Funeral service for Rooney: ‘We’re going to give Dan a tremendous sendoff’
Soft bagpipe music played, fittingly, mere steps from the closed casket where Dan Rooney, Ireland’s favorite son, rested.
Bouquets of flowers from country music star Garth Brooks, several NFL teams and many friends and fans lined both sides of the entrance to the Champions Club inside Heinz Field during Monday afternoon’s viewing.
There, several family members, including Steelers President Art Rooney II, met hundreds of mourners, greeting many of them with a handshake.
Outside on North Shore Drive, a lone trumpeter – loud and brash, though no one seemed to mind – played “Taps” and “Amazing Grace.”
The first of Pittsburgh’s goodbyes to Rooney, who died Thursday at the age of 84, attracted people from every walk of life – football players, clergymen and a vendor who met Rooney in 1972 while selling popcorn at Three Rivers Stadium.
“I owed him this much,” vendor James Gallippi said after he had paid his respects and before he walked slowly toward the T station next to Heinz Field.
Former Steelers strength and conditioning coach Chet Fuhrman was almost in disbelief that his ex-boss was gone.
“He was immortal,” Fuhrman said. “I never thought this day would come. I expected him to come out from behind the curtain and say, ‘What’s everybody making a big fuss about? Get back to work.'” Former Steelers players who paid their respects included Joe Greene, Lynn Swann, Kordell Stewart, Santonio Holmes, Kendrell Bell and Max Starks.
Among those who attended the viewing was Bishop of the Diocese of Pittsburgh David Zubik, who will join Cardinal Donald Wuerl in officiating a Mass of Christian Burial at 11 a.m. Tuesday in St. Paul Cathedral, 108 N. Dithridge St., Pittsburgh. Wuerl, who was Bishop of Pittsburgh for 18 years, will be the celebrant and homilist.
Zubik said St. Paul can hold 2,000 people, with another 600 expected to watch the broadcast of the Mass in an adjacent hall.
“We’re going to give Dan a tremendous sendoff,” Zubik said. “He was such a faithful man.
“There are so many examples of how he put his faith into action, but I want to say perhaps the best one was the Rooney Rule,” Zubik said of the NFL regulation that demands that teams interview at least one minority candidate when hiring a head coach.
” He was able to take his own relationship with God and challenge everybody to see that means we have to take a look at every single person we meet as equal in the eyes of God, and need to give each other the respect that every person deserves.
“That’s something every religion can learn from, that kind of example.”
Zubik added that Rooney was successful as a husband, father, grandfather, businessman and leader in government. “And he never pulled rank,” he said.
Among the mourners was former Pirates manager Jim Leyland, who recalled his friendship with Rooney’s father, Steelers founder Art Rooney Sr., who often strolled into Leyland’s office at Three Rivers Stadium to chat.
Asked if PNC Park and Heinz Field are standing on the North Shore because of the Rooneys, Leyland said, “There’s a good possibility a lot of things wouldn’t be standing if it wasn’t for them.”
WPIAL executive director Tim O’Malley paid his respects, noting that Rooney was largely responsible for having his league’s football championship games played at Three Rivers Stadium and Heinz Field.
“I owed it to him to at least stop down and say goodbye,” O’Malley said. “He lived a full life. We are very fortunate that he was a friend of football and a friend of the league.”
Rooney, both father and son, liked to visit with media members and one – retired USA Today sportswriter Gary Mihoces — drove from Annapolis, Md., to stand in line to pay his respects.
Mihoces, who grew up in West Mifflin and wrote about Pittsburgh sports for the Associated Press from 1969-1982, said, “I didn’t even think twice about the five-hour drive.
“Pittsburgh will miss him, but his way of life is implanted here.”