Dan Rooney Talks About 1,000th Game &Team History

As the son of team founder Art Rooney Steelers' chairman Dan Rooney has seen everything there is to see in the team's rich history.<br><br> Here's an interview with him regarding the team's 1,000 game, which will be played Sunday against the Rams, and Rooney's vision of the future of the NFL.

Q: Is this unique?

DR: Yeah, I think it's very unique. Let's put it this way, they had down there that we would be the seventh, but Detroit didn't start until 1934. They wouldn't be there until next year, I can assume. I think we're the fifth team.

Q: What's the secret to being able to stay in business this long?

DR: We had a commitment to stay here and a commitment to be in the business. My father was very much interested in the sport. He didn't make any money from 1933 until 1946 when the war ended and everybody had a lot of money. We had a good team. That's when Jock Sutherland was our head coach. We went on in 1947 to be in the playoffs.

Q: The team made no profit in those years?

DR: No profit at all. Not a dime.

Q: How'd you stay afloat?

DR: We didn't lose much. That's comparatively. It was starting to be a drain, I'll say that. But then the war came and obviously you were trying to do what you could. We combined with the Eagles and Cardinals. We did a lot of things like that. You did what you could. Then in the '50s, we had good teams. We had good teams pretty much in every decade. The 1936 team was good. The 1941 and '42 teams, then the '46 and 1947 teams were excellent teams. Then in the '50s, in 1954 and 1955 we had good teams when Jim Finks was our quarterback. They didn't have a lot of reserves in those days, so when you got hurt, you were in trouble. It's not like now where you're chasing players around. In the '60s, Buddy Parker had become our head coach at the end of the '50s, and he was a good coach and we had pretty good teams. They were interesting years. We started to develop some good players in the '60s. Rocky Bleier and Andy Russell are two you would recognize. Then of course the '70s came and those were brilliant years. And then we have the '80s, '90s and now. It's been a good thing. We may have struggled at times, but it was always fun.

Q: Did your dad foresee this league becoming what it has?

DR: No. Not as big as it is, not what it's become. I don't think anyone did.

Q: What would he say if he saw some of the things they do today?

DR: There would be a lot of things he wouldn't think were right. Too much marketing and things like that.

Q: What kind of business philosophy have you adopted and tried to adhere to?

DR: The biggest thing with me, and you've heard me say this from time to time, is that the game is the most important thing. Everything else - all of this marketing and hoopla, that's secondary to the game - the game is what makes it. The game is what counts. It's why we're here. It's why it's fun. It's why you go to the ballpark. I think that's the most responsible position that we have is to keep the game good and viable. I think that is our first care to make sure the game is pure. I think all of these other things are great for our fans. We're in the entertainment business and you've got to make it right for them by doing a lot of the things that we do. Even advertising this 1,000th game. Those things are important for the fans. But the fans in Pittsburgh, I'll tell you, know the game. You cover high school football, so you know it starts earlier. High school football here is a great thing.

It does well and has done well as long as I can remember. Football has always been a big thing in Pittsburgh. Friday nights, you have games up and down the valleys. The local spirit means so much. Then on Saturday, you have the colleges, the University of Pittsburgh, of course, being THE team. But there are so many small colleges and they play good football - W&J, Allegheny, there's so many of them. Then of course on Sunday, we come in. You look at how many head coaches there are and have been in the National Football League from Pittsburgh, I don't think there's another city like it. You look at how many quarterbacks have come from this city. That is because of the concentration on the game. People learn the game. I always say about our fans, they know when to cheer and when to boo.

Q: Where do think the NFL and the Steelers are going? Is there a strong future ahead for everybody?

DR: The league is doing well from the standpoint that there are a lot of new stadiums and there is more marketing there because of those things - sometimes I think too much. You have that and of course the biggest thing that we have is that football is made for television. It's a perfect thing. It just came up that way. It started off being a great game for television with the breaks that we have, the strategy involved. It really is a tremendous thing for television, it's just so natural for it.

Q: You have two more seasons after this on the TV contract?

DR: Yeah. We're signed through 2005.

Q: Is that going to be a key negotiation?

DR: The ratings are good, in fact, I think the ratings are up this year. There's so much new technology coming along, I remember I was at the first TV broadcast in Pittsburgh. I'm really dating myself, but I was at the first TV broadcast of a game. You started off with one station, then it was two, three four. Now, you have over 100. You have 40 you can get right on your regular cable. That's changed the atmosphere. They talk about a period of time when the ratings were down. People have so many choices that you didn't have in the past. The number of people who are watching is great and we still have tremendous ratings. We can produce more numbers in the number of men and young men that television is looking for of any broadcast. You talk about the future, you've got satellites, you've got dishes. I don't know where that's going. My preference would be that we stay on regular network television all the time, but they're getting into different businesses. They're getting into different modes of operation.

Q: Do you foresee a time when NFL games will no longer be free?

DR: I would hope not. I would hope that there will be free television all the time. If there's free television, and they're willing to do what they do now, pay us for the games being on there, that's where I would prefer they be. When you talk about cable that you have now, that's a form of pay television. You have part of that now, but you don't see it. It's not like fights now. If you want to watch a fight, they are on these things now where you have to pay. Once in a while, they are on for free, but not very often.

Q: You think for the foreseeable future, at least some of the NFL will be on free TV?

DR: As long as the technology is there to do it. I don't think anyone can guarantee that the technology won't change. We made a commitment that we would keep the Super Bowl, particularly, on free television. And that's are intention because their numbers are mindboggling.

Q: That's why ESPN hasn't gotten the game?

DR: Right. But, is that mode of carrying the games going to be there. That's the question.

Q: What about the first broadcast, what was that game?

DR: The first broadcast was in a studio in a ballroom in Pittsburgh. It was the DuMont Station. There was television before that, but there were no local broadcasts. It was on channel 2, it was the forerunner to KDKA. They had a show. It was a variety show. I was in my 20s at the time and I was there and saw it. It was quite interesting.

Q: You were interviewed on it?

DR: No. I was just one of the people in the stands. It was packed. Our games started to get on there sometime in the '40s, periodically. Then the '50s came and the league picked up, all of our games started to get on.

Q: What's the first game you remember attending?

DR: The first game I remember going to, I was five years old. I went with my mother and father, but he didn't sit with us. He sat in the press box all of the time. I sat with my mother. It was at Forbes Field and they had those boxes that sat on the second deck in the outfield and I saw the game there. I think it was against the Redskins because I always thought the Redskins were interesting because you'd see pictures of their band with the head dresses. I think I told my parents that I wanted to go to that game.

Q: At that age you didn't go to all of the games?

DR: No, I didn't go to all of the games then. But I started to go to every game soon. When I got to be around 10 or 11, I'd go to them game on my own with friends. I got bounced out of our box. I'd go sit in the stands. We'd go on the streetcar to the games.

Q: The first game was played at Forbes Field?

DR: Yes. In 1933.

Q: You played at Forbes Field, Pitt Stadium, Three Rivers and Heinz Field, no other places?

DR: To my knowledge, no. My father talked about playing a game at the Armory, but I don't think that was the Steelers. I think that was some of those forerunners like the Hope Harveys or the Majestic Radios.

Q: Who had better attendance in those days, the Pirates or Steelers?

DR: I don't know what their attendance was. There were years when we would average 15,000.

Q: Was that considered good for that time?

DR: I didn't think they were good. Now that I think back, we have 65,000 and you can't get a ticket. We really did have a problem at Forbes Field because at Forbes Field, there were 10,000 seats that were the best seats in the world. You could not get a better seat than where I told you I was sitting and out toward right field in that second deck. They were phenomenal seats. You were right over top of the field. When I got older and started to go - I'm talking still in high school - I'd go up on the roof. I'd go in and sit with the coaches sometimes, but I'd go up and stand on the roof and watch it. It was like you were right over the thing.

Q: Kind of like old Cleveland Municipal Stadium?

DR: Yeah, exactly like that. You couldn't get a better view. But that was the problem. You had 10,000 that were the best. You had another 5,000 that were OK. And then you had the bleachers that were very far away. They had 15 to 20,000 seats that were terrible seats. They were in the end zone, down low, like Municipal Stadium. You really had trouble seeing. We went to Pitt Stadium - and this was when we started to get good and people wanted to see us play in 1958 - and we got a lot of complaints about going there. We went back to Forbes Field, and I said, "This is a mistake." They said, "We're getting all these complaints." I said, "You're getting complaints from the 10,000 people who had the greatest seats in the world. They're going to beef no matter where you go. These other seats, this is our potential, to get them filled up." Once we went there and stayed, that's when we started reaching our potential and that's when you saw where this thing could go.

Q: What do you have planned for Sunday?

DR: They're going to bring back people from every decade. They've made a video from every decade. Now when I saw bring back people from every decade, I'm not sure who they have from the '30s. Last year, we really lost a lot of people, a lot of people died. We've had a lot of people die. They're going to bring back people from every decade. Bradshaw's going to be there. A lot of people from the '70s are going to be there. Rocky and Russell will represent the '60s, because they did start in the '60s.

Q: Are you bringing back anyone from the '90s?

DR: Yeah, Greg Lloyd's going to be here. They're doing that then they're going to have some activities and change how they're going to play the anthem. It's going to be a nice time.

Q: Any pressure on Bill Cowher to get the overall record over .500 (It's currently two games under for the team's history)?

Let's hope he does.

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