Pete Rozelle as the Commissioner of the National Football League is an iconic figure and the epitome of what a sports commissioner should be. He had multiple sides to his personality. He was a hard edged fighter with compassion. He had a love for the game, compassion and empathy for owners and players, and managed to keep the billionaire club of NFL owners in check.
This biography of Pete Rozelle does an outstanding job of chronicling his life, with most of its focus on his traits that made him an outstanding NFL commissioner. Despite being a compromise candidate for Commissioner, he seemed born for the job and was literally was the bridge to the modern NFL.
One of his biggest accomplishments was recognizing the importance of public relations and he used his skills in that area to lift the NFL from the shadow of college football and half empty stadiums to become America’s favorite sport. He cleverly recognized the extreme importance that television would become not just for exposure for the game but revenue as well. Even more important was developing the profit sharing model where all teams would get an equal share of the revenue to ensure some degree of competitive balance across teams.
He also faced many intricate controversies which he managed mostly well. The NFL suffered a great deal of labor unrest and despite some difficulties in that area he laid the groundwork for what has been, until now, a long period of labor peace with the NFLPA. He worked diligently in the merger of the NFL with the AFL which created a vibrant professional football league, but later staved off the upstart USFL. His greatest nemesis was Al Davis, owner of the Oakland Raiders, who constantly sued the league, including winning the right to move the Raiders from Oakland to Los Angeles. Layer on the drug scandals of the 1980’s one can argue he navigated the NFL through some of its toughest times.
Rozelle’s legacy ultimately is his successfully moving the NFL into the limelight eclipsing all other American sports in popularity, especially leveraging the exposure and revenue generated by television.
This biography is well written and organized and its brevity and economy of words is refreshing. Anyone interested in the history of the NFL should certainly read this biography.