"There was always the instinct to look for him at the games. I would always say hi when I was there, or drop in the office and see him for a few minutes. It was odd, looking around and not seeing him. It was different."
Those words from retired General Michael Hayden, the former CIA director and director of the National Security Agency (NSA), could have been uttered by hundreds, or more likely thousands, who came through the gates at Heinz Field last year.
It was different. It was odd. It wasn't the same not seeing Dan Rooney at Steelers games last year.
Rooney, the late Steelers Chairman and U.S. Ambassador to Ireland, passed away on April 13, 2017. His absence left a void in the hearts of many, but more importantly he left lasting memories with many, memories which were shared in a celebratory manner during, 'Slainte! Celebrating the Life and Legacy of Dan Rooney,' a symposium hosted by Duquesne University and The Ireland Funds.
"We really wanted to pay tribute to Dan Rooney as the first anniversary of his passing came closer," said Duquesne University President Ken Gormley. "We talked about the best way to do it, because Duquesne is where he received his education and we wanted to do something special to pay tribute. This is a whole day devoted to Dan Rooney in all aspects of his life. Not just in terms of building the Steelers into a great franchise, but also his life as a humble, faithful person who loved Pittsburgh, loved Ireland. We wanted to capture all of that."
The Rooney family took part in the symposium, were in attendance, and were amazed by the love and support shown.
"It's remarkable," said Steelers President Art Rooney II. "To have a whole day like this is a tribute to him. We are grateful to Duquesne for putting it together. It's great to see how many different people volunteered to be on these panels.
"Sometimes you just step back and it's amazing to see the impact he had. He had so much drive to try and make whatever he saw in front of him better. It didn't matter what it was. Obviously there were certain things he focused on. He had this real drive to see what he could do to make something better."
The list of speakers at the symposium represented every walk of life that Rooney touched, to those with the Steelers and the NFL, to religious and Irish leaders, those who loved the North Side, family and friends, and Vice President Joe Biden, the keynote speaker who told the Rooney family he wouldn't miss it for the world.
"He is the definition of when George Bernard Shaw said 'An Irishman's heart is nothing but his imagination,'" said Biden. "This guy imagined nothing but good things. Look at the Rooney Rule in football. Look at what has happened in terms of what he did in Ireland, and The Ireland Fund. Everything about him was about the other guy, always the other guy. My dad was one of those guys who used to say everyone is entitled to be treated with dignity. That is the hallmark of the Rooneys, treat everybody with dignity. He was an incredible guy. I got to know him and I admired him greatly. He was our Ambassador and he made us proud."
Coach Mike Tomlin participated in the segment, 'Dan Rooney, A Professional Life: The Steelers, The Rooney Rule and the NFL,' sharing his insight on Rooney.
"I think it's an appropriate thing to do, to have an academic symposium to honor him, to study the things he was able to do across many areas of expertise and endeavors in his life," said Tomlin. "The symposium encompasses all of that. You look at the many different walks of life of the people that are participating in it, it's an indication of the scope of Mr. Rooney's impact. I am honored to be a part of it. It's something that should be studied, and studied in a very academic way. The impact of the life that he led in so many areas. His life should be a course at Duquesne. DMR."
The impact Rooney had on Tomlin's life was far reaching, touching him in ways far beyond the football field.
"He was a blueprint in terms of being a husband and a father," said Tomlin. "He was a blueprint in terms of leading in a professional way, in a professional setting. He was a blueprint in being a mentor and a friend. If you ask me his impact, it depends on what context we are talking. There isn't an area of my life that he didn't touch in a very different way depending on the circumstances. He was that well-rounded and that complete of an individual.
"To me, it was one of the things that was most striking about him. It doesn't matter who you come across, he impacted them. And they felt like they had intimate relationships with him, whether it was the valet at a restaurant downtown, or Joe Biden. They all feel the same about their relationship and interaction with the Ambassador."
A panel comprised of Steelers' alumni, which included Charlie Batch, Franco Harris and Mike Wagner, as well as Rocky Bleier via video, shared their memories of Rooney, and provided an inside look to the close relationship Rooney had with the players throughout the years, a relationship that was nurtured through Rooney's presence in the locker room on a regular basis.
"When you grow up a fan of the Steelers, there is the myth of the Rooney family," said Batch, who is from Homestead, Pa. and played 11 seasons for the Steelers. "Then when you are on the team. When you are a part of it, you realize it's not just Pittsburgh, it's globally where that myth exists, and for good reason. It's everything you think it will be.
"To talk to Mr. Rooney, to have learned from him, it was an amazing thing. To have been around him as long as I was, it was special. When he gave me the endorsement to be a player rep, and be on that executive committee and said they had the right guy, it meant the world.
"To have Art Rooney ask me to be a part of this event, I was like absolutely. To see the people participating, I am honored to be a part of it. Mr. Rooney did so much for the players, coaches and executives in the NFL. To be a part of that, and speak on part of the players behalf and share what he did for us, it was an honor."
Harris couldn't do anything but smile when speaking about Rooney, a man he considered a mentor, family and friend.
"When you think about Mr. Rooney, you think about faith, family and football," said Harris. "That is what fit for Dan Rooney. To be able to talk about all of the things that he has done, what he has done for football, for the City of Pittsburgh. It's hard to put it into words how grateful we are that the Rooney family is here in Pittsburgh, and set their foundations here, for what was to become one of the greatest football franchises ever and to help make this city into one of the best cities ever."
The messages, the heartfelt emotions, the stories, while they all came from different perspectives, they all shared a similar theme. Everyone spoke of the way Rooney led his life, how fair he was, how he did the right thing, and did it with a combination of gentleness and courage that inspired so many.
"When Dan would introduce himself to people in the workforce, he would introduce himself as Dan Rooney, I am in the football business," said Hayden. "He was a smart businessman, he was a tough guy when it came to getting things done. He could negotiate and get his things done, but it never affected his personality. He never got self-important."