“I’ve come here for plenty of games, but it wasn’t anything like this,” said long-time Steelers fan Robert Pashel. “It was surreal. The craziest part was seeing pictures of Mr. Rooney throughout his career in the stadium. I actually got chills shaking his son’s hand.”
Approaching Heinz Field from General Robinson Street, fans were greeted by a black-and-white image of Rooney with an outstretched hand, the dates “1932-2017” below him. A slow, but steady, procession of admirers and fans entered the stadium through Gate B.
“I appreciate everything he did for the team,” Pashel said. “He was at the top. All the other NFL chairmen waited on him to see what moves he made before deciding what to do themselves.”
Some brought flowers with them. Some dressed in dark suits and dresses, others in black-and-gold, and a few in green to acknowledge his time as U.S. Ambassador to Ireland under President Barack Obama. Television monitors in the stadium showed a slideshow, depicting Rooney’s decades with the team.
“It was an honor to be a part of a group that loved this man and to be able to witness people showing up for this occasion,” said Rhonda Glover, who has been a Steelers fan for as long as she can remember. “Everything was beautiful.”
Inside, the Rooney family stood near their father’s closed casket. Flowers sent from various NFL franchises, bearing the respective teams' logos, sat in view. Fans shook hands with the Rooney family, and some acknowledged the solemnity of a stadium accustomed to thousands of cheering voices.
“He was a selfless and very generous person, but also humble,” Glover said. “You don’t see that a lot in a person nowadays.”
Attendees exited the stadium through Gate A, along Riverfront Park, and walked to the statue memorializing Dan Rooney's father, former Steelers’ chairman Art Rooney. His signature cigar remained between his fingers, but his arms now held bouquets of flowers, Pittsburgh collegiate memorabilia and a Steelers jersey.
“I’m just blessed to be able to come,” said Tonna Parker, who drove in from Washington, Pa. “I’ve been a Steelers fan my entire life, and I knew I needed to be here.”
“The impact he had on the city — very few people could hope to achieve that and do it to the degree he did,” said fan Grayson Davenport.
When asked if they could say anything to Rooney, every person interviewed for this story gave the same answer: “Thank you.”
“Thank you for all that you’ve done for the team, city and the North Side,” Parker said.