Pete Rozelle’s Retirement Memos

Wednesday June 25th, 2014

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His first job in the NFL was as a public relations assistant, and by the time his career was over, Pete Rozelle had turned pro football into America’s No. 1 sport. The owners needed 23 ballots to choose an NFL commissioner in 1960, but Rozelle, then the 33-year-old general manager of the Los Angeles Rams, proved to be the right man for the job. During Rozelle’s 29-year tenure, the NFL secured its first league-wide television contract, merged with the rival AFL and expanded from 12 teams to 28.

The former PR man certainly understood how to market the game, guiding it to new levels of popularity through Monday Night Football and the creation of the Super Bowl. After a pair of players’ strikes in the 1980s, Rozelle’s retirement came with as much surprise as his original election had. In March 1989, he explained in a simple one-page letter to his staff that he wanted to spend more leisure time with his wife, Carrie. Seven years later, at age 70, Rozelle died of brain cancer, leaving behind an NFL empire shaped by his vision.

— Jenny Vrentas

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