On a day when the Baltimore Colts play in the National Football League, Carroll Rosenbloom, their owner, is in torment. His palms are wet with sweat, and his superstitions run wild. In the locker room before the game he always pats the head of Johnny Unitas, the quarterback, and accepts a piece of adhesive tape from Lenny Lyles, a defensive back. After the pregame drill Rosenbloom makes it a point to circle the field with Don Shula, the Colts' jutjawed coach. In his box for the game, Rosenbloom turns pessimistic. If the opposing team fumbles the opening kickoff, he regards this as a clever plot to throw the Colts off guard. When the Colts kick a field goal he frets over the touchdown they failed to score. Even when Baltimore is comfortably ahead with only two minutes to go, he worries that the other team will score and try an onside kick. After the gun sounds he slumps in his seat, exhausted but all smiles—until he remembers next week's game. For Carroll Rosenbloom, tycoon, the world of big business provides no kicks or worries like pro football. Money means nothing compared to victory, and Wall Street can go to hell. "I don't want any yachts, and I don't want any castles," he says. "I would just like to have about 30 more championships, and then I'd be all set."
For a man as involved as Rosenbloom is in the well-publicized game of pro football, he is, nonetheless, a mysterious figure. For instance, few people know exactly what he does for a living. Bill Ford of the Detroit Lions means cars. Clint Murchison Jr. of the Dallas Cowboys is oil. Barron Hilton of the San Diego Chargers in the rival AFL, a league Rosenbloom regards as vastly inferior to his own, is hotels, and Sonny Werblin of the New York Jets is show business in big, bright lights. But Rosenbloom has a multiplicity of interests. He is shirts, stocks, movies and toys and perhaps even snips and snails and puppy-dog tails as well, for his money is spattered across the board. Even when Rosenbloom's interest in a single company is pinned down, his position is still confusing. He is, for instance, the largest single shareholder in an outfit known as the Philadelphia and Reading Corporation. This has to be a railroad, surely, but it is not. Originally in the coal business, it is now a holding company for a lot of other companies, including a dozen shirt and work-clothes concerns that used to belong to the Rosenbloom family. Rosenbloom is also the largest single shareholder in a company with the marvelously Goldfingerish name of Universal Controls. This company does not control the universe—although there were some delirious market speculators who once thought it would—but it does control, among other things, the American Totalisator Company, which leases the tote machines to racetracks. Rosenbloom is also the largest single shareholder (naturally) in Seven Arts Productions Limited, a company that backed Funny Girl, the Broadway musical starring Barbra Streisand, and such films as What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?, Lolita and The Night of the Iguana.
Rosenbloom directs his varied interests from no office to speak of, preferring to operate from indecipherable scribbles jotted down on the back of the envelope he carries in his breast pocket. In appearance he looks like a swinger. He is dapper, given to dark clothes with a hint of Hollywood. A Texas sportswriter who saw him for the first time exclaimed, "He's part hood!" Now 58, Rosenbloom is trim and of medium height. His face is arresting. He has high cheekbones, deeply set eyes, a strong jaw and sharply flaring nostrils. His manner is relaxed, polite and knowing. Smooth is the word friends often use to describe him. Whenever Rosenbloom sees an old friend, his voice lapses into a semisouthern drawl. "How are yewww?" he will say.
If Rosenbloom's numerous business ventures fail to bring him into focus, his press clippings are little help either. There have been favorable stories praising his generosity to his players and stories about his close friendship with the Kennedy family. But there have been others that Rosenbloom would, understandably, like to forget. These stories—there was a spate of them two years ago—began on the order of: "Attorneys for Carroll Rosenbloom today denied charges that...." In the main these charges dealt with alleged betting by Rosenbloom, not just on pro football—sin enough for anyone connected with the sport—but against his own team. Unfortunately for Rosenbloom, the accusations received prominent play, while his eventual clearance by the league wound up in small type next to the dog and cat ads.
December 13, 1965
Watching Rosenbloom watch his Colts, it is impossible to believe he could ever bet against them. Ever since he took over the Baltimore franchise in 1953 the Colts have been a consuming interest. Rosenbloom has seen every game and exhibition except two. Twice during the season he addresses the players personally, once when the squad has been picked at the end of training and then later before a critical game. One season when the Colts were playing poorly Rosenbloom told them he was going to stay out of the locker room until they performed like world champions. He recalls that Big Daddy Lipscomb tearfully asked, "Ain't you comin' back, Carroll? Ain't you comin' back?" Rosenbloom himself can get rather teary about the Colts, and after a tough loss he has been known to sob.
Rosenbloom has helped any number of his players into business on their own, and three of them, Alan Ameche, Joe Campanella and Gino Marchetti, are on their way to becoming multimillionaires with a chain of drive-ins and hamburger stands. According to one ordinarily cynical Wall Street man, Rosenbloom's character is best summed up by his interest in his players. "I think that Carroll Rosenbloom would be heartbroken if any of his old players ever came to him for a handout," the man says. "Carroll is not in the football business to make money. He is in it for two reasons: 1) to win and 2) to help his players direct their incomes so that they are well established in business before they are has-beens. He doesn't look upon the Colts as hired athletes. To him they are adopted sons."
Rosenbloom himself grew up in comfortable circumstances. His father, Solomon, was an immigrant from Russian Poland who went to work at 15 and eventually became a prosperous manufacturer of work clothing in Baltimore. Carroll was the last of six sons and the eighth of nine children. For a spell, the family lived down the street from H.L. Mencken, and Rosenbloom recalls, "He gave me my first hard-shell crab."
Rosenbloom was an indifferent student and a good athlete. He was a halfback in football, a pitcher in baseball and boxed a bit. In 1926 he entered the University of Pennsylvania, where he quickly became friends with another football player of similar background, Marty Brill, whose family owned the J.G. Brill Company, streetcar and bus manufacturers. The backfield coach was Bert Bell, who later became commissioner of the NFL. Rosenbloom and Brill got along well with Bell but had a difficult time with Lud Wray, the line coach, who delighted in having his linemen pile it on in practice. At the end of their sophomore year Brill and Rosenbloom went to South Bend, where they spoke to Knute Rockne, who was eager to have them. Rosenbloom's father talked Carroll into staying at Penn, but Brill transferred to Notre Dame and came back to score three touchdowns in a game Penn lost 60-20. Meanwhile at Penn, Wray finally got Rosenbloom benched. In his senior year Rosenbloom did not go out for the team, devoting his time to his major, psychology.
After graduating from Penn, Rosenbloom planned to work for the J.G. Brill Company in Philadelphia. He had no desire to join his brothers in working for his father ("He and I were too much alike"), but his father persisted and Rosenbloom returned to Baltimore. "I always knew I'd be a millionaire," Rosenbloom says. "I believe that anyone who wants to can make money. That's not very difficult. I can remember sitting on a park bench in front of our house in Baltimore, and my brother Ben said, 'What are you going to do?' 'I'll tell you one thing,' I said. 'When I'm 34 I'm going to retire.' " Rosenbloom spent two years with his father, and although they had their quarrels, the lessons he learned were lasting. Once his father allowed him to fill an order with a buyer. After the buyer left, his father said, "You told him you'd send the order on Friday. This is Tuesday and, no matter what you do, the factory won't be able to ship until next Wednesday. Did you know that?" Rosenbloom said that he did, whereupon his father replied, "I've never met a man smart enough to be a good liar." Rosenbloom called the buyer to say that he had been wrong.
Despite the wisdom dispensed by his father, Rosenbloom wanted to be on his own. The chance came in late 1932, the depth of the Depression, when he went to Roanoke, Va. to liquidate the Blue Ridge Overalls Company, a small factory that his father had acquired. He liked the company and returned to Baltimore, where he made a deal with his father to run it on his own. He moved to Roanoke, and Blue Ridge began to grow. Luck played a part. When the U.S. Civilian Conservation Corps was authorized, officials were desperate for denim work clothes, and Blue Ridge got a huge order. Rosenbloom also set about wooing the large distributors, such as Sears, Roebuck, Montgomery Ward, W.T. Grant and J.C. Penney. "I knew if you wanted to be big, you had to be associated with large sources of distribution," Rosenbloom says. "The large distributors have a policy—they see everybody. They do pretty much with manufacturers as we on the Colts do with college football players. We look for prospects."
By 1940 Blue Ridge had so prospered that Rosenbloom was able to retire at 32 instead of 34. For a year he led the life of a gentleman farmer at Warwick Manor on the Eastern Shore, where he raised peaches and corn and, not incidentally, got married to Velma Anderson, to whom he had been introduced by his friend Marty Brill. But then his father died, naming him executor of the estate, and Rosenbloom returned to business life. In 1959 Rosenbloom, acting for the family, sold the Blue Ridge interests, which had grown to include almost a dozen shirt and overall companies, to P & R. The price was $7 million in cash and more than $20 million in stock. Rosenbloom is an active director of P&R. "Carroll is of enormous assistance to our company," says Roger (Mike) Kelly, executive vice-president of P & R. "What he does is bring in important contacts." Another associate says, "Carroll can be very relaxed, smooth and objective in analyzing a situation because he's not carrying an order book in his back pocket for some schnook from Omaha. He deals with the executives of major chains, and he deals on a very high diplomatic level." Rosenbloom has become very enthusiastic about a company, De Luxe Reading Corporation, that P & R acquired in 1960. De Luxe Reading makes Topper Toys, which are advertised heavily on TV, and Rosenbloom has taken to telling friends the merits of a doll called Baby Boo. Baby Boo, Rosenbloom points out, will stop crying when given a pacifier, when covered with a blanket, when hugged or when the light is turned out.
Not all of Rosenbloom's investments have been so obedient. Thanks to the advice of Patrick B. McGinnis, whom Rosenbloom once looked upon as "a genius in the field of defaulted railroad bonds," he did quite well in the stock market in the 1940s. In the late 1950s, however, Rosenbloom had some slight difficulties with Universal Controls. This company began when Rosenbloom and Lou Chesler, a Canadian investor, acquired control of Universal Products Co. They went on to buy American Totalisator and a couple of other small companies, eventually lumping them all together under the name Universal Controls, Inc. With that, the stock began to rise at a dizzying rate, increasing in value by 10 times in a two-year period, and many of Rosenbloom's friends, including some Colts, made a tidy profit for themselves. But then the stock began to tumble, and some persons got hurt. The stock is now at 4, down from a high of 23, and Chesler, who has the reputation of being a wheeler-dealer, is no longer on close terms with Rosenbloom. Rosenbloom has every share of Universal stock he ever owned, representing a loss of $20 million in paper profits. Rosenbloom pretends not to mind. "I'm a builder, not a liquidator," he says. "I fall in love with companies." In recent weeks he has been planning some changes in Universal Controls to get the company moving again.
As far as Rosenbloom is concerned, the greatest investment he ever made was buying the Colt franchise. Originally he resisted. He was a football fan, but he had no desire to take over a team in Baltimore, where fans had a brief but bitter memory of once having had a club in the NFL. However, Rosenbloom's former backfield coach at Penn, Bert Bell, who was by then commissioner of the NFL, hounded him. Bell, who also happened to be a summer neighbor on the Jersey shore, issued veiled announcements to the press that Rosenbloom would take over in Baltimore. Finally Rosenbloom relented. "I just had no chance of getting out of it," he says. When he moved in at Baltimore he asked the fans, who can be vociferous, to give him five years to produce a winner. It took him six. In 1958 the Colts defeated the Giants in sudden-death overtime 23-17, for the NFL championship. In 1959 they repeated against the Giants. Last year, to Rosenbloom's anguish, they lost the championship game to Cleveland. "After the first year in football, I found that of all the things I've ever done, this is the thing," Rosenbloom says. "There is nothing more rewarding. You have everything wrapped up in one bundle. You meet much nicer people than you do in business. You meet the public, and you must learn to look out for them. There's no place where your word is more your bond than in sports. You'd never find 14 men who deal as fairly with one another as the 14 owners in the National Football League, particularly after some of the things that have gone on in business or on Wall Street. You play a part in the lives of young men, and you help them grow. And then every Sunday you have the great pleasure of dying."
Rosenbloom's tenure at Baltimore has not been all sugar. A few years ago, Mike McLaney, who had been involved in the purchase of American Totalisator, sued for additional stock rights in the company. He lost his suit, and a judge sealed the testimony, which contained charges that Rosenbloom had bet on pro football and, in one game, against the Colts. An acquaintance of McLaney's made the charges anew in the form of affidavits, which he distributed to startled owners at a league meeting. But the charges soon were revealed to have certain inherent defects—most notably in an accusation that Rosenbloom bet against the Colts in a 1953 game with Pittsburgh. The Colts did not play Pittsburgh in 1953. Even so, Pete Rozelle, Bell's successor as commissioner, began a six-month investigation—"He didn't want it to appear that he was being lenient with an owner while he was punishing players," Rosenbloom says—and when it was concluded Rosenbloom was cleared. Rosenbloom freely admits to having bet on college and pro football before becoming an owner. "Show you what kind of a bettor I was," he says. "I'd bet on three-team parlays, a $500 parlay on a Saturday and a $500 parlay on Sunday. If you won, you got 7 to 1." Nowadays Rosenbloom's betting is confined to the golf course, but he has not easily forgotten the McLaney affair. When asked recently if last season's loss to Cleveland had been heartbreaking for him, he replied, "Yes, it was," and then added with heavy sarcasm, "but we were betting on Cleveland, so that was some solace."
During the pro season, Rosenbloom spends from Monday through Thursday in New York, where he has an apartment in the Navarro Hotel on Central Park South. Days are largely given over to business. In the evenings he reads, goes to the movies (he is not much for the theater) or has dinner with Joe Kennedy. Rosenbloom first met Kennedy in Palm Beach in the late 1930s. Rosenbloom was then a rising young millionaire, and he remembers what Kennedy told him: "After you get the first couple of million, you can fake the next 10." Before his stroke, Kennedy was such an avid Colt fan that during the 1960 campaign Jack Kennedy complained that his father seemed "more interested in whether the Colts win than if I get elected." As a gag, Rosenbloom made up a picture of Joe dressed in a Colts uniform and sent it to his old friend. Kennedy was delighted. On the day before the inauguration, Rosenbloom helped Teddy's team beat Bobby's in touch by bringing along two ringers, Billy Pricer and L.G. Dupre of the Colts. Teddy palmed them off to Bobby as "a couple of guys who worked in the campaign." When JFK was buried Rosenbloom attended the funeral and then flew to Hyannis Port to be with Joe.
On Wednesday afternoon Rosenbloom usually plays golf at Deepdale on Long Island. Among his golfing cronies are William Paley, chairman of the board of CBS; Dan Topping, a onetime baseball-club owner who handles the Yankees for CBS; John Crawford, the bridge player; Francis (Bunty) Lawrence, a socialite who is in the construction business; and T. Suffern (Tommy) Tailer, another socialite whom Rosenbloom regards as "a great philosopher." Rosenbloom is an excellent golfer, and when he leaves for Baltimore on Friday he takes his clubs along. Upon arrival he is met by Don Kellett, the general manager of the Colts, who drives him to Memorial Stadium to see the team work out. Afterward he visits the ticket office to discuss business with Kellett and Ben Small, a onetime business aide of his father's who came to work for the Colts after the previous ticket manager embezzled $200,000. "Nothing cheap about the Colts," Rosenbloom says.
At noon he has lunch with friends and business associates, such as Mike Kelly of P & R and Sig Hyman, president of Pension Planners of Baltimore, Inc., who, at Rosenbloom's suggestion, drew up the pension plan for the NFL. On recent trips, Rosenbloom has given time to the planning of a new stadium. He expects to build it himself, but he wants the Orioles to play there too. Jerry Hoffberger, chairman of the board of the baseball club and also president of the National Brewing Company, a Colt sponsor, is an old friend. Memorial Stadium is only 13 years old, but Rosenbloom regards it as antique. The new stadium will go Houston's one better by having a sliding dome. "Why should Baltimore be second best?" he asks.
In the afternoon Rosenbloom, starting to become nervous about Sunday's game, gets a massage from Dimiter Spassoff, assistant trainer of the Colts who, with his son John, runs the Sauna Health Club in Baltimore. "I am a massage nut," Rosenbloom says. On Friday evening Rosenbloom meets up with his sons at the family apartment in Highfield House, overlooking the stadium. Dan, 22, a graduate of the University of Iowa, is waiting to enter the service. Steve, 21, is a junior at Georgetown, while Suzy, 16, attends school near Philadelphia. Rosenbloom, shades of his own father, expects both his boys to join him in business. When Bert Bell died he named Rosenbloom the executor of his estate, and Bell's two sons, Upton and Bert Jr., now work for the Colts. "Carroll's greatest characteristic is his patience with youth, which as a youth I appreciate," says Bert Jr., who attended Notre Dame, Penn, Temple, St. Joseph's and Villanova, emerging only "with a degree of embarrassment" before going to work for Rosenbloom.
On Saturday morning Rosenbloom breakfasts on butterfish or some other local delicacy. He often does the cooking himself and is especially proud of his crab soup. After breakfast he goes to the stadium for the final workout, and in the afternoon he tries to ease his growing jitters by playing golf. On Saturday night he meets Shula, who gives him the opening play the Colts will use. This season, the night before the first game with Green Bay, Shula looked tired, and Rosenbloom sent him to bed, forgetting about the play. The Colts lost, and Rosenbloom, ever superstitious, blames himself for the defeat.
On Sunday morning Rosenbloom's superstitions really take over. He rubs Unitas' head and gets his piece of adhesive tape from Lyles. As he follows the Colts onto the field for the pregame drill, several friends trail along, among them Socialite David Naylor-Leyland, wearing an Eton cricket tie for luck. After Rosenbloom circles the field with Shula, he gropes his way toward his box. Invariably he takes the wrong way. He has no sense of direction whatsoever. He gets lost in stadiums all the time and his baffled guests follow him through endless tunnels, mazes of ramps and even outside parking lots, as Rosenbloom attempts to conceal his plight by mumbling about a shortcut.
In his box Rosenbloom sits between Kellett and one of his sons. He spends the game sweating and chain-smoking. "Carroll smokes three packs of cigarettes," says Sig Hyman. "One for offense, one for defense and one for the half." The game over and victory his, Rosenbloom heads for the locker room. There he makes sure that he has a sip from the soft drink of Fred Miller, a defensive tackle. This is a must for a win next week. "It's odd," says Rosenbloom pensively, "that normal, successful people will get into this sport and then turn idiot."