TDBH: Brown salutes passing of great rival Rooney

Posted Apr 12, 2018

This Day in Bengals History - April 13, 2017

In the end, even though Mike Brown’s Bengals and Dan Rooney’s Steelers become one of the NFL’s signature rivalries of the new century and the last, they have more in common than not. “I respected him. I liked him. I always thought of him as a friend down deep,” says a visibly shaken Brown after hearing the news late this afternoon that Rooney has passed away at age 84. “We understood the trials and tribulations that go along with participation in the league. We probably had a competitive instinct to beat the other guy on the field. But off the field it’s not that way at all.” Like Rooney, Brown is a high school quarterback who helps a larger-than life father run an NFL team and then succeeds him before turning over day-to-day operations to his own offspring. Brown is two years younger than Rooney and has known him more than 60 years. They meet, naturally, at an NFL meeting when Brown is in college and his father Paul coaches and runs the Browns while Art Rooney runs the Steelers. “We sat on the periphery of the meeting in easy chairs in a room that was no bigger than this office,” Brown recalls.

The courtly, gentlemanly Rooney leaves his mark in the easiest of ways that personifies his title of “Mr. Ambassador,” that President Obama bestows on him with the Ireland appointment. Whenever the Bengals beat the Steelers and you are in the grim post-game elevator with him, he would sadly extend his hand and offer, “Nice game.” After one of those losses in Pittsburgh, Rooney still hosts Nancy Brown, Mike’s wife, and her friends in his office. After one game in Pittsburgh when Mike Brown is walking out of the locker room after a Steelers win, Rooney is in the foyer and comes across to shake his hand.   “He had no need to do that, but he did,” Brown says. “It would be things like that. Those things registered with me and, in all honesty, I treasure their memory.”

Their relationship spans Super Bowls, strikes, flagship network deals and franchise quarterbacks. Their relationship offers a snapshot of life at the top in the rough-and-tumble NFL.  When realignment raises its head in 2002 with eight four-team divisions, Brown wants the Bengals to stay with the Steelers and Browns and knows Rooney’s support would pretty much seal it. “One time I said to him it probably meant more to me than it meant to him,” Brown says. “In a way I think I impacted him with that statement.  He came to back the idea. Probably not as full-heartedly as I, but he did. He probably would have been open to bringing in someone other than us, but we didn’t want to do that and I think in the end he came to accept that.”   Of course there are disagreements. “There was one time he really castigated me on the floor of the meeting,’ says Brown who can’t remember the topic because there is something more to it than that. “I was walking down the hallway. He was walking down the hallway. It didn’t matter. We knew that’s how it worked … But it was pretty rough and yet it didn’t affect the way I felt towards him and I like to think it didn’t really affect the way he felt towards me … That shows you how it is in the league.”


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