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Pete Rozelle:The NFL's Greatest Commissioner

By Edited Nov 13, 2013 0 0

Pete Rozelle was born on March 1, 1926 in South Gate,California. He grew up in the Great Depression of the 1930's in Lynwood,California. He attended Compton High School where he played varsity basketball and baseball. After graduating in 1944, he served a short time in the United States Navy and served as an oil tanker. After leaving the Navy, he enrolled in Compton Junior College. In 1946, he became the school's sports information director and covered high school sports for the local newspapers. After graduating from Compton Junior College, Rozelle began his public relations career at the University of San Francisco. He was the school publicist and he promoted the USF sports teams. Rozelle graduated in 1950. In 1956, he helped promote the Summer Olympics in Melbourne, Australia. In 1957, he became the General Manager of the Los Angeles Rams. Just three years later, on January 26, 1960, the NFL owners approved Pete Rozelle to become commissioner of the National Football Leauge. He was just 33 years of age.

One of his first acts as commissioner was to move the NFL offices from Philadelphia to New York. He negotiated a television contract that replaced the 12 NFL teams' packages. Rozelle brought in ideas such as gate and television profit-sharing. This helped small market teams survive. In 1962, CBS paid $9.3 million for the rights to televise leauge games. In 1963, he faced adversity when a gambling scandal occurred, involving Paul Hornung and Alex Karras. This threatened the reputation of the NFL. In April of 1963, he suspended both of them for the season. This act earned him the Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year.

Tragedy struck America and the NFL on November 22, 1963. President John F. Kennedy was assasinated in Dallas, Texas. Pete Rozelle thought about canceling the games. But, White House Press Secretary Pierre Salinger talked him into playing them. Two days later, the Washington Redskins defeated the Philadelphia Eagles. After the game, players from both teams thanked Rozelle for allowing the games to go on.

In 1965, the rival American Football Leauge signed a huge TV contract and started signing NFL stars. NFL owners were afraid that their leauge was collapsing. In the same year, the AFL's New York Jets drafted Joe "Willie" Namath out of the University of Alabama. He signed  a then record salary of $427,000. In 1966, Pete Rozelle worked out agreements with NFL and AFL owners that would give both leauges a common draft. It also allowed every franchise in both leauges to remain in their cities. Rozelle is also credited with creating the Super Bowl, which was a world championship. It featured the best team in the NFL facing the best team in the AFL. On January 15, 1967, the NFL Green Bay Packers defeated the AFL Kansas City Chiefs 35-10 in the Los Angeles Coliseum. Today, the Super Bowl is considered the biggest sports event of the year. In 1969, Joe Namath led the AFL New York Jets to a stunning 16-7 upset over the heavily favored NFL Baltimore Colts. This victory legitimized the AFL.

The following year, the NFL and AFL merged to become one leauge. In 1970, Pete Rozelle and ABC Sports chief Roone Arledge worked together to create Monday Night Football. It became an American institution. The first game was televised on September 21, 1970. The Cleveland Browns defeated the New York Jets, 31-21.

In 1986, Rozelle faced another challenge from a rival leauge. That year, the United States Football Leauge was formed. But he threatened to stop any network from televising NFL games if they cooperated. The networks caved into his pressure and the USFL went out of business.

Pete Rozelle also believed that the NFL should help those that were less fortunate. He created the United Way television campaign and other charitable organizations. They have been awarded by NFL Charities since 1974. Pete Rozelle turned professional football into America's number one sport. He promoted the NFL in ways that were never seen before. In 1960, the average attendance for an NFL game was about 47,000 per game. When he retired in 1989, the average attendance was about 65,000. In 1960, the 12 NFL teams were worth about $1 million apiece. When he retired in 1989, there were 28 NFL teams and most were worth over $100 million.Pete Rozelle was a visionary and a marketing and business genius. Rozelle's gift for negotiation and promotion helped save the National Football Leauge. Pete Rozelle died of brain cancer at the age of 70 on December 6, 1996, in Rancho Santa Fe, California. He was honored with a Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum "Court of Honor" plaque by the Coliseum commissioners. Following his death, the Sporting News named him the most powerful sports person of the 20th century. The Super Bowl Most Valuable Player Trophy was renamed in his honor.

 

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Bibliography

  1. "Pete Rozelle." www.en.wikipedia.org. 2013.
  2. "Hall Of Famers:Pete Rozelle." www.profootballhof.com. 4/04/2013 <Web >
  3. "Rozelle Made NFL What It Is Today." www.espn.go.com. 4/04/2013 <Web >
  4. "Pete Rozelle Biography." www.biography.com. 4/04/2013 <Web >
  5. "Pete Rozelle." www.sportsencyclopedia.com. 2013.

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