Pittsburgh Steelers founder Art Rooney, Sr. is an icon in the city of Pittsburgh and among pro football historians. He was a determined, forthright, astute businessman who is remembered fondly by many. His roots to the city and his manner of remembering his humble beginnings forged a connection of mutual respect with the residents of this Steel City. When Rob Zellers and Gene Collier decided to write a one man play about “The Chief,” they knew they had to show all sides of the man. As Rooney’s grandson Jim told the authors, Rooney Sr. “wasn’t always a saint.” What appears on the stage of the Public Theater is an affectionate and respectful view of an ordinary man who accomplished extraordinary things.
From his childhood on the Northside where he swam in the Allegheny River just offshore of the future location of Three Rivers Stadium, Art Rooney, through a period as a young boxer, on to a long career developing the legacy of the Pittsburgh Steelers, Rooney is shown to be a very strong and religious family man. He worked a “real job” one day in his life – at a steel mill where he quickly developed a respect for the incredibly hard working steelworkers, but learned it wasn’t for him. Art Rooney probably learned a thing or two from the local politicians he worked for, as well as from his father who owned a tavern. The Chief was uncanny at betting on horses, winning an incredible $380,000 during one betting spree in 1937. He had already bought the Steelers by then, but those winnings helped him hold onto the team through “the bad years” – four decades of disappointing football seasons. When the team finally came together, due to the foundation Rooney had set, the talents of coach Chuck Noll plus the results of a few brilliant drafts, Rooney was proud, but never let the newfound fame of the team go to his head.