Rooney is the son of Pittsburgh Steelers Chairman Dan Rooney and the grandson of Steelers founder Arthur J. Rooney.
“The Steelers started in Johnstown and it’s one of our favorite stories, and it’s really enjoyable to me because they were called the James P. Rooneys (after the original owner), who was my great uncle. Jim Rooney was quite a character from what I understand,” Rooney said.
The James P. Rooneys played during the 1920s and early 1930s in Johnstown as a semi-pro team.
That changed in 1932 when many of the country’s so-called “Blue Laws” were eliminated and people began to work Sundays, Rooney said.
The fledgling National Football League began a team in Philadelphia and shortly afterward Charles Bidwell, owner of the Chicago Cardinals, contacted Arthur Rooney about starting a team in Pittsburgh, Rooney said.
His grandfather hedged to Bidwell and then turned to his brother.
“Jim had owed him some money, so he went to Jim and said, ‘Look, Jim, if you give me that football team I’m going to put them in the National Football League and the debt’s even.’ And Jim said, ‘Are you crazy, Art? That’s the worst business deal I’ve ever heard,’” Rooney told the laughing crowd.
“So the James P. Rooneys became the Pittsburgh Pirates and then the Pittsburgh Steelers and moved from Johnstown back to Pittsburgh,” Rooney said.
“So it’s always special for me to be up here,” he concluded.