This biography traces Rooney’s family from Ireland to Montreal to Wales to Youngstown to Pittsburgh. It’s about a young Rooney was might have been the city’s best all-around athlete in the 1920s, the sandlot club he turned into the Pittsburgh Steelers, his adventures at the racetrack and in boxing, as well as his engagement in city politics and the church, and why the Steelers and sport mean so much to Pittsburgh.
While researching Sandlot Seasons, I often asked men who had played Negro League baseball about Cum Posey and Gus Greenlee, who had owned the Homestead Grays and Pittsburgh Crawfords. They sometimes answered by telling me about another sportsman who they held in the high regard—Art Rooney. When Norris Coleman and I interviewed Rooney in 1980, we realized that he had played a role in Pittsburgh’s sporting life that went well beyond the Steelers. At the end of the interview, I suggested that somebody ought to write his biography. He demurred, saying that Chicago Bears owner George Halas’s biography had been written and that there was no need for his.
Years later, at an American Studies Association conference, I was talking with Dan Rooney and Michael Weber (the provost at Duquesne University and an historian of Pittsburgh), after a session about Art Rooney and said that I thought his father’s life deserved a biography. When Mike Weber seconded that that belief, Dan Rooney said he would get back to us. He did, about five years later, and Mike and I started working on his father’s story. Mike, sadly, had a recurrence of cancer about a year later and died in 2001. His colleague and my wife, Maggie Patterson, then stepped in and collaborated on the book.