A Sporting Life

Rob Ruck, Maggie Jones Patterson, & Michael P. Weber

Reviews & Interviews

Art Rooney, the patriarch of the Pittsburgh Steelers, embodied the evolution of Pittsburgh sport from its emergence on the sandlots to its coronation as the City of Champions in the 1970s. His team has become a more enduring symbol for the city than the steel it once made. But Rooney was revered as much for who he was as for the Steelers’ ultimate success. Pittsburghers knew him as a hard-working, hard-playing guy from a tough part of town—the city’s Northside—who never quit on a friend, a slightly devilish yet deeply devout family man with a shock of white hair, thick black-rimmed glasses, and a cigar jammed into the corner of this mouth. In the somewhat mythic but still essentially accurate saga Pittsburghers have woven out of the strands of Art Rooney’s life, sport is the product of hardworking people and tightknit communities, who value loyalty, who lose but don’t quit, and even when they leave town, remain Pittsburghers.

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.

Rooney book cover

Order on Nebraska Press

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Praise for Rooney

“Filled with incredible details, Rooney gets behind the man and the legend who founded the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1933.(”

— 2010-04-19

More Books by Rob Ruck

  • Tropic of Football book cover
  • Raceball book cover
  • Rooney book cover
  • Tropic of Baseball book cover
  • Sandlot book cover
  • Nelson book cover

Films by Rob Ruck