Honoring A Bucs Godfather

April 14th, 2017


Among his many accomplishments, Dan Rooney was one of the founding fathers of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

From his office in Pittsburgh, 1,000 miles away from the old Sombrero on Dale Mabry, Rooney played a critical role in the birth of the Bucs.

In 1973, Rooney was named head of the NFL’s Expansion Committee. A year later, Tampa Bay was awarded the league’s 27th franchise.

“I was chairman of the Tampa Bay committee to get an NFL franchise and Dan and I talked a lot,”  Bay area civic activist Leonard Levy told JoeBucsFan.com. “Mr. Rooney was a great guy and he was always straight with me. I quickly realized he was a man of his word.”

Rooney, who died Thursday at the age of 84, was a man of character and immense influence. With Levy and former Tampa Tribune sports editor Tom McEwen lobbying him relentlessly, he became sold on the Bay area as an emerging sports market.

And when the community pursued the 1984 Super Bowl, it was Rooney who again sold fellow owners on the notion that Tampa Bay was up to the task.

“When we were going for our first Super Bowl, I remember Dan telling me we didn’t have enough hotels, restaurants or limos,” Levy said with a laugh. “Then he thought about it and said, ‘You guys have delivered on all your promises — I guess there’s no reason to doubt you now.’ “

Family First

So many sports owners talk about establishing a family atmosphere, but few actually back up all the chatter. Ed DeBartolo, who lives in Tampa, generated those familial feelings in San Francisco in the early ’80s.

Like DeBartolo, Rooney has a bust in Canton. Before DeBartolo even entered the league, Rooney was carrying on a grand tradition in Pittsburgh. The Steelers responded with four championships within a six-year span under Chuck Noll in the 1970s.

At the owners meetings in Phoenix last month, I asked Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin if he feels blessed to be with such a stable franchise.

“I feel blessed to work in Pittsburgh, to live in Pittsburgh and to work for the Steelers,” said Tomlin, the former Bucs assistant who won a Super Bowl in only his second year on the sidelines. “I feel that every day. But I also understand my charge, and my charge is to win games, and win games in the right way. So it’s not something that I seek great comfort in. I understand what makes the wheels turn. And I want to do my part.”

Rooney’s passing truly marks the end of an era in pro football. He was the last of a breed, the final link in a chain of owners that always put the needs of the NFL brand ahead of individual interests.

“I’ve been asked why I spend so much time on league matters, that you should take care of your own,” Rooney said. “I always said we’re part of the NFL. By helping them, we’re helping ourselves.”

More Money, Less Class

Through the Rooney Rule, he was a key figure in helping the NFL promote diversity in its coaching ranks, an initiative that still has a ways to go. He was a voice of reason during two work stoppages that occurred on Pete Rozelle’s watch.

While Bucs owner Hugh Culverhouse was foolishly pushing for replacement players in 1987, Rooney stayed in close contact with the real Steelers, knowing they would soon be back on the field representing a proud franchise.

The Glazers had a lot of respect for the way Rooney conducted his business, but there was one issue that caused some friction. Rooney wasn’t on board with Malcolm Glazer’s decision to purchase Manchester United in 2005.

“I’m in the football business and I believe our principal sport should be the NFL,” Rooney said. “Is Malcolm Glazer going to give full-time attention to operating the Buccaneers? That’s the issue. You ask am I concerned? Yes.”

Rooney was an NFL man down to his core, and now the league has been turned over to Jerry Jones, Bob Kraft and Dan Snyder.

In other words, more money, less class.

“Dan Rooney was unique in so many ways,” Levy said. “For him, the Steelers truly were family. When I heard the news of his passing, I told my wife, ‘I can’t believe the guy’s gone.’ I had a lot of good relationships with so many of those owners — and now they’re all gone.”

8 Responses to “Honoring A Bucs Godfather”

  1. Chris@Apple Roof Cleaning Tampa Says:

    Thanks for the history lesson Ira.
    Few remember the efforts of Tom McEwen to get a team here in Tampa.
    Hell, some don’t even remember the Tampa Tribune 🙁

  2. d-roca Says:

    RIP Mr Rooney. Thank you for the Bucs! Too bad someone had to change the uniforms but we go on. Go bucs

  3. Buccfan37 Says:

    I like the Rooney family also. After so many years of despair prior to those 70’s SB’s the Steelers have become one of the best teams in the NFL. The Bucs and their fans can only wait for that level of consistency.

  4. David Alfonso Says:

    Well told, Mr. Kaufman. I’m guessing Tom and good wife Linda had Mr. Rooney and whomever over for cocktails more than once. Culverhouse was a cheap pig, but even that was overcome.

  5. David Alfonso Says:

    But of course Mr. Culverhouse wasn’t discussed among the brotherhood. Like they said, “He always made money for his partners.”

  6. Bob Higginbotham Says:

    Very interesting article Ira! The history that you know and told made a big difference in my knowledge of the Bucs,Dan Rooney, and the NFL.

  7. Pickgrin Says:

    Good article Irv.

    Rooney had a right to be concerned about the Glazer’s purchase of Man U. It seems to have worked out in the end – but the decade of despair here in Tampa Bay following our Super Bowl win is pretty directly attributable to that purchase. We had the lowest payroll in the entire NFL for 8 straight years and the Bucaneers sucked pretty much that whole time as a fairly direct result.

  8. Pa Privateer Says:

    I live in Steeler Country about 1.5 hours North of Pittsburgh. Mr. Rooney is not only a legend and god to the Steeler fans, but a father and grandfather figure to everyone. Every person here in Steeler country would give him the shirt off their back. The man does not ask for any respect but it is given.

    It does not matter what topic of Steeler football is being discussed in a conversation. Every couple minutes “Mr. Rooney” is always mentioned. The man drove a Buick to work everyday for Pete’s sake. The working man loved Mr. Rooney. Children, pets, buildings, roads, schools and so many more things were named after hime.

    The biggest things that Mr. Rooney created were two fold.

    1. He created an atmosphere of winning.
    2. He created an atmosphere with the expectation to win every week.

    The Steeler fans do not expect to win every week necessarily, they simply believe they will win every game and win the Super Bowl every year. Bucs fans only talk about winning or the possibility of winning each week. In Steeler Country, fans only talk about destroying the opposition. When the patriots come to town, Steeler fans talk about destroying Tom Brady. There is no possibility of it. The fans believe it will happen.

    Mr. Rooney also did another thing that people never will forget. He talked “with” everyone he met and he met a lot of people every day. He was the kind of man who lifted up everyone he met. People always walked away from a Mr. Rooney conversation believing they could work harder in life or make a difference. Here is Steeler Country fans have had many a difficult times and yet Mr. Rooney is always there to calm people and get them to work even harder when they are losing something.

    Not to change the theme of this post, but the rest of the Rooney family is not as dedicated to the Steelers or the Steeler fans like Mr. Rooney. It will be interesting to see which family member becomes a figurehead and visual presence in the everyday operations of the Steelers.

    RIP Mr. Rooney.