Art Rooney, founder and chairman of the Pittsburgh Steelers, died today at the age of 87.

Rooney died at 7:45 a.m. at Mercy Hospital in Pittsburgh, where he had been in a coma and in critical condition since Monday. He was hospitalized after suffering a stroke Aug. 17.The Steelers patriarch had shown improvement over the weekend to the point where doctors considered letting him leave the hospital. However, as doctors tried to wean him off the ventilator, he began experiencing breathing problems, said Dr. Theodore Gelet.

A CAT scan revealed Rooney had suffered more brain swelling, said Gelet, Rooney's cardiologist. The downturn prompted doctors to increase use of the ventilator, hospital officials said.

Rooney's five sons - Daniel, Art Jr., Tim, John and Pat - watched over their father at his bedside during the final days. His fans also sent him get-well cards and telegrams flower bouquets.

Rooney was recognized as one of the most popular figures in American sports, and he was active in the Democratic party, Roman Catholic Church and the city of Pittsburgh.

Rooney, who had a long history of heart disease, worked Aug. 17 but suffered a dizzy spell at his Three Rivers Stadium office and was taken to the hospital. Doctors found Rooney had suffered a stroke on the left side of his brain that paralyzed the upper right arm and slightly slurred his speech.

Rooney purchased the Pittsburgh NFL franchise in 1933 and named the team the Pittsburgh Pirates. In 1940, he sold the team and bought part interest in the Philadelphia Eagles as a partner with Bert Bell. The following year, Rooney and Bell traded the Eagles for the Pirates, then renamed the Pittsburgh franchise the Steelers.

Losers during most of their history, the Steelers rose to the top of the NFL in the 1970s, winning an unprecedented four Super Bowls.