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Pete Rozelle

From Academic Kids

Alvin Ray "Pete" Rozelle (March 1 1926December 6 1996) was the commissioner of the National Football League (NFL) from January 1960 to November 1989, when he retired from office. Rozelle is credited with making the NFL what was arguably the most successful sports league in the world.

Rozelle grew up in suburban Compton, California during the Great Depression. He graduated from Compton High School in 1944, lettering in baseball and basketball. He was drafted into the Navy in 1944 and served 18 months in the Pacific on an oil tanker. Rozelle began his career at the University of San Francisco, working as a student publicist for the school's football team. He had already worked in public relations for the LA Rams front office and while in the athletic office at USF he marketed the Don's national championship basketball season of 1949 into a national media event. He graduated from USF that year.

He held a series of public relations jobs in Southern California, marketing the 1956 Olympics in Melbourne Australia for an LA based company. He joined the Los Angeles Rams as its public relations specialist. By 1957, Rozelle was offered the GM job with the Rams. He turned a disorganized, unprofitable team, lost in the growing LA market into a business success.

After Bert Bell's death in 1959, Rozelle was the surprise choice for his replacement as NFL commissioner. When he took office in 1960, there were ten teams in the NFL playing a twelve game schedule to frequently half empty stadiums and were seldom on TV; by the time he resigned, that number had grown to twenty-eight. The NFL in 1960 was following a business model that had evolved from the 1930's. Following the lead of the rival American Football League, he negotiated large television contracts to broadcast every NFL game played each season. He got NFL team owners to agree to share revenues between teams, as the American Football League had done since its inception. His business model was essentially a cartel that benefited all teams equally, from revenue sharing to the player draft.

In November 1963 the NFL played its full schedule of games (untelevised due to uninterrupted coverage of the assassination), only two days after JFK's assassination, while the rival American Football League (AFL) postponed its games out of respect for the fallen president. Rozelle rued his decision to have the NFL play, and frequently stated publicly that it had been his worst mistake. However, Rozelle and then-White House Press Secretary Pierre Salinger had been classmates at the University of San Francisco years before, and Rozelle consulted with him. They agreed to go on with the games, citing two things: football was Kennedy's sport and that it was a "tradition in sports for all to perform in times of great personal tragedy." (Rozelle's successor, Paul Tagliabue, following the terrorist attacks on the United States in 2001, ordered all games cancelled the weekend afterward. However, he didn't cite Rozelle's decision, he cited that the events were so deadly and security concerns.) Rozelles's "aptitude for conciliation" with the league's owners, however, led to his receiving Sports Illustrated magazine's 1963 "Sportsman of the Year" award.

With American Football League Commissioner Al Davis and other AFL and NFL executives, he negotiated the merger between the American Football League and the NFL. In October, 1966, he testified to Congress to convince them to allow the merger, promising that if they permitted it, "Professional football operations will be preserved in the 23 cities and 25 stadiums where such operations are presently being conducted."; and "Every franchise of both leagues will remain in its present location." The merger was allowed, but regardless of the promises, numerous NFL teams have since moved, or used the threat of moving to have cities build or improve stadiums. Following the urging of American Football League commissioner Al Davis, Rozelle also agreed to the creation of the Super Bowl and later supported the concept of Monday Night Football.

The 1970's were a decade of league expansion and litigation over issues such as the NFL Players Association and team movement to new markets. The 1980's saw drug scandals and further struggle with powerful owners over team movement. Monday Night Football was a staple of American television viewing, and the Super Bowl was the single most watched event of the year.

Under Rozelle the NFL thrived and had become an American icon, despite two players' strikes and two different upstart leagues. He retired as commissioner in 1989 and died at the age of 70 in 1996 in Rancho Santa Fe, California.

External links

Preceded by:
Austin Gunsel (interim)
NFL Commissioners Succeeded by:
Paul Tagliabue
de:Pete Rozelle
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