Brown salutes Rooney

Posted: 8:45 a.m.

DANA POINT, Calif. - With the owners gagged on the labor issue, these have been one of the quietest NFL spring meetings ever. But it is one of the noisiest in history because it is the last one for one of the men who had a huge impact on the last major agreement between the league and the players.

"That's how it looks right now," said Bengals president Mike Brown of Dan Rooney's last session as head of the Steelers.

Rooney, in his characteristic unobtrusive sweater and/or jacket stood outside the meeting room Tuesday during a lunch break and shrugged.

"That's the way life is. You move on to another challenge," said Rooney, who chose not to comment on the next challenge because he's waiting for Congress to confirm him as the next U.S. ambassador to Ireland.

At 76, Rooney is three years older than Brown, which means they were "kids" when they first met.

"Long time. When the Browns came in in 1946 and we played them in the preseason," Rooney said of the All-American Football Conference. "He and I had similar backgrounds as far as loafing around the team.  Well, we move on."

Rooney admitted to be blinking back some emotion as he thought about all the years that now include six Super Bowl titles after last February's final-minute heroics against another old school team, the Chicago/St. Louis/Arizona Cardinals.

Cardinals owner Bill Bidwill remembered this week those hotel lobbies of 50 years ago when they sat in opposite chairs while their fathers met to conduct the business of a very different NFL.

"He's been one the very important owners in this league for a long time. His franchise has been at the top more than anybody else's," said Brown, who shares Rooney's casual dress and league view. "If you accomplish that, you have won the race and during his time in this league he's won the race, which is something we all have to take our hats off to him for.  Beyond that, he's been instrumental in the way the league has operated over the years."

Brown wished Rooney well with his characteristic dry wit ("He's got real responsibility now"), but didn't think it would take him long to adjust.

"I always thought of people in this league when it came to political figuring, nobody does it better than he. I don't think he'll be a fish out of water at all," Brown said.

Rooney is best known in league circles for helping broker the last collective bargaining agreement in 1993. He's also known as an old-school owner that didn't mind trying to work with the new-wave owner in the halls of the latter day league office. It's a role Brown doesn't want, but he understands it and knows that Rooney puts the NFL above all else.

"He's been a huge force in labor dealings the league has had and in other areas as well," Brown said. "On a lot of things we agree. There are occasions we don't agree. We both have one thing in common. We are very much for the NFL succeeding and I think we both look beyond our own club's interest. Certainly he's done that."

The meetings began with former secretary of state Condi Rice talking about how "the arc of history" dwarfs day-to-day struggles, so it was almost fitting that they were ending with Rooney and Brown talking about old-school commitments in the face of what looks to be another major battle for labor peace.

"I can't talk about that," said Brown, when the guy from Yahoo Sports asked a labor question.

RULE PROPOSALS: All four playing rule changes geared to safety passed Tuesday, including the Hines Ward Block.

Remember the hit on Bengals linebacker Keith Rivers that broke his jaw?

The ruling on hits to the head now reads, "It is an illegal 'blindside' block if the initial force of the contact by a blocker's helmet, forearm or shoulder is to the head or neck area of an opponent when: the blocker is moving toward his own endline; and he approaches the opponent from behind or from the side."

Asked about the so-called Hines Ward Rule Tuesday morning before the proposal passed, Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin seemed to bristle and wouldn't comment.

"As far as I know it's not a rule yet," he said.

Other rules that were adopted:

» If the initial force of the contact by a defender's helmet, forearm, or shoulder is to the head or neck area of a defenseless receiver who is catching or attempting to catch a pass.

(Before, a defenseless receiver was only protected if it was a helmet-to-helmet hit.)

» On an onside kick, at least three players must be lined up outside each inbounds line, one of whom must be outside the yard-line number.

» On a kickoff, no more than two receiving team players may intentionally form a wedge in an attempt to block for the runner. An illegal wedge is defined as three or more players lined up shoulder-to-shoulder within two yards of each other.

(The last two rules are designed to cut down on collisions.)

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