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Rooney takes on new title as Steelers' chairman emeritus

PITTSBURGH -- This may be as close as Dan Rooney comes to retiring from pro football.

Rooney, named the U.S. ambassador to Ireland earlier this year by President Barack Obama, is now listed as the Pittsburgh Steelers' chairman emeritus -- a title commonly given to an executive who has retired from professional life.

The Steelers did not formally announce the title switch, but club officials confirmed the change Friday as players reported for the first day of training camp.

Rooney, whose family has owned the Steelers since their founding in 1933, was the Steelers' president from 1975 until 2003, when he became team chairman. His son, Art II, who runs the Steelers' on a day-to-day basis, has been the president since 2003.

Dan Rooney is not entirely detached from Steelers business while in Ireland -- he is considered by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell to be one of the league's most important figures -- but team publicist Dave Lockett said the title change reflects Rooney's new position. Rooney resigned all of his positions on NFL committees in March to focus on his new job as ambassador, and his last day working at the Steelers' offices was July 20.

"It's a full-time job, an important job," Lockett said. "The title change was made when was appointed as the U.S. ambassador."

Rooney, 77, has been one of pro football's most influential figures since the Steelers won four Super Bowls in six seasons from 1974-79, not long after he took over day-to-day operations from father and team founder Art Rooney.

Dan Rooney has long been involved in NFL labor relations, was largely responsible for ending two labor-related shutdowns, and helped craft the NFL's TV policy. He also pushed for the league to adopt what has become known as the Rooney Rule, which requires teams to interview minorities for coaching jobs and, now, other key positions.

Rooney was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2000.

No one has succeeded Rooney as the Steelers' chairman. In the team's updated staff directory, the only administrators listed are Dan Rooney, Art Rooney II, vice president Art Rooney Jr. and administration adviser Chuck Noll. Art Rooney Jr., the team's player personnel chief in the 1970s and 1980s and Dan's brother, hasn't been involved in team affairs for 20 years. Noll, who retired as coach after the 1991 season, also has no active role with the team.

Dan Rooney, long involved in U.S.-Irish affairs, was chosen as ambassador in March, six weeks after the Steelers won a record sixth Super Bowl. He is the founder of the American Ireland Fund, an organization that has raised millions to advocate peace and education in Ireland.

An executive or professor who takes the title of emeritus is generally considered to be permanently retired, but Lockett wouldn't go that far in describing Rooney's status. Last month, Dan and Art II finally wrapped up a long-in-the-works transaction in which they gained a 30 percent share of the team by buying shares from other family members.

"Even boxers come back," Lockett said.

Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press

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