The National Football League, born Sept. 17, 1920 in Canton, Ohio, is 5½ years older than its commissioner, Pete Rozelle, born March 1, 1926 in Lynwood, Calif. Five and a half—that's not much of a spread; they're both in their 50s and have grown up together, the last 20 years as one, indistinguishable.
It's eerie how the lives of the man and the league have paralleled. As they grew up, the Depression hit both. The league almost foundered, being kept afloat in large part by a forgotten commissioner named Joe Carr, just as Rozelle's own father lost his grocery store and struggled to keep his family on an even keel. The war forced further disruptions upon both (although Rozelle's putative military career, an old chum recalls, was confined mostly "to running the football pool on some kind of supply ship"), but then, in the aftermath of the hostilities, both began to mature. Rozelle, age 20—"looking 15, acting 30," a journalist who was there remembers—was significantly, symbolically present on that very day when the NFL spanned the hemisphere and started getting "classed up," to use Rozelle's expression. A student at Comp-ton Junior College, Rozelle was a gofer for the Rams' P.R. man the summer of 1946, when the team moved from Cleveland to L.A. and trained at Compton. Rozelle has always had a facility for being in the right place at the right time. Branch Rickey once defined luck as "the residue of design." By that gauge, Pete Rozelle is the residue of design and luck.
That summer with the Rams, Rozelle discovered he was best at being a P.R. man. He was offered the job of undergraduate sports information director at the University of San Francisco and went north to finish his schooling. Later he would win a P.R. account with San Miguel Beer because the brewery rep who saw his resumè admired Jesuit-trained Catholics; USF is a Jesuit school; Rozelle is a very lucky Methodist. Not long after he arrived in San Francisco, the NFL put a team there. No one realized it yet, but clearly Rozelle was the dauphin of the NFL.
In the '50s, television discovered pro football and at last the NFL began to prosper, precisely when the young Rozelle himself rose to prominence. He quit as the Rams' P.R. man in '55 to take a $3,500 raise with a San Francisco P.R. firm run by a man named Ken Macker. When Rozelle left the Rams, Dan Reeves, the club president, gave him an engraved pen and pencil set. The engraving read: "Pete, remember, money isn't everything." In '57 Rozelle got another large raise when the Rams hired him back as general manager. Macker gave Rozelle another pen and pencil set. The engraving read: "Pete, obviously, money is everything."
Rozelle was married in 1949, and in 1958 his only child—Ann—was born. Then, 20 years ago this month, on Jan. 26, 1960, the league, 39, in desperation, on the 23rd ballot, chose the Rams' general manager, 33, to lead it. Nobody was yet smart enough to see that he was the dauphin. "Pete just came out of the sky," old Art Rooney, owner of the Steelers, recalls. Rozelle was in the men's room, washing his hands, when Carroll Rosen-bloom of the Colts came in with the news.
Rozelle was acceptable precisely because he was an unknown, a polite young man who knew how to hold his tongue and his liquor. When Wellington Mara of the Giants went to Rooney proposing the kid, Rooney said he would have to check with his close colleague, Frank McNamee of the Eagles. This is what McNamee said: "Yeah, sure, but who is Pete Rozelle?"
If Rozelle hadn't been elected commissioner, he'd probably be long out of football now. He wasn't all that great shakes as a general manager in Los Angeles. He sent Norm Van Brocklin to Philadelphia and made the Eagles champions, and he gave up way too much to get his old USF schoolmate, Ollie Mat-son, from the Chicago Cardinals.
But the '60s, after he had become commissioner, were glory years. Pro football became a national phenomenon and all of Rozelle's life. He moved the NFL office from the back rooms of a small building in a Philadelphia suburb to midtown Manhattan, within walking distance of his apartment—whenever he did go home. Television couldn't pay Rozelle enough for his games. Judge Landis had Babe Ruth. Rozelle had TV. In 1964 he got the league a two-year contract for $28.2 million. He started calling the clubs to tell them they had signed for $14.1 million. He meant per year, but a lot of clubs thought he meant $14.1 million for the whole two-year package, and they thought that was terrific. Then the commissioner would say, no, no, you double the fourteen-one. It was out of control: one...! two...! three—count 'em—three...networks! The merger! The Super Bowl!
Then, wouldn't you know it: the midlife crisis. Rozelle's marriage fell apart; he started to put a little weight on around the mid-section; and the players, heretofore a sweetheart group of grateful and/or dumb employees, suddenly revolted and threatened to strike. Strike the NFL! Football is American, striking is American, but striking the NFL is most definitely not American.
At one point during the summer of 1970, when the players were first rearing up on their hind legs, the commissioner invited John Mackey, the head of the players' union, and the players' lawyer, Alan Miller, to come to his apartment for a private talk and spend the night. Rozelle also invited a couple of team executives, including Tex Schramm of the Cowboys. Now, of all the patrons the young Rozelle attracted, perhaps Schramm has remained the most important. It was Schramm, then the general manager in L.A., who brought Rozelle into the league, as the Rams' flack; it was Schramm who, more than anyone in the NFL, was most responsible for smoothing the path for Rozelle's merger plans with the AFL. Certainly, no one has ever argued that Tex Schramm and Pete Rozelle don't share many common thoughts.
It is significant, then, that at that meeting Schramm suddenly turned to Mackey and said, "Do you want to go down in history as the man who killed the goose that laid the golden egg?" Mackey says this untoward charge made him so "uncomfortable" that he got up early the next morning and left Rozelle's place before breakfast. Rozelle remembers the meeting as a warm and fruitful one that helped conclude the dispute, so that the goose could get back to her business.
There was a preseason strike that summer and another one in '74, and the little matter of $16 million the league paid to the players to settle two lawsuits—but otherwise, it was secure and comfortable middle age. Rozelle had to give up eating rich desserts indiscriminately. He fell in love with a beautiful younger woman on a tennis court. Both he and the league stopped being phenomena and became institutions. "Rozelle took us out of our old football phase and made us what we are today, which is big business," Art Rooney proclaims. Ed Garvey, the executive director of the NFL Players Association, is, in his own special way, even more complimentary: "Pete Rozelle has made the National Football League the first enterprise in America, in all the world, to have achieved absolute pure socialism." The point is, every team makes big money (Rooney), and all approximately the same amount (Garvey). Winning isn't anything; belonging is.
Even if you aren't an owner, even if you don't like football, there is something for you. For the children, there is Punt, Pass and Kick. For the grownups, there is Bosoms, Brutality and Betting. The only spoilsports who appear to be dissatisfied are the kneeless humanoids known as players, but Rozelle has managed, cleverly, to remove himself from that field of strife. He has made a bunch of his owners, known as the NFL Management Council, responsible for that dirty work, and they don't even get paid for it. You don't think Rozelle is a smart sonuvabitch? He makes something like half a million dollars a year to run the NFL, and he has no responsibility for the main problem. It would be as if President Carter worked a deal with the electorate whereby he didn't have to bother with Russia; he could leave that to the state legislatures.
But the owners who pay Rozelle are happy with his accomplishments, and the league, in its mellow and melliferous fettle, properly enjoys an elder statesman at the helm. As ever, Rozelle's own person mirrors his league. For the first time, minions in the Park Avenue offices (and, ye gods, even some journalists) grouse that the chief is not so accessible anymore. He is now a contented suburban squire—"This is really my first home"—remarried, to the lovely lady he met on the tennis courts. She is gracious and stylish, educated in England—The Queen Bee she is called—and they troop the league together, at once a royal couple presiding and giddy teen-agers holding hands.
Rozelle, the once and future king, the always king, is what people expect in a commissioner and what leagues seek in one. He was, he says with a laugh, "the child czar" when he fell from the heavens 20 years ago, and while he is no less the monarch today, he and his league are so interwoven that he seems to be able to rule as much by osmosis as with the silver tongue or the iron hand. At meetings, things just seem to bend to Rozelle's will, so much so, says Don Weiss, his top aide, "that Pete not only knows what the answer will be before the question comes up, but he can make the owners think they arrived at the answer. A guy like Dan Rooney [president of the Steelers], who knows Pete well and knows how he works, has even gotten up sometimes and said, 'Look, I know how this is going to end, so there's no sense in me fighting it, but I would just like to get this on the record.' "
Rozelle will serve the league at least until 1986, when his present contract will run out and he will be 60. But can he dare retire then? Will the league tolerate it? Surely, if Rozelle ever leaves the NFL, it will turn back into the Decatur Staleys and the Frankford Yellow Jackets, and Sundays will revert back to God, Monday nights to bowling.
At the age of 53, at the height of his powers, Rozelle gets more prosperous all the time, and he looks better with age, as skinny people often do. Once he gobbled cake and milk shakes, trying desperately to gain weight. Now he has a little pot and weighs more than 200. He stands 6'2" and, as ever, fans who meet him are surprised to discover how tall he is.
Rozelle has a receding hairline and a bald spot on his crown, but he has no gray hair, and he does marvelous things with a suntan, even when it's cold and cloudy. He constantly smokes Carlton cigarettes, and he looks extraordinarily alert and healthy. Most people think their eyes are their best feature, possibly because it is pretty hard to louse up eyes a la noses and ears, but, in fact, Rozelle really does have outstanding eyes. Unfortunately for him he also has a weak Gallic chin, so he could never be called handsome. But people like Rozelle so much that they go out of their way to classify him as "nice-looking."
The Rozelles were Huguenots who found their way to California in 1891, when Pete's paternal grandfather came out from Indiana and set up a ranch on the Los Angeles River. Rozelle's mother is dead, but his 79-year-old father is still living in Lynwood, in what is mostly a black neighborhood now.
The commissioner himself lives in a huge red brick Tudor house in Westchester County, about 45 minutes, as the limo drives, from his office. A tennis court is beside the house, a swimming pool behind it, and a lot of tasteful bric-a-brac and family photographs clutter the premises, giving the place the feel of an earlier time. There is also a lot of television apparatus for watching today's games. Trophies, citations and a plethora of posed photos abound in one clubroom. If you are what you eat, you are also, if you are a celebrity, who you are posed with at dinners. Here is Commissioner Rozelle with Jack Kemp, Willis Reed, Teddy Kennedy, Howard Cosell (twice), Pat Summerall, Frank Gifford and John Denver, just to name a few, too numerous to mention.
Rozelle's daughter Ann is at college now, but the four children of Carrie Cooke Rozelle live at home. Carrie's first husband was Ralph Cooke, the son of Jack Kent Cooke, whose wife just won a record $41-million divorce settlement. Mrs. Pete Rozelle says that the former Mrs. Jack Kent Cooke is "my best friend in the world." Mr. Jack Kent Cooke is the majority owner of the Redskins, one of the 28 owners Mr. Pete Rozelle serves.
And this is the way it works: the players, press and fans matter, but only the owners count. "This job is a hybrid," Rozelle says. "It's in between being the chief executive of a large company and being the executive director of a trade association. I inherited a strong constitution and an office that held respect, but the whole thing—no matter what the constitution says—is getting the confidence of the owners."
And Rozelle has been a master at this; he's the perfect hybrid for the hybrid job. On the one hand: "Let's face it," says Len Hauss, the former Redskin center who is president of the NFL Players Association, "Rozelle's an entertainer and the league social chairman; all he is is the highest paid P.R. man in the world." But Rozelle is also a consummate money man; the glad hand always comes back with some honey stuck to it.
Rozelle is a P.R. man who genuinely tries to stay out of the spotlight: "Some people think I'm aloof, but I really am bashful." It is also instructive that, according to his wife, "Pete never puts his monogram on anything." If you were a clever P.R. man and your initials were P.R., would you put that fair warning on your breast pocket? Instead, Rozelle has always understood that first you must establish the ground game, i.e., turn a dollar. He has never forgotten that what owners do is own. Or: Pete, obviously, money is everything.
And besides that, Rozelle on owners: "No matter how much you stroke them, it's never enough."
Still, for a clever commissioner, it is a great deal easier to deal with owners than to deal with players, because owners don't have a union. The very thing that made them owners—that they are strong, independent men, most of whom have already become successful in some other business by listening to no one—makes them naturally reluctant to join forces with one another. When it counts, Rozelle can pick them off" one by one as they come through the pass, as he did last fall to Robert Irsay, the portly Baltimore mogul, who had been tripping around the country, shopping the Colts in such places as Jacksonville and Memphis and Los Angeles, proclaiming that the club was "my candy store and I can move it wherever I want to." Rozelle met with Irsay for 40 minutes, one-on-one, and the Colts are staying in Baltimore.
Irsay has had plenty of company through the years. Probably the first owner Rozelle faced down was the venerable Halas, who was coaching his Bears at the time. Papa Bear wanted to protest the work of the officials in some Chicago games, and he said he would deign to meet the child czar at the airport. Rozelle ordered him into Manhattan, to his office, and Halas capitulated. A more disagreeable foe was the Redskins' owner, the cantankerous George Preston Marshall. Bill MacPhail, now a cable TV executive, was, in the early '60s, not only an especially close friend of Rozelle's but also the head of CBS Sports. He recalls a visit he made with the commissioner to Washington, when Marshall started "wagging his finger no more than an inch from Pete's nose and saying over and over, 'Young man, you were in diapers when I started in this league.' I couldn't believe any man could control himself under such circumstances, but Pete never flinched, and finally all he said was, 'Mr. Marshall, I'm sorry, but you haven't answered my question.' "
Carroll Rosenbloom, owner of the Colts and, later, the Rams, was a strong man, attractive in many ways, and he picked some fights with the commissioner. Al Davis of Oakland has been an even more persistent critic. But for whatever reasons—Rosenbloom may have been too slick, while Davis forever seems to be burdened with a chip on his shoulder—they could never attract others to their banner. Ed Garvey, the union boss, chubby and untutored still in the uses of charm, is a tailor-made adversary for Rozelle: shrill and doctrinaire when on the attack, vulnerable on the defense, unable to maintain a united front. "I know I make it easy for him," Garvey moans.
Just as Rozelle's antagonists have always been no match for him, so has he been lucky to have had no real competition from his peers. The other personally engaging commissioners—Clarence Campbell, late of the NHL, and Larry O'Brien of the NBA, say—suffered internal problems in their leagues that dimmed their flames, while Rozelle's only real rivals in the power department, the baseball commissioners, have been Frick, Eckert and Kuhn—none of them beguiling. It is revealing that while baseball's great resurgence of popularity has been well documented, none of the credit is ever given to Kuhn—in the public mind he will forever remain just the dummy who goes to freezing cold baseball games in tropical worsteds—while the press and fans are quick to attribute even the most minor NFL advances to Rozelle.
Rozelle is not only lucky, but he also has a history of falling upon good fortune right off the bat. As soon as he got back from the Navy in 1946, there were the Rams training at his little JC. As soon as he went to USF, a neighborhood college nobody had ever heard of, Joe Kuharich's football team went 9-0 and Pete Newell's basketball team won the NIT. And as soon as he became the football commissioner, "I was really lucky that certain problems developed right away that could be solved."
Owners like Marshall of the Redskins, Rooney of the Steelers and Rosenbloom of the Colts had private TV deals, and Rozelle persuaded them to give their deals up for one cooperative venture with CBS. Then he obtained an antitrust waiver, and the league was on the road to riches. Not long afterward, Rozelle's decision to suspend Paul Hornung and Alex Karras for gambling indiscretions gave him the proper Judge Landis patina. When the stiff penalties—both Hornung and Karras ultimately were suspended for a season—were announced, Rozelle appeared all the more to be a leader of uncommon strength and probity.
Thus, with these early decisive actions, the image of Commissioner Pete Rozelle was cast, and his actions in the years since have only strengthened it. The television money has continued to pour in; today, each of the 28 teams makes $5.6 million a year from TV. The commissioner has continued to carefully defend the league's honor and reputation; the Joe Namath/ Bachelors III brouhaha maintained the precedent set in the Hornung-Karras case. Rozelle continued to show a real genius for winning friends and concessions for the NFL in Washington; the merger was obtained largely by Rozelle's playing up to two powerful Louisianians, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Russell Long and the late House Democratic Whip Hale Boggs. The merger was slipped through as an amendment to an Investment Credit Act, and then, as soon as it was decent, New Orleans got the next expansion franchise.
And the Super Bowl: it grows splashier, grosser, more American Obscene with each passing Roman numeral.
Recently in the vicennial of Rozelle, his league has inclined more to excess than progress. He himself speaks most proudly about NFL charities and the league's support of United Way (Carrie sits on the national board), and while no one can doubt his sincerity or altruism, it does seem odd that such extraneous items are so paramount for him. When the press or Players Association brings up topics more germane to football, such as brutality and drugs, gambling or racism, the commissioner and his colleagues tend to be indignant, rather than responsive; Rozelle has an unbecoming habit of employing the word "overkill" to those who dare criticize. Suddenly, it seems, it is not the league, not pro football, that must be protected, but the status quo.
Rozelle has excelled as a politician and negotiator, a genteel Lyndon Johnson, but none of the issues that point daggers at the league now can be put on the table and ironed out. Rozelle could virtually lock up his owners for a day or more until Pittsburgh, Cleveland and Baltimore each took $3 million in mad money and agreed to shift into the AFC. That was pure, classic negotiating—arm-twisting, head-turning, sweet-talking. But he can't lock the teams up for a day or a week and negotiate a simple conclusion, say, to the implicit racism that is obvious in an organization with a work force that is approximately 50% black, but employs only a minuscule number of blacks as middle managers and none whatsoever in top-echelon coaching or management positions.
For the more delicate issues that threaten the league now, Rozelle seems oddly unprepared. His bland answer to the racism charges is that the NFL is no worse than anyone else. The matter of brutality is discussed primarily as a nuisance business factor: "Well, yes, violence must concern me because everything gets to litigation these days, and now we're also down to only three companies making helmets."
The NFL is rapidly becoming the handmaiden of the illegal gambling industry. But Rozelle merely throws up his hands in the face of this deepening predicament, and he continues to profess the bizarre opinion that legalized gambling will threaten the "integrity of the game"—although it is not quite clear how the game's integrity is enhanced by its present de facto affiliation with illegal gambling. In this regard, Rozelle often resembles poor old Bowie Kuhn, telling us it is not cold because he doesn't have an overcoat on.
Until now, Rozelle's leadership has been followed because he has made more and more money for his owners. But in the years left in his reign, being successful will be more difficult—the main question being whether or not he can lead his owners to higher ground, though he may not have a big pot of gold to persuade them to follow him. The politician who can manage that will indeed retire a statesman.
So far, Rozelle's greatest strength has been his personality. This is in no way meant to disparage him as some smiling lightweight. On the contrary, he possesses many other notable qualities. His reputation for being prepared is legend. He is cool, persevering, patient, logical, bright and a quick study. His subordinates praise him for his fairness; he almost never blows up. He is compassionate and decent. On top of all this, he dislikes jogging and plays a dandy game of social tennis. Still, what is singular in the man is that just about everyone who meets Rozelle likes him.
For this, Rozelle, age 30, was made general manager of the Rams, so he could mediate between two warring ownership factions: Get Pete, everybody likes Pete. For this, he was made commissioner. For this, he constantly gets a good press; he always gets the benefit of the doubt. He has that rare quality of being elusive with interrogators while, all the while, appearing candid. But he knows when to become a "highly placed league source," and, whenever he can stop playing Mister Commissioner, he genuinely likes being one of the boys (and, after all, before he became a P.R. man, it was his childhood ambition to grow up and be the writer who covered high school sports for the L.A. Times), and he can sit up till the wee hours, swapping tales and drinking Rusty Nails, a poisonous mix of Drambuie and Scotch his system tolerates.
It is perfectly foolish to have Rozelle on a payroll and not use him to meet directly with any outsider the league is trying to impress or seduce. With the players, for example. Rozelle always performs most capably in those more structured, well-defined situations where his blend of civility, logic and preparation pays off: with networks, Congress, the owners and the press.
We should not be surprised, for example, that the long war with the AFL did not really show us Rozelle at his best. Those hostilities had none of the polite convention of business intercourse, or the predictable rationality of normal commerce.
But it is not owners and politicians that the commissioner is going to have to deal with in the '80s. Almost all the concerns now are player issues: brutality, safety, drugs, race, free agentry. There must be serious doubts that this is Rozelle's bailiwick, that these are his times. It is interesting, for example, to listen to John Mackey, a quite reasonable man, who has been one of the few players to be an adversary of the commissioner for any period of time. "I have to take my hat off to Rozelle," Mackey says, "because he's done a tremendous job for football, but as smart as he must be, it amazed me how little foresight he showed. We had Vietnam at the time, turmoil everywhere, and a lot of things were changing. Any leader should have seen that the league was drafting players from those campuses, that pro football had to change, too, and be prepared for that. But Rozelle didn't. I never felt that he truly understood what was happening.
"The man was always polite, and he always seemed to be honest and sincere. Certainly, I know he's a P.R. man, but I don't believe he's an Academy Award actor. So I did believe him, which is exactly why some of the things he said to me struck me as so absolutely stupid. At one point in 1970 he told me we had to sign the collective bargaining agreement in a hurry because Vince Lombardi was going to die and that would upset the owners so much that they wouldn't negotiate anymore. So I was supposed to sign immediately. Incredible. I didn't give Vince Lombardi cancer. At those times, no matter how well-meaning Rozelle seemed to be, he just didn't seem to understand what was going on in the world."
Today, Rozelle admits, "I'm not as close to the players as I used to be," even in Mackey's time. He adds that, with 28 teams, he is also not as close to the owners. His close friends today include people like Gifford and Summerall and Kemp, and, in a way, these are still The Players to Rozelle. The ones who strike and smoke pot and don't venerate Vince Lombardi are impostors. There may be more of a generation gap between them and Rozelle, who started out so young and has slowly grown a gap, than men like Kuhn or O'Brien, who came to their jobs when they were into their 40s and 50s respectively.
Rozelle says he is not the least bit self-conscious about the fact that he, who never played football, is the premier football man in the nation; everybody has a job to do. Rozelle—skinny as he was—was a respectable enough athlete of the high school variety. He made the basketball and tennis teams at Compton High, and he wrote about athletes and hung around them as an equal. Duke Snider was a Compton High School classmate and basketball teammate, and twice, Snider recalls, the young Rozelle tipped the football coach off to strategy—once saving Compton a tie, the other time producing a 20-19 victory. Rozelle genuinely admires players, holding them in higher regard than he does owners and journalists, the other people he has to deal with, fence with, and (usually) outwit. One gets the impression that he really doesn't want to have to get down and argue with players.
Rozelle is really a very traditional creature, and player unions didn't come along to spoil the neat little NFL world until well into his tenure. He stays close to old friends, is known for his loyalty—as anybody who ever hired Joe Kuharich on his recommendation is well aware—and while there are no cute Rozelle anecdotes, almost all his friends quickly and naturally offer up warm testimony to his thoughtfulness. The word "loving" is applied to him an extraordinary number of times. So he is an endearing man of firm roots and early success, and once something becomes solidly fixed in that man's mind, it must take a great deal—like a clear majority of the 28 owners—for it to be dislodged.
It is intriguing, for example, that when Rozelle discusses his opposition to legal gambling, he says, "Once integrity is shattered, you never get it back. Look at game shows on TV. Or college basketball. Since their scandals, they've never been the same."
This is a preposterous statement. Both college basketball and game shows have never been more popular, but the point-shaving revelations came at a time when Rozelle was closely involved with the—sport at USF and the TV fixes took place shortly before he started negotiating with the networks and, as a consequence, these dusty old events are ingrained in his mind.
In the same way, Rozelle seems to possess an almost wishful view of the NFL as that quaint society that once existed, players and owners all struggling together, without TV, without baseball's respectability, without profits. "The players just see me as authority," he says. "They don't ever consider that I'm the-guy most involved in obtaining the TV contracts for the owners, so then they can go out and get some of these great sums away from the owners for themselves." Hey, he's crying, we're all in this together, fellows.
But the players union does not respond in kind; it takes an almost malevolent view of Rozelle. Whereas the baseball and basketball unions tend to view Kuhn and O'Brien as management, professional adversaries, more personal antipathy is directed at Rozelle, and he is viewed as an extreme—more repressive, more reactionary than the consensus of the owners. Further, it is Garvey's cynical view that Rozelle is not altogether honest in attacking the union, that he does so in order to create an external devil to frighten his owners into sticking together. "As soon as he lost the AFL as a common enemy, he turned on the union," Garvey declares.
But then, turnabout is fair play. Rozelle maintains that Garvey is walking down the same side of the street. "Ed Garvey constantly attacks me because he feels if he attacks the top guy he might finally build a cohesive union," Rozelle says. "I'm glad grievances go to outside arbitration now. What do I want with the kind of power Larry O'Brien has that constantly causes him problems? I don't want to be on the spot. I want to be an escape valve. But Garvey doesn't want that. He prefers confrontation and controversy to tranquillity and progress."
Garvey: "Rozelle loves to call himself a neutral, posing as the lonely guy in the middle. Now he's the only man in America who still believes that, but he keeps on playing the role. Let's face it: Rozelle is the head of a monopoly, and his job is to keep it a monopoly and keep it unregulated. And he does a great job at that. I told Rozelle once that I'd love to represent him in his own contract negotiations, because whatever he's getting, they ought to double that. Rozelle does a helluva job at making the owners money and controlling the players. He gets all the owners to agree on everything that restrains the players, and only if you came from another planet could you believe otherwise."
Rozelle accuses Garvey of reneging on agreements, of "trying to take every bite out of the apple" after it has already been divvied up. He also never misses a chance to point out that Garvey attended the "University of Wisconsin in the 1960s," which is 1) a code phrase for crazy, bomb-throwing radical, and 2) an updated version of an older man wagging a finger in a younger man's face and informing him he was in diapers when the older guy was already a sage and a power.
So far, though, Rozelle clearly holds sway. He not only has his constituency clearly behind him, but also, as players' union president Len Hauss ruefully points out, "Some players are so in awe of Rozelle that I've literally seen them fall over each other trying to get close to him and shake his hand." Garvey is a perfect foil for the commissioner, too, and the press remains solidly with the NFL. This is especially true in the crunch, when the players strike, as it seems they will do again in the summer of 1982. Football writers are paid, foremost, to cover football games, and when the union threatens to do away with games, the union should not be surprised about where most writers' sympathies lie.
But in one respect the union and the NFL are at a standoff—at calling each other socialists. They're both about right, too. How strange that pro football—that bastion of free enterprise, of the rugged American hero and entrepreneur—is now surely the safest, most cooperative venture in American commerce. The men who pioneered the NFL were gamblers (literally and otherwise), dreamers, tough cookies, schemers—for all their weaknesses and personal foibles, bold and venturesome men. Bert Bell, Rozelle's immediate predecessor, set the television table for Rozelle. Bell had great vision; he pretty much saw, in fact, what Rozelle would accomplish with the league after his death. With Rozelle, though, what will he turn over to his successor but a schedule of when to call on the networks?
After 20 golden years under Rozelle's command, the NFL is Sunday's mutual fund. Along with the scores every Monday, they ought to give a quotation on the league as a unit: up a quarter, down three-eighths, unchanged, mixed in moderate trading. The people who bet on the games ought to be catered to; they rake more risks than the ones who own the games. All teams share equally in television revenues and those from various other group enterprises. Incidentally, the franchises do not gain extra profit by winning in the post-season play—losers and winners alike share in the playoff games. Indeed, it frequently costs teams money to go to the Super Bowl; that is your punishment for being different, for being one of two winners instead of 26 losers. Whereas home teams keep 100% of the gate in basketball and hockey and 80% in baseball, NFL home teams keep only 60%—and but 50% in exhibitions.
Schedules are doctored in ways so that the weak sisters get to play each other more often, and the better teams knock heads more frequently—thus penalizing them for their efficiency and success. The players union is doing its part in this trend by pressing for strict wage schedules based on seniority, so that talent will count for naught—only seniority. And lest players try to salvage some individuality, the league has established more stringent rules as to how players must wear their uniforms and what numbers they may bear. Teams gain no reward by bidding for free agents, and the commissioner will get none by pressing for black coaches. There is no reason to change anything. Perhaps this is what happens when you take your leader and raise him above the fray. Pretty soon, human nature being what it is, nobody in the organization wants to get down in the trenches and think or act with courage or originality.
But that is not to say the NFL won't keep on getting better and fatter and richer. Under Rozelle, it always has. "It's not just a matter of me being 'good at negotiating,' " he says. "We've delivered. That's what I take pride in. We have always been able to go back and show that we gave what we promised."
For now, then, it would not be wise to be intemperate. The smart money would still say, give the points and take Rozelle.