Meanwhile, two existing football leagues merged in 1970. Now operating as a single league, the NFL nevertheless had two distinct conferences. The Giants were seen as members of the dominant conference. It is said that Wellington Mara convinced Rooney and the Steelers to join the supposedly weaker American Football Conference, to achieve a balance of power. The move swiftly made the league more competitive and, hence, more successful.
As Larry McCarthy wrote in Making the Irish American, Mara and Rooney agreed to do this "so that each (franchise) has a realistic opportunity of competing and winning. This strategy has helped transform the league from a collection of family run enterprises owned by the Maras (New York Giants), the Rooneys (Pittsburgh Steelers), the Modells (Cleveland Browns and Baltimore Ravens) and the Halas-McCaskeys (Chicago Bears) to a highly successful, multi-billion dollar, multinational sports enterprise." It also led Timothy and Wellington Mara, and Art and Dan Rooney, into the Football Hall of Fame.
One Hill Left to Climb
The Rooney family is not merely dedicated to football. It has played a large role in Irish-American affairs, far beyond the mere fact that a 2004 biography of Art Rooney (by Andrew O'Toole) was titled Smiling Irish Eyes. Along with Sir Anthony O'Reilly, Dan Rooney established the American Ireland Fund, which has secured millions of dollars for investment in the Irish economy.
The AIF's achievements would have been "unthinkable twenty-five years ago when Dan Rooney and I staggered through that first dinner in New York," O'Reilly once said. He added that Dan Rooney "is a symbol of the modern American dream; the poor family that came from Newry in County Down, who made their way through the tough North Side of Pittsburgh to the pinnacle of American football in their ownership of the Pittsburgh Steelers."
Indeed, the Maras and Rooneys have achieved so much for so long that there is only one hill left to climb. They have yet to play against each other in the Super Bowl. With both the Giants and Steelers pointed in the right direction, perhaps Super Bowl XLIII will finally be the time.
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