PITTSBURGH -- The heartfelt messages came from every angle Thursday. Several NFL team owners had issued statements within hours of the news. Droves of former and current Pittsburgh Steelers players expressed their deep respects on social media. No one had to look far to understand Dan Rooney's unmistakable impact on locker rooms, fans and even world leaders.
From the many qualities of Rooney, who died at age 84, what always stood out around the Steelers' facility was the owner's unassuming, kind nature. In an NFL era of bottom lines, secrecy and stadium financing, Rooney's mere presence was somehow inviting. Most days around noon in the team cafeteria, there was Mr. Rooney, grabbing a tray and getting in line for a meal like everyone else. When players discussed a Steelers culture built on security and self-identity, most had a similar message: Mr. Rooney cared for them as people.
Hall of Fame Steeler Jerome Bettis hit on this theme during an appearance on SC6 on Thursday night, and he's onto something in the bigger picture as it relates to the franchise's early days without him.
With a subtle tap on the back or a hello, Rooney had a way of connecting with players that made them play harder for him, Bettis said. His open-door policy made him more team player than overlord. Or, as Rooney put it himself in an archived documentary clip from NFL.com on Thursday night, "we tried to treat the players right, let the players be themselves."
"You had a relationship individual of the next guy -- it was your relationship with Mr. Rooney -- so you were always willing to go farther, do more than you probably would have under normal circumstances," Bettis said of the Steelers players' mentality. "Because I always knew if I had something out of the ordinary, he would do something for me."
Rooney was one of the last links to the NFL's more humble days. But his traits can serve as an extension for a bold NFL future in Pittsburgh.
The Steelers can preserve Rooney's legacy by continuing his compassionate, blue-collar ways while continuing to play inspired football the way he saw fit.
This runs deeper than football games. But considering the respect involved and how Pittsburgh has flirted with capturing a seventh Super Bowl the past few seasons, winning for Rooney will probably, definitely, be on the minds of some.
Ben Roethlisberger has a longstanding affection for Rooney and made a habit of meeting with him in his office once a week during the season. The Steelers quarterback wanted to put another Lombardi in Rooney's hands. Here's guessing he'll play inspired football in Rooney's honor.
As will Antonio Brown, who often publicly acknowledged Rooney over the past few years, particularly in light of his contract negotiations that spanned two-and-a-half seasons. Put it this way: Rooney might have been the primary reason why Brown never thought about holding out. He respected the Rooneys too much. Think the receiver won't be fired up to play for him? He won't be alone.
From his game-day walks to the stadium to his consensus-building ways, the stories of Rooney's impact are everywhere.
New stories can be made, starting with the Steelers following the Rooney playbook this season and beyond.