It doesn't take long to size up Dan Rooney.

Years ago, when the Washington Redskins practiced against the Pittsburgh Steelers during training camp in Frostburg, Md., an unassuming man joined writers on the sideline. He could have been one of the many VIP fans inside the ropes with an opinion.

It took a moment to realize it was the Steelers' owner. Unlike Redskins counterpart Dan Snyder and predecessor Jack Kent Cooke -- men who you need invitations to meet -- Rooney is a refreshingly nice guy who owns a football team.

Those few minutes captured Rooney perfectly. And that view has not changed.

"Dan is his father's son in character and temperament, and their unpretentious, deeply grounded and profoundly ethical values have spread through the organization," said Rob Ruck, Pittsburgh sports historian and co-author of "Rooney: A Sporting Life."

"I think that the current president of the Steelers, Dan's son Art, has been cast in that mold, too. They give quite a degree of autonomy to people in the organization, but those people act and make decisions with an internalized sense of how Art, Dan and now Art again would act."

Sports Illustrated named the Rooneys the NFL's best owners in 2009. But the family has been a great owner for three generations. Art Rooney bought the team in 1933 as a gift for his Dan's first birthday. "The Chief" ran the team until Dan took over in 1975. Now Art Rooney II is team president, while Dan serves as the U.S. ambassador to Ireland. Both Art and Dan Rooney are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

The Steelers seek their seventh Super Bowl championship on Feb. 6 against the Green Bay Packers. Their success was forged through smart business moves rather than treating the team as a toy. The Steelers are famous for letting other teams overpay for their free agents rather than rock their own payroll. Frankly, the Steelers' front office is just smarter than many competitors.

"The team is not a hobby, nor is it geared solely to maximizing profit," Ruck said. "They want to be competitive every season and have avoided the salary cap issues that allowed Dallas and San Francisco to build winners but then have to tear apart the roster because of overspending."

Dan Rooney lives in his father's old home just a few blocks from Heinz Stadium. Rooney still walks through the blue-collar neighborhood to work. It's one reason why he's the most popular man in town.

"In the last 40 years, sport -- even more than steel -- has cast an image of Pittsburgh to the world," Ruck said. "Football and especially the Steelers are at the center of that story. It's a story about people who work hard and play harder, who lose but persevere and in the end become the city of champions. The Rooneys personify that story."

Sure makes you want to root for the Steelers.

Examiner columnist Rick Snider has covered local sports since 1978. Read more at and on Twitter @Snide_Remarks or e-mail