The 71-year-old Rooney is the most recent of 17 Steelers selected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, joining his father, Steelers founder Arthur J. Rooney Sr. The Rooney's are only the second father-son tandem in the Hall of Fame.
"It was a special feeling and honor to join him," Rooney said of his father. "But to go in there with so many of the people I was fortunate enough to meet ... George Halas, who started the National Football League, the commissioners, (Bert) Bell, Pete Rozelle was a friend of mine, (George Preston) Marshall, the Maras (Tim and Wellington), (Charles W.) Bidwell ... I had the opportunity to see them all and talk to them and hear what they had to say. I had humorous times, tough times, things like that."
Rooney began working for the organization right after he came out of Duquesne University in 1955, and he remembers the first time he spoke up at a league meeting. He was quickly put in his place.
"I remember it was [someone from] Detroit and I got really mad," he said. "I got up and said something. I was really nervous. It was really the first time I'd said anything and this guy said, 'You don't know what you're talking about. You're just a young kid'."
Rooney wasn't deterred, "I think when I say something right now, they at least listen," He recently celebrated his 71st birthday and remains a hands-on owner.
Rooney's first big decision with the Steelers was accepting the resignation of Buddy Parker after the 1964 season. The most successful coach in team history, to that point, had gone 46-39-6 from 1957-63, but went 5-9 in his final season.
"He did not believe in playing rookies," Rooney said. "We'd make trades and get all these players who had one year left. It worked a little bit in the beginning, but it wasn't working anymore. But that was still his philosophy."
When Parker wanted to trade rookie Ben McGee, Rooney said no. Parker offered his resignation - something he did quite frequently - and Rooney accepted.
Rooney hired Chuck Noll in 1969 and the rest is history. Since then the Steelers have won fifteen division championships, five conference championships, and four Super Bowls.
Rooney reflected on his time with the Steelers, "I still like to call it a Mom and Pop Shop," Rooney said. "But it is a different business."
"Just being with the Steelers and seeing the players that we had from the beginning until now ... You young guys think the team started in 1970. There were some great players in the early days, and some great people."
"I really say that I got to the Hall of Fame through the fans, the players, the coaches and my father. That really makes it special. I really feel that I, hopefully, represent them in this whole thing."
Rooney feels that his accomplishments on the NFL labor front are a crowning achievement.
"My contribution to the labor situation," he said, "was in the regard that I have great respect for players, and some people don't have that. I think they caught that rather quickly, Gene Upshaw and his people. They gained a little bit of confidence in me."
"My father used to chide me about spending too much time with the league," he said. "But through the years, he always talked about the league and how important it was and how important it was for the Steelers."
Rooney has been a mainstay of the NFL's operations over the past 20 years; he's served on the board of directors for NFL Trust Fund, NFL Films and the Scheduling Committee. In 1973 he was appointed Chairman of the League's Expansion Committee that added Seattle and Tampa Bay.
In 1976, he was named Chairman of the Negotiating Committee, and in 1982 he contributed to the negotiations for the Collective Bargaining Agreement for NFL owners and the Players Association. He again played a key role in the labor agreement reached in 1993 between the NFL owners and players.
Rooney's currently a member of the eight-person Management Council Executive Committee, the Hall of Fame Committee, the NFL Properties Executive Committee and the Player/Club Operations Committee.
Part 2 will be published Sunday