will be in tatters quickly.