A member of the Class of 1962, Harold “Bud” Rooney was one of the greatest all-around athletes to ever come out of Patchogue-Medford High School. The proverbial “triple threat” athlete, Rooney earned all-league and all-county honors in not one, but three sports — as Patchogue’s versatile varsity football quarterback, record-setting basketball forward, and hard-hitting baseball shortstop and pitcher. He went on to become a football star for the nationally renowned Syracuse University Orangemen from 1963-66. Playing alongside future NFL stars Floyd Little, Jim Nance, Larry Csonka, and future Giants’ head coach Tom Coughlin, Rooney gained fame as a feared defensive back in the ferocious unit nicknamed “the Spiders.” As captain of the unit, Rooney was known as “The Black Widow.” He kept up his year-round athletic excellence at Syracuse, also playing basketball and baseball.
His dream of playing professional football after college was cut short when he suffered a leg injury sustained while working as a member of the New York Jets development squad. But in at least one respect Rooney was able to follow in the footsteps of a certain contemporary who did make it big with the Jets. Like superstar quarterback Joe Namath, Rooney’s movie-star good looks and appealing personality earned him opportunities to begin a very promising career as a model and actor. He had small roles in the movies “Love Story” and “The Owl and the Pussycat.” To help pay the rent for his Greenwich Village apartment, he also began working as a freelance photographer.
Then very suddenly and all too soon, what had seemed nothing less than a charmed life took a tragic turn. On May 17, 1973 Rooney suffered an epileptic seizure from which he was unable to recover. He was just 28 years old. A wake service at Patchogue’s Ruland Funeral Home brought together hundreds of shocked and saddened family members and friends, including Namath and several other sports celebrities. Jets and Steelers’ defensive back (and future broadcaster) John Dockery delivered a eulogy. Former Patchogue-Medford football coach Joe Agostinello called Rooney “the best athlete I ever coached. To me, Patchogue and Buddy Rooney have always been one, in that he represented Patchogue wherever he went — in high school, college, and all through his adult life.”
Don Campbell, the longtime P-M basketball coach said of Rooney: “A kid like that comes along once in a lifetime.” The Patchogue-Medford community was lucky to have had Harold “Bud” Rooney.