ABC News' Matthew Jaffe reports: The story about the car accident that killed Sen. Joe Biden's first wife and daughter in 1972 is well-known, but in his speech today in Greensburg, PA, an emotional Biden described a gesture by the NFL's Pittsburgh Steelers that left a lasting impression on him and his two injured sons.
Last month in Pittsburgh in an impromptu run-in with Steelers coach Mike Tomlin and just last week in a stop at Canton's Pro Football Hall of Fame, the Democratic vice-presidential nominee mentioned how former Steeler Rocky Bleier brought an autographed football to his two hospitalized boys, Beau and Hunter, in Wilmington, but today, an introduction by Steelers owner Dan Rooney caused the memories to once again come flooding back.
"I'm sorry to take your time, but Mr. Rooney reminded of this, Dan reminded my by just seeing him," Biden said. "They wouldn't let me bring a Christmas tree in, understandably, into the hospital, because of concern about fire, so I went to K-Mart to get a synthetic tree that would, you know, so I’d be able to bring it in and have something there at Christmas for my kids."
"I don't remember precisely, it was either the 23rd or Christmas Eve Day, I’m not sure, I think it was the 23rd, while I was, one of the few times I was away from their bed for a couple hours," the Delaware lawmaker recalled. "I came back and they, they looked like they had lighted up like Christmas trees. My one little boy was in traction and the other little boy had a seriously fractured skull and they were happy, and they each had separately, they had a football in their beds…"
At that point, Biden paused, with the whole high-school gymnasium silent as the senator choked up behind the podium.
"Excuse me," he said, as the audience then filled the silence with applause.
"Anyway," Biden continued. "I said, 'Guys, where'd you get the ball?' and they said 'Daddy, Rocky Bleier gave it to us.'"
Art Rooney Sr., Dan's father, had sent Bleier, the Steelers fullback, to Wilmington to present the young Biden boys with a get-well gift.
"Mr. Rooney Sr., Dan's dad, had, without any fanfare, without, without any announcement, without anything other than his incredible decency…," said Biden, trying to continue but stopping again to wipe away his tears.
"I really apologize, I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I shouldn’t have tried to do this, but anyway…"
More supportive cheers came from the crowd as the senator caught his tears with his handkerchief.
"It's a helluva family, it's a helluva family," Biden stated.
"And as I said when Dan introduced me to his son, I said an expression my dad used to have, I looked at Dan's son and I said, 'If my dad were here, he'd say, 'kid, you got good blood, you got good blood.'" And they're good blood. The Rooneys are the finest family in American football and we're lucky to have them here in southwest Pennsylvania."