PITTSBURGH --- Dan Rooney turned 75 this year, and the Pittsburgh Steelers are playing their 75th season.
Good thing Steelers founder Art Rooney Sr.'s first son came along at nearly the same time the elder Rooney was buying his football team, because neither Dan Rooney nor the franchise would have seemed the same without the other.
Dan Rooney, the son of an NFL pioneer and a Pro Football Hall of Famer like his dad, considers himself the last link to the league's early days when college football was king and pro football was an afterthought.
The Steelers weren't one of the NFL's original franchises in the early 1920s, but they've been a member since 1933, when Portsmouth, Ohio, still had an NFL team. Dan Rooney was barely out of diapers when he first met NFL trailblazers such as George Halas, George Preston Marshall, Curley Lambeau and Wellington Mara, and he became friends with all of them. "I really consider myself the last man standing," said Rooney, whose Steelers celebrated their 75th season with ceremonies during Monday night's game against Baltimore. "Obviously I wasn't there in 1920, but I knew the people that were. I was able to talk to them and experience them."
Rooney officially took over the Steelers' front office in 1975, but, in reality, he had been in charge since 1965. His son, Art II, is now Steelers president, but Dan is the chairman and remains heavily involved in league affairs.
Rooney helped reshape the league when he and his father agreed to move the Steelers from what now is the NFC, composed mostly of pre-1967 NFL members, into the newly formed AFC, made up mostly of former AFL clubs. Cleveland and the then-Baltimore Colts also went along.
"I was for giving it no thought. We fought with those guys (the AFL) for years," said Rooney, whose thinking was swayed by his father and Rozelle.
Among his memories, which began during his days as a Steelers' water boy in the early 1940s, was the time when he was 6 years old and his father sent him to break into a Bears team meeting and ask Halas to take it easy on the Steelers.