Having long been one of the most influential and popular executives in the NFL, Rooney took over the team from his father, Art Rooney, in the 1960s and led them to multiple playoffs and four Super Bowl championships.
“Few men have contributed as much to the National Football League as Dan Rooney,” commissioner Roger Goodell said in a statement obtained by ESPN. “A member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, he was one of the finest men in the history of our game and it was a privilege to work alongside him for so many years.
“Dan’s dedication to the game, to the players and coaches, to his beloved Pittsburgh, and to Steelers fans everywhere was unparalleled. He was a role model and trusted colleague to commissioners since Bert Bell, countless NFL owners, and so many others in and out of the NFL.”
Goodell went on to call Rooney “a voice of reason on a wide range of topics, including diversity and labor relations, Dan always had the league’s best interests at heart.
“For my part, Dan’s friendship and counsel were both inspiring and irreplaceable. My heart goes out to Patricia, Art, and the entire Rooney family on the loss of this extraordinary man.”
Former president Barack Obama offered his own personal tribute, “Dan Rooney was a great friend of mine, but more importantly, he was a great friend to the people of Pittsburgh, a model citizen, and someone who represented the United States with dignity and grace on the world stage,” Obama said, WTAE in Pittsburgh reported. “I knew he’d do a wonderful job when I named him as our United States Ambassador to Ireland, but naturally, he surpassed my high expectations, and I know the people of Ireland think fondly of him today.”
Even rival teams honored Rooney and shared their favorite memories of him.
“I am deeply saddened to hear the news regarding Dan Rooney,” New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft said in a statement, according to MassLive.com. “When I first entered the NFL, Dan and his family were so gracious to me and my family. They provided guidance on how to build a winning organization, both on and off the field. As important as winning was to Dan, he never lost sight of the importance of giving back to his community.”
Pittsburgh’s longtime starting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger tweeted: “Today we lost a great one! I wouldn’t be a Steeler if it wasn’t for Mr Rooney! We will miss you dearly! Love you DMR!”
Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown also paid tribute to his former chairman in a moving Instagram post Thursday.
“When we first met in 2010 you embraced me with open arms. You made me feel welcome. You looked at me as more than just another jersey number,” he wrote. “One of the most genuine, and humble human beings I’ve had the pleasure of knowing.”
Born into a historic NFL family, Rooney played football for North Catholic High School and was named to the 1949 all-Catholic League second team — before losing the first team spot to QB (and future Steeler) Johnny Unitas.
He began working for his father in 1955 and took over as president of the Steelers in 1975. In 2003, he handed the reins to his own son, Art Rooney II. Dan was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2000.
He is also credited for increasing diversity in the NFL.
The “Rooney Rule,” created in 2003, required teams to interview minorities for head coaching vacancies and senior football operations jobs. The rule was expanded in 2016 to include women for executive openings.