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Dan Rooney missing first Steelers camp since '30s

There hasn't been a Steelers training camp like this since the year Max Schmeling knocked out Joe Louis, "Gone with the Wind" was published and Jesse Owens won four Olympic gold medals in Adolf Hitler-controlled Germany.
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There hasn't been a Steelers training camp like this since the year Max Schmeling knocked out Joe Louis, "Gone with the Wind" was published and Jesse Owens won four Olympic gold medals in Adolf Hitler-controlled Germany.There's no Dan Rooney around.The Steelers players reside in Rooney Hall during their three weeks at Saint Vincent College, an hour's drive east of Pittsburgh. A Rooney remains in charge of the Steelers, the only six-time Super Bowl winner.Only it's not Dan Rooney, who is now the U.S. ambassador to Ireland, a full-time position that allows him little time for football and none for training camp.Time enough, however, to place a weekend phone call to find out how his football team is doing."Burt (Lauten, a team publicist) told me he called and asked how things are going," defensive end Brett Keisel said Monday. "It's different not having him here. We're missing him."Dan Rooney, one of the most successful and influential team owners in American pro sports history, has been part of a football family almost since the day he was born in 1932. His father, Art, founded the Steelers a few months later and began taking the oldest of his five sons to camp when Dan was 5. Some of Dan Rooney's earliest memories are of catching gingerly thrown passes from one of his father's employees.A Steelers training camp without Dan Rooney, who first began negotiating player contracts for his father while attending Duquesne University, seemed unimaginable _ at least until this summer, Rooney had attended every camp for a remarkable 71 consecutive years starting in 1937.Several players said it hit them that the Pro Football Hall of Fame owner wouldn't be around when they sat down for their annual start-of-camp team meeting on Friday and Dan Rooney didn't address them. Instead, Art Rooney II, Dan's son and the team president for six years, gave the talk."Mr. Rooney's such a big personality who's really encouraging to everybody," safety Troy Polamalu said. "For him to not give us a speech, that was different."It was the first time since the Steelers were founded during a time when pro football badly trailed college football in popularity that their players haven't begun a season being greeted by either Art Rooney, who died in 1988, or his son.Dan Rooney calls himself the NFL's last throwback, the only remaining link to the days when NFL ownership was essentially a mom-and-pop business and even a few hundred tickets sold might mean a profitable weekend. Now that Dan Rooney is effectively retired and his title has been changed to chairman emeritus, even those days are gone _ although he hopes to attend the Titans-Steelers opener on Sept. 10."I'm missing him, but I'm sure he's missing us a little more," coach Mike Tomlin said.Jeff Reed knew one or two bad games might end his Steelers kicking career after he was signed midway through the 2002 season. He was understandably worried even during practice, but he said Dan Rooney helped him get over his nervousness."Nobody else hears it because they're practicing," Reed said. "The stuff he said to me, I don't remember his exact line or anything, but his presence made me feel like, 'Man, this is the owner saying this stuff to me.' I'm sure everybody jokes around to an extent, but he's really personable. I used to get nervous having the heads of the organization around, but once you realize how much of a people person they are, you come back down to earth."Numerous generations of Steelers players have felt the same way.Dan Rooney was there as a ball boy in the 1940s, when his friendly training camp throwing sessions helped develop him into a second-team Catholic all-city quarterback (Johnny Unitas, coincidentally, was the first teamer).He was there in the 1950s, when the Steelers lacked their own stadium and practice facility. He was there in the 1960s, when hiring coach Chuck Noll helped snapped the Steelers out of 40 years of lethargy. He was there in the 1970s, when the Steelers were a team like none other, and in the 1980s, when they were just another team.The 1990s brought Bill Cowher and another era of winning that has carried into the 2000s, which has brought two more Lombardi trophies to go with the four won in the '70s.The Steelers players expect a seamless transition now that Art Rooney II is running the show by himself. Art II has been in charge of the team's day-to-day operations since 2003, when his father began devoting additional time to league matters.As linebacker James Farrior said, "They do things a certain way around here, and it's been that way since the Steelers have been the Steelers."Running back Willie Parker and other players plan to call Dan Rooney on a regular basis to tell him how they're doing."Yeah, we miss him, but he's with us," Reed said. "He's just not here."