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News » Someone needs to fill Rooney's shoes

Someone needs to fill Rooney's shoes

Someone needs to fill Rooney's shoes
DANA POINT, Calif. - With the salary cap in jeopardy of vanishing after the 2009 season and critical negotiations about to start on a new collective bargaining agreement with the players association, the NFL faces a potentially significant void.

It needs a new go-to guy.

For the last three decades, that role has been filled by Dan Rooney, the owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers. A man of unquestioned integrity and honor, he had the respect both of fellow owners and players and was able repeatedly to bridge the gap and bring the two sides together.

But last week, President Barack Obama announced he was nominating Rooney as the United States ambassador to Ireland and so, when negotiations on the new CBA heat up, probably this fall and winter, Rooney will be in Dublin, connected to his beloved Steelers only by a satellite dish and to the rest of the NFL only by telephone.

While some owners have suggested Rooney still could serve as a key mediator even after he's confirmed by the Senate, Rooney firmly squashed that suggestion Monday.

Asked if he'd be able to play that role, Rooney said, "No. Not with my new job."

Rooney's absence could be all the more significant because there is new leadership on both the league and the players' side. This will be the first negotiation for Roger Goodell, who has been NFL commissioner since 2006, and DeMaurice Smith, who was chosen earlier this month as executive director of the NFL Players Association.

Goodell met Smith for the first time just last week to get acquainted. That does not mean to suggest there is no way they can work together toward an agreement, but Rooney had to step in in the past, even though former Commissioner Paul Tagliabue and the late union head, Gene Upshaw, were very close, even as adversaries.

There is not another owner who commands the following that Rooney does on both sides of the aisle, so to speak. Ever since his father, the late Steelers' founder Art Rooney, turned control of the franchise over to him in the 1960's, Pittsburgh has been established as the league's pre-eminent team, the only one to win six Super Bowls, while setting a model for stability. The Steelers have had just three coaches in 40 years and achieved the rare distinction of moving into a new stadium in their home city without threatening to move.


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In both 1982, when the NFL endured its first in-season strike, and 1993, when free agency and the salary cap came into the league, Rooney was a voice of reason and moderation, reaching out to union leaders Ed Garvey and Upshaw, respectively, with the backing of other club owners. It did not go unnoticed that, when Goodell was chosen as commissioner, the other owners deputized Rooney to go to Goodell's room to give him the news.

Mike McCaskey, chairman of the Chicago Bears, called Rooney's nomination "an inspired choice" for the country but acknowledged the NFL would need someone to fill his role as a voice of reason.

"We need to fashion a new labor agreement, so we'll miss him there," McCaskey said. "He's always been terrific in terms of a level head ... but it's like a team, you lose Walter Payton, you've got to have somebody else able to step in."

One such somebody could be Bob McNair, owner of the Houston Texans. Although he is relatively new to the league, since the Texans are a young product of expansion, McNair has emerged as a reasonable man whose voice is heard by other owners.

"I try to be (reasonable), and I think there are a number of people who understand that anything that's done has got to be good for all parties," McNair said.

Jerry Richardson, co-chairman of the Management Council Executive Committee, the league's labor arm, is another owner who could reach out to the players since he is a former player. But Richardson recently underwent a heart transplant and his participation is limited for the foreseeable future.

Dallas owner Jerry Jones, who is also on the owners' executive committee, joked that Rooney could come in to help at any time, saying, "I don't think they've stopped those planes coming back from Ireland," but Rooney's own comment would seem to squash that suggestion.

"There will be a number of owners involved," said Arthur Blank, owner of the Atlanta Falcons, "so I have confidence the process will take us to a good place."

As for Rooney, Blank added, "He'll be in Ireland, so it might be a little difficult to (participate), but his heart will be here, his spirit will be here and his counsel is always available."

Well, perhaps. But it looks like the NFL better get somebody warming up in the bullpen.

Sports Xchange

Author:Fox Sports
Author's Website:http://www.foxsports.com
Added: March 24, 2009

Andre Johnson Name: Andre Johnson
Position: WR
Age: 27
Experience: 6 years
College: Miami (FL)
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