Steeler Nation UK has always had a good relationship with their team. From the first organised visit in 1993, when we were invited to share the buffet lunch prepared for the players before their road trip to Cleveland, to last year when we presented our MVP trophy to Chris Boswell.
The support and encouragement they provided when I produced the newsletter that kept fans in the UK informed about the team inspired me to make Steeler Nation UK a club worthy of that help. Nowadays, the internet makes news available instantly, but we are talking about the eighties/nineties when airmail took up to seven days to arrive
It was Ambassador Rooney who provided the initial inspiration for me. When I think of how busy he must have been overseeing one of the biggest sporting franchises in the world, it now seems unbelievable. He was a man of the people and showed it countless times.
Before one of my visits in mid-nineties, I wrote asking for an interview with him for our newsletter and duly received a reply asking me to contact his office when I was in Pittsburgh. On the Monday morning, I rang and his secretary said he had a meeting at ten and could get down before then.
Fortunately it was a short ride from Banksville where I was staying to Three Rivers Stadium, so I made the journey as speedily as I could. Having been shown into his office, he was very receptive to my questions and the measure of the man is he made me feel completely at ease.
At ten, there was a knock on the door and his secretary popped her head around the door to remind him of his meeting and I left in wondering how many other franchise owners would have made the dialogue possible.
In 1997, Mr. Rooney came to England at the invitation of the Rugby Football Union to give a talk on advancing their sport and taking lessons from his experience with the NFL.
I was also lucky to receive an invite to the Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre in London for his presentation. It was the early days of the internet and I remember printing some Pittsburgh news for him to read to keep him informed about what was happening at home.
Later that year when the Steelers flew over to Dublin to play the Chicago Bears in an exhibition game, we were invited to Croke Park for a short meet the players event. Mr Rooney was there and he also made sure he was accessible to the fans. Fortunately my friend Mike Fabus took a photo and later Mr. Rooney autographed it and it hangs in a prominent place in my house.
We were fortunate to be in Pittsburgh for his book launch in 2007. I later made a composition using my favourite photo taken at the event and had it put on canvas (picture above). On our visit the following year we were able to present it to him.
SteelerNationUK have so many cherished memories of Ambassador Rooney and has felt the loss of the man who touched their lives, but he has left a legacy that will ensure the organisation will remain the honourable franchise he built.
His book, “My 75 Years with the Pittsburgh Steelers and the NFL,” can be purchased on Amazon.