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Pittsburgh is staying the course
Franchise is a model of stability in the NFL

PITTSBURGH - When Dan Rooney gave his welcome to training camp speech to the Pittsburgh Steelers in the summer, the message was different from any he or his late father Art previously delivered in the club's 76-year history.

The franchise that has been a benchmark of NFL stability in good times and bad, won five Super Bowls, spawned the careers of Terry Bradshaw, Jack Lambert and Ben Roethlisberger and gained a coast-to-coast following was a bit unsettled.

Rooney, the team chairman, and son Art II, the president, were working to keep the team following months of family negotiations, but the outcome was uncertain. The news then was that Dan Rooney's four brothers might sell their shares to Wall Street billionaire Stanley Druckenmiller, and the Steelers could be out of family control for the first time since their founding, except for a few brief months in 1941.

It was a rare unsettled moment for one of the NFL's cornerstone franchises, one that has stayed the course - and stayed successful - for generations. Some clubs are known for being the team of the decade; the steady-as-they-go Steelers are a team for every decade.

Despite receiving the kind of news that might have disrupted a less-grounded team's season, the Steelers accepted the challenge Rooney gave them: Don't worry about this, we will. You guys go win football games.

'I think they did a wonderful job of not letting it become a distraction, because it was a big deal,' defensive end Brett Keisel said, revealing the meeting for the first time. 'You don't know if your owners are going to stay the same or not. They came to us and said, 'We hope it comes out the way we would like, and we want you to concentrate on football because we have a tough schedule, and that's what's important.' That's what we did.'

Turns out both the owners and players kept their end of the deal.

The Steelers shook off a difficult schedule and numerous injuries to reach the Super Bowl for a seventh time. If they beat the Arizona Cardinals on Feb. 1 in Tampa, Dan Rooney doesn't need to be reminded what that will mean.

'If you win six, nobody else has ever won six,' Rooney said. 'We're going to Tampa with the idea of playing well.'

How's this for contrast in a Super Bowl matchup of old but very dissimilar teams: the Cardinals have been in three cities since 1960. The Steelers have had three coaches since 1969.

The Steelers are going to Tampa with their structure virtually unchanged, too, something the Rooney family wasn't certain was possible not long ago.

After nearly two years of inner-family negotiating, some of it in raised voices, Dan Rooney's brothers voted two months ago to sell all or part of their shares to him. Dan Rooney will bring in some outside investors to partly fund the buyout, but the settlement satisfies an NFL requirement that the primary owner has at least a 30 percent stake. Two brothers who held racetrack and gaming interests not permitted by the league won't own any shares.

The deal also satisfies NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, who gathered the brothers in New York in late August and made it clear the league wanted one of the most successful, stable and well-run franchises in pro sports to remain in Rooney family control.

'They've run a model franchise,' Goodell said. 'I think everyone in Pittsburgh recognizes how proud they are of the Steelers. We in the NFL recognize how fortunate we've been to have Dan Rooney's leadership and now Art's leadership.'

There were no win-one-for-the-Rooneys rallying cries in their locker room, at least any that were heard by outsiders, but it's evident the Steelers wanted to play well for owners they consider to be friends as well as employers.

'He (Dan Rooney) actually told us, 'There's a situation going on with the ownership right now but, you know what, if we win, it will take care of everything,'" All-Pro safety Troy Polamalu said. 'And you know everything's happened the way he predicted.'

Dan Rooney, a Pro Football Hall of Famer like father Art Sr., is one of the few owners recognized with legislation named after him. The Rooney Rule requires teams to interview minorities for key positions.

The way the Rooneys rule the Steelers is relatively simple: spend wisely. Don't throw big money at players who are productive but may be past their prime early in their new contracts. Hire good people. Be patient, because patience often pays off in production.

The Steelers list 104 full-time employees, from Rooney to the ticket sellers. The Dallas Cowboys list 209, or twice as many.

'They do a great job of letting their personnel do their jobs,' Keisel said. 'They take care of things on their end and let the people they've hired for their positions do their job. That's what's special.'

Think many teams would have kept coach Bill Cowher after he went 7-9, 6-10 and 9-7 from 1998-2000, missing the playoffs each time? The Rooneys did, and were rewarded with records of 13-3, 15-1, 11-5, 10-5-1, three AFC championship games and a Super Bowl over the next five seasons.

The Steelers also don't want players who demand the spotlight and demean others - you'll never see them pursuing a Terrell Owens - or who don't buy into their team-is-everything concept. The principles were the same when Chuck Noll turned a franchise that hadn't won a single postseason game in 40 years into a four-time Super Bowl winner. And when Cowher had eight teams that won 10 or more games from 1992-2006.

That philosophy hasn't changed with second-year coach Mike Tomlin, who sternly told his players he doesn't want Gatorade baths, and director of football operations Kevin Colbert, who doesn't give interviews during the season so as not to distract the team.

SideBar: Super Bowl

Who: Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Arizona Cardinals

When: 6 p.m. Feb. 1

Where: Tampa, Fla.

TV: NBC