NFL Nation: Dan Rooney
- Steelers coach Mike Tomlin, dressed and ready to leave Jacksonville, found time for a quick teaching moment while exiting the visiting locker room at EverBank Field. Engaging the pint-sized Ivan Taylor, whose father Ike has played cornerback for the Steelers since 2003, Tomlin told him, “Keep your eyes up and see what you hit.” That is one of the most important fundamentals in football, and Tomlin preached it after a game in which the Steelers were pretty solid when it came to the basics. They blocked and tackled well and had just seven penalties for 50 yards. The Steelers had been penalized an average of 11 times through their first four games. "I'm pleased that they were down," Tomlin said. "We had a couple of things I didn't like, but I'm not looking for perfection in that area. We're not going to play a perfect game, but I do want to see fundamental things, and I thought I did today."
- An illegal hands-to-the-face penalty against left tackle Kelvin Beachum wiped out a 17-yard catch by Antonio Brown and ultimately prevented the two-time Pro Bowler from a 100-yard game against the secondary that has been the worst statistically in the NFL. Brown finished with 84 yards on five catches, including a 30-yarder that he took away from Jaguars cornerback Will Blackmon on a key third down. Brown said after the Steelers outlasted the Jaguars that he did not care he had come within a penalty of his third 100-yard receiving game of the season. “Just chasing victories,” Brown said. “Winning is everything.” Brown extended his streak of catching at least five passes for 50 yards to 21 games, which is an NFL record.
Commissioner Roger Goodell represented the NFL at the service that lasted just over an hour and turned out to be the simple goodbye that Noll, who passed away Friday at the age of 82, would have wanted.
Make that demanded.
Dan Rooney, Art Rooney II, Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin also attended the funeral with Rooney II, the Steelers' president, joining Greene as one of the pallbearers.
No players spoke at the service but a handful of them talked afterward about what Noll meant to them and his legacy:
Hall of Fame defensive tackle Joe Greene played for the Steelers from 1969-81 and was Noll's first-ever draft pick.
"I used to be very, very bad-tempered with officials and Chuck said, ‘You know Joe, those guys have families and kids and they probably don't like you talking to them like that,' and I stopped doing it. He just had a way of sharing information with you that was long lasting. There's not many days that go by when I don't think back on something that Charles Henry Noll said. Anytime I was around Chuck it was a learning experience. Just an outstanding person."
Offensive tackle Jon Kolb played for the Steelers from 1969-81 and then coached under Noll with the Steelers from 1982-91.
"I got to coach with him also for 10 years and he made the point to coaches that the game is about the players. We're here to help the players prepare. That was what he wanted to do and I believe just from the talks I had with him, he didn't just want to prepare for the moment and the season but preparation for life, which is not the norm."
"I was an undrafted rookie free agent and there were 17 draft choices in front of me, but Chuck gave me an opportunity and a chance to make that football team and I took advantage of it. I think whether or not I would have played seven years or I would have been (cut) two weeks into (his first) training camp he would have had a very big impact on me anyway. I learned that whether you're in business or you're a football coach or a football player, fundamentals are the essential parts of being successful. He stressed that regularly."
Tight end Mike Mularkey played for the Steelers from 1989-91 and coaches tight ends for the Tennessee Titans.
"You like to be around guys that like playing football and want to do it the right way. That's all he ever asked of his players, and I just told that to my guys in my (meeting) room this past week. He's the best coach I was fortunate to play for but I've gotten more from Chuck off the field about how to do things the right way. Family was important and a balance in life was important, and he showed that every day in his life. I hate to be here under these circumstances but I'm glad I got a chance to be here."
• Read more: A collection of memories from Steelers who played for or coached with Noll.
Emotion choked the Pittsburgh Steelers center, and it emanated from the day last September when a teammate crashed into his right knee and left Pouncey in the kind of pain that made him wonder if he would ever walk well enough to play football again -- or at least at a high level.
What also had to overwhelm Pouncey: Steelers chairman Dan Rooney, team president Art Rooney II, general manager Kevin Colbert and coach Mike Tomlin all attended the official announcement of the five-year contract extension he signed nine months after tearing several ligaments in his right knee, including his ACL.
And there is a difference between that and playing for the Steelers.
“It’s true love here,” Pouncey said shortly after the Steelers concluded organized team activities. “I’ll do anything for this team and I’m ready to lead us to where we’ve got to get back to.”
The Steelers concluded that Pouncey is one of the keys to them re-establishing themselves as perennial Super Bowl contenders following consecutive 8-8 seasons.
They made a bold move with the contract that is now the most lucrative for a center in the NFL.
They also made the correct move in locking up Pouncey long-term after the Jaguars had raised the ante at the position by signing Alex Mack to a five-year, $42 million contract (the Browns later matched it to retain Mack).
Pouncey is the only center in NFL history to make the Pro Bowl in each of his first three seasons. His teammates respect him so much that they voted Pouncey a captain last season, not much more than a month after he had celebrated his 24th birthday. And Pouncey is the kind of player you build around on the offensive line, especially if your goal is to maximize Ben Roethlisberger's remaining seasons as a top-tier quarterback, something that Colbert has stated.
Questions have been raised about Pouncey and whether the 2010 first-round pick is prone to injury. But he had missed just three regular-season games prior to 2013.
And the injuries he suffered in the Steelers’ season opener were a result of nothing more than rotten luck, as friendly fire took Pouncey out after right guard David DeCastro whiffed on an attempted cut block.
The Steelers are obviously comfortable with Pouncey’s injury history as well as where he is from a health standpoint nine months after hurting his right knee. Pouncey’s teammates, meanwhile, were nothing short of ecstatic about his new deal.
And not because Pouncey is likely to pick up the next couple of dinner tabs.
“He worked his butt off so we’re glad to have the team commit to him like that,” Steelers left guard Ramon Foster said. “We’re more excited than he is about it.”
Just not as emotional.
“I was just telling coach (Tomlin) it seems like five years all over again, and I’m ready to start this path and help this team get back to where we need to,” said Pouncey, who turns 25 the day before the Steelers report to training camp. “This is really an awesome feeling and words can’t really say enough about it.”
It figures to be a little more somber this year following the death of longtime scout Bill Nunn, who passed away Tuesday night of complications from a stroke.
Nunn worked until the end of a life that spanned nearly nine decades -- and probably provided enough stories to fill nine books. He left an indelible imprint on the Steelers, and he is one of the most significant figures in the franchise’s storied history.
The Steelers' success in the 1970s probably doesn't happen without Bill Nunn.
Think about that for a second.
Also consider that Nunn did much more than put the Steelers on a path to greatness by opening doors for them at historically black colleges. Nunn created opportunities for African-American players when he worked as a newspaper man.
As the sports editor of The Pittsburgh Courier, a newspaper that could claim a national following and a social conscience, Nunn put together an annual Black College All-America football team.
Some teams used this as a draft guide back when there wasn't exhaustive coverage of the annual selection process. And when Mel Kiper Jr.’s hair didn't have multiple Twitter accounts.
As Steelers.com’s Bob Labriola wrote in a retrospective, Nunn discovered players such as Deacon Jones before he joined the Steelers in 1967 and helped change the course of a staggering franchise.
He is more well-known for the latter, and in the almost 50 years Nunn spent with the Steelers, he came to embody the spirit of Art Rooney, the Steelers' founder who was affectionately known as “The Chief.”
There certainly were similarities between the two.
Both lived fascinating lives and seemed to know everybody in Pittsburgh. Those who were around both on a regular basis spoke in reverential terms about them in part because of their ability to connect with people.
The social change that Nunn helped bring about in the NFL no doubt influenced Steelers owner Dan Rooney, who hired Nunn and successfully pushed for more diversity in the league after he became one of the power brokers in it.
The so-called Rooney Rule, enacted in 2003, requires teams to interview at least one minority when hiring a head coach or general manager.
Art and Dan Rooney are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame for their contributions to the NFL, and hopefully Nunn will one day join them there.
When you look at how he shaped the NFL’s greatest dynasty to the opportunities he created for African-American players and those in NFL front offices and scouting departments, it’s pretty easy to see that there has to be some place in Canton for Nunn.
The controversy, which transcended sports, prompted players such as defensive end Cameron Heyward to express how much they appreciate playing for the Rooney family, which has owned the Steelers since their inception in 1933.
Steelers left tackle Kelvin Beachum said Silver did the right thing in taking a hard line against Sterling.
"I think it was needed," Beachum said. "What [Sterling] did was not right and was very disappointing. If I was a player for him I would be very disappointed to know that my owner spoke like that, especially being of African-American descent."
When asked if the controversy showed the contrast between Sterling and Steelers chairman emeritus Dan Rooney, Beachum chuckled.
"It’s not even a comparison," the third-year veteran said. "Ever since I’ve known the Rooneys they’ve been cordial. You never hear anything that’s negative in any way. Any man that can come up and shake your hand and talk to you and have a great relationship with you, and you know genuinely that’s how he feels, that’s a great thing. I’ve had that with [Dan Rooney and Steelers president Art Rooney II]."
Dan Rooney is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and he has long been at the forefront of promoting diversity in the NFL. He pushed for a requirement enacted in 2003 that requires teams to interview at least one minority candidate when hiring a general manager or head coach, and it is commonly known as the Rooney Rule.
Veteran wide receiver Lance Moore played the previous nine seasons in New Orleans before signing with the Steelers last month.
He said he is fortunate to have played for an owner like Tom Benson in New Orleans and now for the Rooney family.
“Tom Benson did things the right way. He made sure his players were taken care of, and the players in turn played hard for him,” Moore said. “The Rooneys, from the short time I’ve been here as well as what I’ve heard about them, they are awesome. They are all about their players and their organization and doing things the right way.”
Ten years ago today -- and almost a quarter of a century after they selected Bradshaw by winning a coin toss to secure the top pick over the Chicago Bears -- the Steelers drafted Ben Roethlisberger with the 11th overall pick.
As with Bradshaw, the pick set the franchise on a glorious course.
Bradshaw struggled early in his career and was benched and booed by fans before winning four Super Bowls, but with Roethlisberger, the Steelers got a serious return on their quarterback investment earlier than anyone could have expected.
An injury to starter Tommy Maddox in the second game of the 2004 season thrust Roethlisberger into action. And the quarterback who had been considered more of a project than the two picked ahead of him (Eli Manning and Philip Rivers) because he hadn't played against top competition at Miami (Ohio) responded by winning his first 14 starts.
The Steelers suffered a disappointing loss to Tom Brady and the Patriots in the 2004 AFC Championship Game, but they finally found their quarterback after going through their share of them following Bradshaw's retirement in 1984.
Roethlisberger led the Steelers to three Super Bowls from 2005 to 2010, winning two of them, and he showed a flair for extending plays after his pass protection had collapsed, as well as directing clutch fourth-quarter drives -- both the result of a competitive streak that is as long as one of the three rivers that converge in Pittsburgh.
He authored his signature comeback in Super Bowl XLIII when the Steelers trailed the upstart Arizona Cardinals by three points and were backed up at their 10-yard line with less than three minutes left in the game.
Roethlisberger needed eight plays and a little more than two minutes to lead the Steelers to a game-winning touchdown, capping the drive with a 6-yard scoring pass to Santonio Holmes.
The pass was vintage Roethlisberger: daring and something more likely seen in a backyard game, not the NFL's biggest stage. Roethlisberger unleashed the pass under pressure, throwing it into a crowd but only where his receiver had a chance to catch it.
That unlikely play, in retrospect, serves as something of a metaphor for Roethlisberger's Steelers career, because so much had to break just right for him to wear black and gold in the first place.
“We didn't expect that he would end up in Pittsburgh,” Ryan Tollner, Roethlisberger's agent, said.
Indeed, 10 teams picked ahead of the Steelers in the 2004 draft, including the Browns, who would have been hailed for taking the Ohio native to lift the struggling franchise.
And Roethlisberger's camp didn't know to what extent he was on the Steelers' radar.
The team had met with Roethlisberger at the NFL scouting combine and also hosted him for a pre-draft visit, but they never worked him out. Tollner figured he would go to the Raiders at No. 2, the Cardinals at No. 3, the Giants at No. 4 or the Browns at No. 6.
If none of those teams drafted Roethlisberger, Tollner thought, Buffalo at No. 13 would be the probable landing spot for his client.
Meanwhile, another member of Roethlisberger's inner circle was convinced the Giants were going to draft him. Terry Hoeppner, his coach at Miami, had spoken extensively with Ernie Accorsi about Roethlisberger and had gotten a good vibe from the Giants' general manager.
The Redskins took safety Sean Taylor with the fifth pick, providing an opening for the Browns, who needed a quarterback after Tim Couch, the first overall selection in 1999, didn't pan out.
"[Roethlisberger] is a northwest Ohio kid, and played in-state at Miami of Ohio and here the Browns are, they've struggled at the quarterback position for a long time," Tollner said. "Ben is sitting there and they elect to go with a tight end. It's something Ben's never forgotten and he never will."
The Browns' picking tight end Kellen Winslow Jr. proved to be one of the draft's pivotal points. But the Steelers also came close to passing over Roethlisberger after he lasted through the first 10 picks.
The team had zeroed in on Arkansas offensive tackle Shawn Andrews, but owner Dan Rooney deftly shifted the conversation to Roethlisberger before the Steelers made their pick.
Rooney had good reason to speak up.
The Steelers had built their dynasty in the 1970s -- and transformed an organization once synonymous with losing -- through shrewd drafting.
They had missed an opportunity near the end of Bradshaw's career when they passed on local legend Dan Marino in the 1983 draft and instead selected Texas Tech defensive tackle Gabe Rivera with the 21st pick.
The Dolphins pounced on Marino with the 27th selection, and his strong arm and quick-as-a-hiccup release allowed the Pitt product to become an early star in Miami and eventually a first-ballot Pro Football Hall of Famer.
The Steelers, meanwhile, shuffled through enough quarterbacks in the post-Bradshaw era that seven different players led them in passing from 1983 to 2003.
Rooney fretted that overlooking Roethlisberger also might come back to haunt the Steelers.
"I couldn't bear the thought of passing on another great quarterback prospect," Rooney wrote in his book "Dan Rooney: My 75 Years With The Pittsburgh Steelers and The NFL."
"So I steered the conversation around to Roethlisberger. After some more talk, we came to a consensus and picked Roethlisberger."
Ten years later, Roethlisberger remains the youngest quarterback to win a Super Bowl -- he was only 23 when the Steelers beat the Seahawks in February 2006 -- and joins Eli Manning and Brady as the only active quarterbacks with multiple Super Bowl victories.
Roethlisberger, who turned 32 in March, already has broken many of Bradshaw's Steelers records and is five victories away from becoming the 13th quarterback in NFL history to win at least 100 regular-season games.
It hasn't all been smooth for Roethlisberger in Pittsburgh.
A motorcycle accident after his first Super Bowl victory left Roethlisberger seriously injured and may have contributed to his uneven play in 2006. And two sexual assault allegations made against him less than a year apart led to a four-game personal-conduct policy suspension by the NFL at the beginning of the 2010 season (Roethlisberger was never charged with a crime).
Roethlisberger since has rehabilitated his image, gotten married and started a family. He is considerably closer to the end of his career than the beginning of it, though he played every snap last season.
It's safe to say Roethlisberger is one of the best draft choices in Steelers history -- and the most critical one to reconnecting the team that has won a record six Lombardi trophies with its triumphant past.
Oh, and yeah, Roethlisberger is 19-1 in his career against the Browns, the most notable and personal of the teams that passed on him 10 years ago.
"I think that Ben getting where he did in hindsight was the best thing that could have happened to him because he went to a strong organization but he went in a position that kept him feeling like an underdog," Tollner said. "He entered the league a very respectable pick at No. 11 overall but very driven to prove that 10 teams made a very bad mistake in passing on him."
The Steelers could not afford to lose a cornerback --- even one whose best days are behind him -- and Taylor did not want to finish his career anywhere else.
It's tempting to wonder where Taylor would rank among the all-time Steelers' defensive backs -- and how many Pro Bowls he would have made -- had his hands cooperated as much as his coverage skills did while shadowing opponents' wide receivers.
Even with only 14 career interceptions in 11 regular seasons -- and let us not forget the pick against the Seahawks that helped Pittsburgh win Super Bowl XL -- Taylor's place in Steelers history is secure.
And he is not quite done yet.
A source told ESPN.com that Taylor had no interest in leaving the Steelers and that he wanted to do whatever he could to stay with the organization and help it return to Super Bowl contender status following back-to-back 8-8 seasons.
Hence the pay cut that satisfies both sides.
It is no secret that Taylor has an incredibly close relationship with chairman emeritus Dan Rooney, who is on a short list of candidates for a Steelers Mount Rushmore.
But his new contract is more a product of practicality than nostalgia, and Taylor gets one more season to add to his Steelers legacy -- while also serving as a bridge to the cornerbacks it is incumbent upon Pittsburgh to sign or draft.
Butler, 84, one of two senior nominees, was a four-time Pro Bowl player who retired after the 1959 season. His election was refreshing compared to the players today that expect to make it.
"I never, ever, ever thought I would be here. I just didn't think that would be the reality," Butler said. "When I was a kid, I dreamed about being a big, strong, good football player. I dreamed of about going to Canton, Ohio, and being in the Hall of Fame. But I never, ever down deep believed what I was dreaming."
Butler was named one of the 33 greatest Steelers of all time in 2008. His 52 interceptions were the second-most in the NFL at the time his career ended. With 52 interceptions in 103 games, Butler has the best interception rate (50.5 percent) of any player in the Hall of Fame.
“Jack was one player,” longtime Pittsburgh executive Dan Rooney said, via the team's website, “who could have played with the great Steelers teams of the 1970s.”
ESPN.com took its positional Power Rankings series off the field and into the boardroom to rate the owners. None of them are popular fellows these days, but for the purposes of this project, nobody was more respected than the Rooney family.
The Pittsburgh Steelers' owners were listed first or second on all eight of the panelists' ballots.
By any definition, Dan Rooney and Art Rooney II qualify as powerful.
They're winners. The Steelers have played in eight Super Bowls and won six of them with three head coaches. The family's success has spanned such a long timeframe that Dan and the late Art Rooney Sr. were inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame 36 years apart.
They're transcendent. President Barack Obama selected Steelers chairman Dan Rooney as the U.S. ambassador to Ireland.
They're influential. Dan Rooney was behind the so-called "Rooney Rule," which changed sidelines dramatically by stimulating minority hires. When it comes to the lockout, Rooney is a prominent voice of reason and could help broker the eventual deal.
"The Steelers selection is a no-brainer," ESPN.com senior writer John Clayton said. "The Steelers under the Rooneys have been the model of franchise ownership in sports. They are successful, consistent and supportive.
"They don't undergo the constant changes of other franchises. Plus, the family has been so instrumental in doing things that help advance the league, sometimes at the expense of their own franchise. It's no secret that two Rooneys are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame."
Clayton, AFC North blogger James Walker, AFC West blogger Bill Williamson and NFC South blogger Pat Yasinskas each had the Rooneys atop his ballot.
"The Rooney family is the perfect combination of tradition, consistency and success," Walker said, echoing Clayton's thoughts almost verbatim. "The easiest thing to point out is they've had the most Super Bowl wins and fewest head coaches since 1969. But they also set trends off the field with things like the Rooney Rule. They're very well respected and there's a special sense of pride about the Steelers from players and fans that you don't see in many places. It starts at the top."
But the Rooneys were not unanimous choices in our ownership Power Rankings.
What about the power of the people?
The Green Bay Packers' ownership received three of the four remaining first-place votes. NFC North blogger Kevin Seifert, NFC West blogger Mike Sando and I all listed the Packers first because of their unique kind of power. Rules governing the other 31 franchises don't apply to them.
The Packers are the only publicly owned franchise. Green Bay Packers Inc. is a non-profit organization formed in 1922. About 112,000 stockholders own roughly 4.75 million shares of the team. A seven-member executive board oversees the team on behalf of the stockholders.
Packers fans never will have to worry about the team being sold or moving away. The Packers are the only franchise that must open its books.
Oh, yeah. They also just won their NFL-record 13th championship.
Seifert explained why the Packers are special.
"My criteria for this category was twofold," Seifert said. "Do the owners fund the team's operations well? And do they operate the team well?
"I think the Packers' arrangement is currently doing both and has none of the baggage that goes along with single-family ownership. Shareholders don't take dividends, so no one is driven by individual profit. All profits go back into the franchise. In my experience, no expenses are spared in operating the team. People might note that general manager Ted Thompson doesn't sign many free agents, but that's a football decision. He's spent plenty on retaining the Packers' own free agents.
"The executive committee has hired a competent president in Mark Murphy, and after a bumpy start on the Brett Favre departure, Murphy has facilitated excellent work from the GM and coach he inherited.
"Finally, the Packers' ownership arrangement requires Murphy, Ted Thompson and Mike McCarthy to be more accountable to 112,000 fans than any other NFL official is to his fan base. Shareholders can't make operating decisions, but they have the right to question decisions, to know how money is being spent and to get straight(er) answers than fans of any other NFL team."
Clayton, however, wasn't impressed. He omitted the Packers from his ballot, ensuring they didn't finish second overall in the Power Rankings despite their three first-place votes.
One gets the impression that if Clayton were to slot all 32 ownerships, he would jot the Packers last.
"I couldn't vote for the Packers because it is a community ownership, not a normal ownership," Clayton said. "It's not as though one owner makes the decisions and has to stand up for the praise or criticism. Assigned the chance to vote for ownership, I felt more comfortable voting for individual owners or family owners."
AFC South blogger Paul Kuharsky listed Kraft above all. Kuharsky had the Rooneys second and the Packers third.
Kuharsky had the most efficient Power Rankings ballot. He was the lone panelist to vote for all of the owners who finished in the top 10.
"Robert Kraft versus the Rooneys is a close call," Kuharsky said. "I went Kraft because I feel he and his team have done more lately. In many ways, the Patriots -- not the Steelers -- are the standard-setters for the league. And while I prefer the way Heinz Field is in the middle of Pittsburgh, that development around Gillette Stadium has to be the envy of a lot of owners."
New York Giants co-owners John Mara and Steve Tisch came in fourth, Philadelphia Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie was fifth and Baltimore Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti was sixth.
From there, everybody else on the Power Rankings top 10 was omitted from at least one ballot.
Eclectic Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay, who was able to help land a Super Bowl in a nontraditional locale, came in seventh. Irsay rated no higher than sixth on any ballot, but he didn't make Williamson's top 10.
"I know it sticks out because I was the only one not to rank him, but if he was in the top three, I'd re-evaluate my reasoning," Williamson said. "But I can live with not voting for the No. 7 finisher. To be frank, I never considered Irsay. I considered 14 ownerships in all. Other than his random tweets, Irsay doesn't stick out to me, good or bad."
When it came to voting, money didn't necessarily equal power for some panelists.
I ranked Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones third, higher than any other voter. Sando and Yasinskas didn't rate Jones at all.
Jones ended up eighth overall.
To me, you can't argue with his money or his presence. Forbes ranked the Cowboys the world's fourth-greatest sports brand behind only the New York Yankees, Manchester United and Real Madrid. Their estimated brand value was $128 million more than the NFL average and $15 million more than the Eagles and Giants combined.
Forbes estimated the Cowboys franchise was worth $1.8 billion, nearly $300 million more than the next-closest NFL club, the Washington Redskins.
Jones also serves as general manager. That puts him in control of every business and personnel decision. Sando saw that as a drawback.
"Jerry Jones is more involved in football operations than an owner ideally would be," Sando said. "He has shown questionable judgment in hiring head coaches. His involvement in football operations had made those coaches' jobs tougher. Jones dispatched with Tom Landry harshly and later failed to sustain the success Jimmy Johnson orchestrated.
"Also on Jones' watch, the Cowboys have suffered through the practice-bubble catastrophe, a Super Bowl experience that produced poor reviews and a video purporting to show Jones' drunken antics in a bar. Jones also was part of the NFL Management Council Executive Committee when the league agreed to the ill-fated 2006 collective bargaining agreement. Overall, the team hasn't enjoyed enough success recently to say the ends justify the means."
Yasinskas contended Jones simply is overrated these days.
"If Jerry Jones had continued the success he had with Jimmy Johnson and Barry Switzer back in the 1990s, he'd be at the top of my list," Yasinskas said. "But the fact is the Cowboys really haven't been all that relevant for a long time. Part of that is due to Jones.
"He's done some good things and the new stadium is fabulous, but he's been way too hands-on with that franchise and he's run through lots of good coaches and players without any real results."
Let us know what you think.
No matter what you think of Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones -- and Forbes Magazine indicates you really, really dislike him -- the man's a marketing genius. He has somehow kept the Cowboys national brand strong despite all the losing over the past 15 years. The man presides over the most relevant 6-10 team in the NFL. And I'm already hearing the national media talk about the Cowboys as a bounce-back team in 2011.
Much like the New York Yankees, there's always going to be interest in the Cowboys. Given the option of flexing out of a nationally televised matchup involving a 5-8 Cowboys team, I don't think any network would pull the trigger. Jones began a news conference Tuesday at the Super Bowl media center by saying he didn't want to take anything away from the Steelers and Packers. Then he spent the next 42 minutes doing just that.
Over the past 15 years, Jones has become the league's leading illusionist. He has somehow been able to keep the Cowboys in the conversation despite producing only two playoff wins in that span. The Oakland Raiders may be the laughingstock of the league, but they've at least been to a Super Bowl since the Cowboys' dynasty ended in the mid-1990s. Meanwhile, the Steelers are in the midst of putting together a dynasty that could rival Chuck Noll's run in the 1970s. They've now been to three Super Bowls in six seasons. And against all odds, the Rooney family has done it without switching head coaches every couple of years -- or ever.
Steelers president Art Rooney II could take a seat on radio row, which I wouldn't advise, and not be recognized by 75 percent of the talk-show hosts. If Jones showed up, they'd treat him like Brooklyn Decker in a two piece. I'm pretty sure I saw Rooney standing off in the distance during media day, surrounded by a handful of reporters. Not far away, reporters breathlessly asked defensive end Brett Keisel about his beard grooming. (One male reporter asked and was granted permission to run his fingers through Keisel's beard, which somehow seemed appropriate on that day.)
The Rooneys almost seem amused that folks find their belief in continuity so revolutionary. Steelers coach Mike Tomlin would have to do something like naming his offensive line coach defensive coordinator to even get them to raise their eyebrows. Oh wait, that's another Pennsylvania team.
I'm sure Rooney didn't think he was saying anything profound Tuesday, but something on the 67 quote sheets I received via BlackBerry really got my attention. The Steelers' president was asked why his organization rarely made splashy moves, say, signing Terrell Owens or Albert Haynesworth.
"Panic doesn’t seem to work," he said. "Let’s put it that way. There are enough people that seem to have gone through that mode and our feeling is that you pick good people and you try to stick with them if you have good people. There are ups and downs in any sport, but if you have the right people in place, you’ll always have a chance to be successful and that’s what we do. Every year, we have a single goal, and that’s to try and put a championship team on the field and everybody in the organization understands that is the goal. We don’t try and make it too complicated."
What I love is that some of my friends try to constantly separate Jerry Jones the owner from the Cowboys' general manager. There's a belief, which doesn't make sense to me, that Jones is a great owner, but a terrible general manager. I certainly think he's an excellent stadium-builder and salesman, but I always thought that part of owning a successful company was hiring the right people -- and letting them do their jobs.
New head coach Jason Garrett, God bless him, stood up at his introductory news conference last month and talked about doing things the "Cowboy way." But no one really knows what the hell that means anymore. I guess it's a reference to the Jimmy Johnson years, but that's ancient history by NFL standards.
My colleague Mike Sando wrote a column Thursday about how the once-proud 49ers organization has been in the wilderness for years. But the Cowboys are in a much different situation. At least 49ers fans realize how awful their team has become. Mark my words that by August or whenever the lockout ends, fans and media will convince themselves that the Cowboys are ready to challenge for a Super Bowl. These are the Sultans of September -- except for this past season of course.
At least Jones has attempted to own up to his team's failure during his public appearances, which are numerous.
"I've done my worst work when I thought I had a pretty good hand," he said. "We certainly didn't play, didn't coach, didn't general manage, didn't own up to expectations."
But within moments, Jones was talking about how the Cowboys could make like the Packers and return to the Super Bowl next season. He did surprise everyone with his recent pronouncement that Garrett would have "final say" when it comes to hiring and firing coaches. But I'm pretty sure Jones has retained the right to fire Garrett.
I spent some time this week talking to Cowboys legends such as Tony Dorsett and Lee Roy Jordan about what the Cowboys have become. They both like Jones on a personal level, but remain somewhat skeptical that things will change.
"The first time [Jones] overrides Jason with one of the players, then Jason will have lost credibility or any discipline," Jordan said. "Every time he overrides the coach from then on, it will steamroll. I hope for everyone involved that Jerry has learned his lesson."
And for Cowboys fans, it never hurts to dream.
"I'm Sergeant Schultz -- I know nothing," the Pittsburgh Steelers' linebackers coach joked during Super Bowl media day Tuesday.
At this point, I turned to ESPN.com colleague John Clayton, who covered Butler's playing career in Seattle, and jokingly asked for what the Cardinals have so far failed to secure from the Steelers: permission to speak with Butler about a coaching job in Arizona.
We laughed, and it wasn't for the last time.
Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt, Butler's golfing buddy and former coaching associate in Cleveland and Pittsburgh, requested permission to interview Butler following the Super Bowl two years ago. The Steelers denied the request.
Tuesday, Butler repeatedly credited Steelers' ownership for stepping up to keep him in Pittsburgh. He pointed to Dan Rooney in particular for setting up the organization in a manner that has produced six Super Bowl championships.
"And the Rooneys did something they normally don't do with assistant coaches," Butler said. "I am cognizant of that."
What was it, I asked, that was so unusual?
"They gave me a lot of money," Butler said, his deadpan delivery enhanced by an accent with roots in Alabama, where he was born, and Memphis, where he played linebacker.
"It was unusual for a linebackers coach to make that kind of money," Butler said. "That was commitment from them. I am very fond of the Rooneys. I think they are great owners."
Butler credited Dan Rooney for playing a pivotal role in settling the two player strikes that marked Butler's playing career. He said he thought Rooney, now U.S. ambassador to Ireland, should play a role in solving in the current labor impasse.
"He has been a great asset for the league and the proof is in the pudding -- they've got six Lombardi trophies sitting in the trophy case in our office we see every day," Butler said.
If Butler came to Arizona, he would inherit a defense with talent on the line and in the secondary, but with serious concerns at outside linebacker. He credited the Steelers for arming him with high-character linebackers through the draft, noting that it makes his job easier. Butler could not work for a more stable organization.
Butler also shot down reports suggesting the Steelers have put in writing a promise to name him their next defensive coordinator. Current coordinator Dick LeBeau is 73 years old and without a contract for next season. LeBeau has said he'll coach for the Steelers if he coaches next season.
If LeBeau does decide to return, Butler could conceivably have more incentive to consider an offer from Whisenhunt, provided the Steelers granted Arizona permission to interview him. NFL rules require teams to let assistants interview for head coaching positions. Teams do no have to let assistants interview at the coordinator level.
Assistants for Super Bowl teams are off-limits to other teams until after the game.
Whisenhunt and Butler became close friends when working on the Browns' staff in 1999. Once in Pittsburgh, they regularly golfed with LeBeau and current offensive coordinator Bruce Arians. The four still debate which one won the most matches. According to Butler, winning a Super Bowl together cemented the bond.
"That doesn't mean he wouldn't fire me," Butler said of Whisenhunt. "That doesn't mean that at all. That doesn't mean I wouldn't fire him if I was in his shoes, either. He is a good friend of mine. Has been for a long time. We golf once a year in Hilton Head. I've been to Augusta with him once (to play Augusta National)."
The Cardinals fired defensive coordinator Bill Davis about three weeks ago. They have interviewed Miami Dolphins assistant head coach/secondary Todd Bowles. Whisenhunt has said he'd like to speak with assistants from both Super Bowl teams.
"Kenny has to do what he has to do," Butler said. "I do not want him to do anything that takes away from him being a great head coach at Arizona. I am under contract with the Steelers. I am not sure they will let me go. ...
"So, we'll see how it goes after everything pans out. As to whether I am going to be the defensive coordinator in Arizona or not, I have no idea. Kenny is not allowed to talk to me in terms of that situation until after the Super Bowl."
Earlier in the week, Sports Faith International made him one of four inductees to the Sports Faith Hall of Fame, joining Brian Piccolo, Gale Sayers, Dominoes Pizza founder and former Detroit Tigers owner Tom Monaghan and John Gagliardi, college football's all-time leader in coaching victories.
Bidwill was named Thursday as winner of the Fritz Pollard Alliance's Paul "Tank" Younger Award for promoting "diversity and equality of job opportunity in the coaching, front office and scouting staffs" of NFL teams.
Past winners include Dan Rooney, Rick Smith, Ozzie Newsome, James Harris, Bill Walsh, Tony Dungy, Frank Gilliam and Bobby Mitchell.
"When you look back over the years, going back to his time in St. Louis, Mr. Bidwill has a long history of hiring minorities to administrative and authoritative positions," Fritz Pollard Alliance chairman John Wooten said in a news release. "He has really helped level the playing field and that is what this award is all about."
The Fritz Pollard Alliance plans to present the award to Bidwill at the NFL combine Friday.
Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas
Jerry Richardson calls almost every one of his employees by a different nickname that has some deep, personal meaning.
|Paul Spinelli/Getty Images|
|Panthers owner Jerry Richardson is "hopeful" that he'll be able to attend Saturday's playoff game.|
Around the offices and in the locker room of Bank of America Stadium, there are favorite Richardson names like "Opie," "Waffle House," "Crash" and dozens of others. Around the offices and in the locker room of Bank of America Stadium, there's only one name for the owner of the Carolina Panthers.
It's not because he signs the paychecks. It's because that's the kind of respect the man commands. Inside the building and outside it. Throughout the Carolinas and throughout the National Football League.
Yeah, there might be a few exceptions, such as wife Rosalind, some other franchise owners and boyhood friends who call him Jerry. After all, that's how he introduces himself on the telephone and what he tells others to call him.
"Yeah, but how could you possibly call him Jerry?" said Atlanta Falcons communications coordinator Ted Crews, who used to work for the Panthers. "Mr. Richardson is just one of those people who just epitomizes why you use the word 'Mister.' He's so filled with class and has such a presence about him. When he's in the building, you just know he's there."
That's a common view for all who know Richardson. But the irony is the man who did more than anyone to make Charlotte a major league location isn't even certain he'll be in the building for one of the biggest sports events in the city's history.
Richardson, 72, had been having health problems throughout the fall and doctors found major issues with his heart. He has been placed on a list for a heart transplant and is awaiting a donor. Richardson has been working an abbreviated schedule, mostly over the phone from home in recent weeks, and trips outside the house depend on how he's feeling from day to day.
That's why the Panthers are saying only that Richardson is "hopeful" of attending Saturday night's playoff game against the Arizona Cardinals. It's only the third home playoff game in the history of the franchise -- a franchise Richardson brought to the Carolinas.
Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker
Here are the most interesting stories Thursday in the AFC North:
- The NFL approved the sale of shares of the Pittsburgh Steelers to Dan and Art Rooney II, ending several months of ownership uncertainty.
Morning take: This is great news for the Steelers and the NFL. The Rooneys are an important and influential part of the league and deserve to remain invested.
- Commissioner Roger Goodell backs referee Walt Coleman's ruling of a late touchdown in the Pittsburgh's 13-9 victory over the Baltimore Ravens.
Morning take: Goodell said it was "very good use of instant replay." We believe it was the exact opposite.
- Chad Ocho Cinco believes the Cincinnati Bengals will finish the year on a three-game winning streak.
Morning take: With upcoming games against the Cleveland Browns (4-10) and Kansas City Chiefs (2-12), Ocho Cinco could be correct.
- Browns tight end Steve Heiden, who will have surgery Thursday to repair a torn ACL, hopes to return for the 2009 season opener.
Morning take: ACL injuries can take anywhere from six months to a year, so there are no guarantees when Heiden will be ready. It will be interesting to see if his questionable status affects the Browns' offseason plans for starting tight end Kellen Winslow Jr.
1:00 PM ET Tampa Bay Cleveland 1:00 PM ET Arizona Dallas 1:00 PM ET Philadelphia Houston 1:00 PM ET New York Kansas City 1:00 PM ET Jacksonville Cincinnati 1:00 PM ET San Diego Miami 1:00 PM ET Washington Minnesota 4:05 PM ET St. Louis San Francisco 4:25 PM ET Denver New England 4:25 PM ET Oakland Seattle 8:30 PM ET Baltimore Pittsburgh