Rooney family's franchise worthy of admiration

February 5, 2011 

I have long considered the title "America's Team," often ascribed to the Dallas Cowboys, as one of the sports world's great misnomers.

If fans feel compelled to assign that title to a team, it should be the Pittsburgh Steelers, who are going for their seventh Super Bowl victory Sunday.

I don't say this because the Steelers have more Super Bowl titles than any other NFL team.

If championships were the criteria, the New York Yankees (27) would win hands down. And as far as the NFL is concerned, Green Bay with 12 titles -- including nine championships before anyone ever dreamed of a Super Bowl -- would get the nod. The Packers certainly deserve to be in the discussion of who is America's Team.

However, it is not a matter of victories. And no, I don't care who wins Sunday.

Pure and simple, my premise is based on how the Rooney franchise has conducted business for nearly 80 years. The words that come to mind are continuity and stability.

The Steelers were founded by Art Rooney in 1933. In 1975, he was succeeded by his son, Dan. In 2002, Dan turned over the team to his oldest son, Art Rooney II.

Name me another sports franchise with that kind of pedigree.

Want more continuity? How about this:

Since 1969 the Steelers have had only three head coaches -- Chuck Noll, Bill Cowher and Mike Tomlin.

Noll coached 23 years and was 4-0 in Super Bowls. Cowher coached 15 years and was 1-1 in Super Bowls. Tomlin is in his fourth year and, after becoming the youngest winning Super Bowl coach in 2009, goes for his second title Sunday against the Packers.

As a comparison: Since 1989, under Jerry Jones' ownership, the Cowboys have had seven head coaches. Since George Steinbrenner took over in 1973, the Yankees have changed managers 23 times.

The Rooney family has a long history of giving African-Americans, like Tomlin, an opportunity to serve team leadership roles. So much so that a rule that requires NFL teams to interview minority candidates for head coaching opportunities is called "The Rooney Rule."

Stability is the name of the game with the Steelers, and the Rooneys have a knack for finding the right people to run things. The Steelers are everything Jerry Jones' fraudulent Cowboys are not.

Kevin Colbert, a name you may have never heard because he keeps a low profile, has been the team's director of football operations for 11 years. He is the man responsible for the draft, which has been the key to Pittsburgh's recent success.

Eight of the Steelers' last 10 first-round choices will be starting Sunday. They have 31 players currently on the roster who were Pittsburgh draftees -- many picked under Colbert's watch.

Most importantly, Colbert has followed the Rooney family history of trying to draft players of strong character. His record is not perfect, but it's about as good as it gets these days. When a mistake is made, it is usually rectified quickly.

Last year, wide receiver Santonio Holmes had a series of off-field infractions and embarrassed the organization. He was traded to the New York Jets last April.

Then there is quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. The Rooneys struggled with the decision to keep Big Ben after he was suspended for four games this season for violating the league's personal conduct policy.

The choice to reinstate Roethlisberger was not in keeping with the Rooney image and surprised many of us.

But then again, giving someone a second chance should not be an automatic disqualification from being labeled "America's Team."

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