Sunday, February 1, 2009

One team's brotherhood

There's an old saying:

"To lead people, walk beside them."

That's a good description of how 76-year-old Steelers owner and Hall of Fame member Dan Rooney leads.

After all, as described in this NY Times article, how many owners of a professional team...

-- Walks to his team's home games, including passing under a highway overpass?

-- Flies on the team charter, where he sits on the non-reclining row next to the bathroom?

-- Eats lunch in the team cafeteria with Steelers employees and players?

-- Invites players into his office to nap on the sofa?

-- Lives in a modest house across the street from an abandoned lot and a Wendy's fast-food restaurant?

Some owners treat you like a rental property,” said defensive end Nick Eason, who has played in Denver and in Cleveland . “They have some maintenance guy to take care of it, they just come by to check on it, they look and they leave. Mr. Rooney comes around, he always sticks his hand out to you. ‘Hey, Nick’— and I’m like, he knows my name?”

Nose tackle Casey Hampton said: “A lot of owners, this is a hobby, but for him, this is his business, what he does. He’s here, shakes your hand, talks to you every day. Every day.”

According to this article, "strong safety Troy Polamalu said he treats all the players as his equal, “from Hines Ward to a free-agent rookie."

The Steelers family encompasses not only the current team but past players as well. “You come back, and you’re still a part of here,” Ward said. “We know the history of the team. Not only do we represent ourselves but all the players who wore the black and gold before us.”

The former linebacker Andy Russell, who played for the Steelers for 13 years, said: “Here I’ve been out of the game over 30 years, and they jump up and come over and shake my hand and tell me how pleased they are to see me. You know, I’m thrilled to see them. It’s a brotherhood.”

Mr. Rooney takes no credit for the "brotherhood," saying that the team's culture has been cultivated over a number of years.

"It started with my father," he said. "He gave me the values. He treated players, coaches, general staff as people. He was concerned about them."

This author contends that the "culture now permeates the entire organization — a sort of ego-free zone in which players and coaches can occasionally seem as if they’re competing for a Nobel prize in humility."

"We don’t care who gets the credit, and all we want to do is win. It’s very important that a team come together, that they develop respect for each other — you can call it love."