The poinsettias still arrived at Christmas, as they had every December, for Bill Cowher’s 94-year-old mother.
It was something you could count on from Dan Rooney, just like the pizza he would deliver to people waiting to buy Pittsburgh Steelers playoff tickets and everything else he did that made him so much more than the owner of an NFL team.
‘He impacted so many people along the way and no one more than myself’
As Cowher came to realize while coaching the Steelers from 1992 to 2006, Rooney was someone who genuinely cared about other people, who provided life lessons for anyone willing enough — and wise enough — to take them to heart.
“Mr. Rooney was very, very special,” Cowher told Jim Miller and Pat Kirwan on Movin’ The Chains after learning of Rooney’s passing Thursday at age 84. “He impacted so many people along the way and no one more than myself. I went there in 1992 as the head young man, a young coach and I left there a better man because of him.
‘He taught you to never forget where you came from’
“There’s two words. It was humility and responsibility. He taught you to never forget where you came from, that the responsibility of being a Steeler was to do the right thing, which he tried to do, the way he lived his life and to give back. And no one gave back more than him. He went back to the North Side (of Pittsburgh) and lived the latter part of his life (there), because that was where he grew up. He talked about his father. He always had an appreciation for where they were because it’s where he came from.
“And I learned so much of life through him. He taught me more than Xs and Os and football. There was no prouder day in my life than the 26 years later, to be able to hand him that (Lombardi) trophy (for winning Super Bowl XL) and to see the joy in his face because he was the type of guy that he gave a lot more than he received.”
‘All those things that you do as a family, he brought those same qualities to his football team’
For Cowher, one of the greatest lessons he learned was appreciating that a football organization wasn’t simply a collection of players and coaches and front-office people.
“It was about family,” Cowher said. “In (a) family, there’s going to be tough times. And (with) family, you’ve got to hold people accountable, you’ve got to hold people responsible. Then you also have to make sure you show them the way and that you’re a teacher, you’re a mentor, you’re a nurturer. All the things that you do as a family, he brought those same qualities to his football team and those that worked under him because you know what? That’s how he lived his life. So it was really hard not to be that way yourself when you walked into that building because of the man, himself.
“It all starts at the top.”