Contributor / Contributor
Class of 1985
"The most fun thing was watching the development of the Super Bowl, because the game is what it’s all about."
During his 30 years as commissioner of the National Football League, Pete Rozelle was recognized as the premier commissioner of all professional sports. A charismatic leader, he guided the league through a period of unprecedented growth. Rozelle was the 33-year-old general manager of the Los Angeles Rams when he left for the annual NFL meetings in January, 1960.
The principal business was to name a new commissioner to replace the popular Bert Bell, who had died three months earlier. After 23 ballots had failed to produce a new leader, two owners asked Rozelle to leave the meeting room while they and the other owners had a discussion. After a couple of hours, Pete was invited back to the meeting to hear the news that he was the NFL’s new leader.
Rozelle's accomplishments are legendary, and the NFL’s many challenges during his tenure are well documented. Such things as blockbuster television contracts, the war with the competing American Football League and the resulting merger, the development of the Super Bowl into America’s premier sporting event, difficult player issues including strikes and threatened strikes, plus numerous court and legislative battles, all dominated headlines during his stewardship.
Throughout it all, Rozelle remained a dominating factor. His leadership created the profound image of stability and integrity still associated with the NFL. He continually encouraged the club owners to work together despite numerous challenges, while always demonstrating a calm, reassuring, strong management style. It was Rozelle who convinced NFL owners to share equally their television revenues.
A former University of San Francisco sports information director, Rozelle first joined the Los Angeles Rams as public relations director. He later worked as a public relations specialist at the 1956 Summer Olympics in Melbourne, Australia, and then returned to the Rams for a three-year tenure as general manager, before his election to the NFL Commissioner’s post.
Pete Rozelle Enshrinement Speech 1985
Presenter: Tex Schramm
Go back to the year is 1960. The National Football League was really at a crossroads. They had just lost their Commissioner Bert Bell who had guided the league since the second world war. There was a new giant on the scene, television. There was a new league starting. There were a lot of deep problems that faced the league. So deep that the owners at their meeting debated for 1, 2, 3 up to 7 days to try to find a man to lead them in the years to come. They couldn't agree. So, they selected what was termed then a "compromise candidate” and that compromise candidate, when they made that decision, they probably didn't know it at the time, they probably made one of the most important and wisest decisions that they could have made. Because that was the decision that they selected a man for the times. A man that was prepared to lead through a new era and that man was 33-year-old Pete Rozelle. We are now 26 years later honoring that man.
But when he was selected, few people realized what they had obtained as their leader. Because they had obtained a man of tremendous intelligence, foresight, patience, preparation, tenacity, a will to win and a sense of class and he imparted that through the league and he also had the background to make it work because he was young and had grown with the new giant television. He was media conscious. He understood the problems of the media and how to work them. He had club level experience so with his background and his feeling for what was right, he faced the big problems any face those because his first one was a second League and he engineered and a affected the merger with the AFL which turned out to be one of the greatest things that happened to the NFL as a whole.
He handled all the threats to the integrity of the game, and he handled done with dignity. He went through the pains of growth because no sport experience the growth at the NFL did in the past 25 years to become the number one spectator sport in this country. He brought expansion. We started moving around the League being truly a National Football League. It was under his direction that the Super Bowl came to be. From the very beginning he said, just something I don't care what it is, what it takes, we are goir1g to do it with class and with style, something that we can be proud of. Today it is the single biggest sports event in this country. He had the foresight from a business and the media and a marketing standpoint, maybe 10 years before his time, to conceive NFL Properties which made all of the items that kids now wear of their teams possible and done again with class and style.
He also conceived NFL Films. The number one sports film maker in this country, brings all of you many great thrills. And realizing that we have from our success an obligation to an awful lot of people who need help, it was under his direction that NFL Charities was created and that the money that went from the selling of those hats, emblems, t-shirts, etc. went to NFL Charities and since that was created more than $7 million has been donated to some very worthy people arid some very worthy causes. And, we are all here today enjoying the enshrinement of these people at the Hall of Fame. It was under his direction that the Hall of Fame was created, I think it was 1961. So, you have a man here that you are honoring very properly. A man that is very deserving. A man who has stood very tall and who you will look upon for many, many years when you think about the NFL. Probably the greatest commissioner any sport has ever had. The Commissioner of the NFL ... Alvin Ray Pete Rozelle.
Mayor Purses and distinguished elected officials from the City and State and Washington, past inductees, my fellow enshrinees this year and people from Canton and surrounding parts including Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania. Tex did give me my first start in professional football, but even more than that he has been one of the main contributors to help in the league since I became Commissioner. Going all the way from Texas, suggesting that we could have the referee’s mics so they can explain the penalties better, that we have a marker inside the sidelines to improve the view of the sidelines for the fans…that white base. All the way from that to being the key person, of course, in negotiating directly with Lamar Hunt on the great event that became the merger between the AFL and NFL in 1966.
When I was married to Carrie in 1973, we spent our honeymoon in Dallas strangely enough because right after our marriage we had to go to Dallas for a play-off game and Dallas lost a very close play-off game and Carrie came to me after that game and said, I've been sitting with Mrs. Schramm, Marty, enjoyed it very much and I have made plans with her for us to have dinner tonight. I said, Carrie, you just land number one on the don't for commissioners and their wives. You don't have dinner with them after a losing game period so we had dinner that night, you could see and hearing Tex talk, his fiery, competitive attitude, like our pioneers like George Halas had. He wants to win, he wants to win so badly and, of course, as Dan throughout the NFL but he really personifies it. So, at dinner he preceded to explain to me what he thought of quote “my officials some of the flags they dropped, some of the flags they didn't drop continued throughout dinner. Those fiery dramatic eyes sparking anger. his wife, Marty, later at dinner she tried to calm things someone and she tried to intercede so Tex got very upset with Marty whereupon my wife sided in with Marty so when it was all over, we went home and Carrie said “Pete, Tex is one of the closest people in the League, what is your relationship with other clubs.” As I say, Tex is a winner, he personifies so much what the League is about.
With more than a little tongue and check I explained that I wish I could have gone in with a more illustrious class than what I am today. When you look at it you think of Frank Gatski, leading in those tremendous Browns' team, post war era. Particularly then these three gentlemen from Are age of television. Television expanded to Monday Night Football a National Telecast. It was a different National Football League then. The brief exploits of these athletes of the NFL you could see right at home and certainly you saw Joe, Roger and O.J. It dramatized the league, made it much bigger, made the heroes more vivid in your minds. I think that's one of the big points of ·this inducted class ... these three gentlemen. With Joe I remember in 1969, that is when I found out he had more than just an arm. I had a chance to visit with him quite a bit and he discussed the Super Bowl Game, Super Bowl III and just hearing him diagnosis the game, the defenses, how they ran as well as pass. I realized that it was a shrew mind along with that arm and I think that we are all going to enjoy it on Monday ABC Football this year.
With O.J., I learned one thing, that I'll pass on to all of you, and that is don't take the long plane ride with O.J. and play gin rummy him. I made the mistake of doing that once.
Roger, I can recall sitting next to. It was at a Fellowship of Christian Athletes dinner in Los Angeles, he just joined the Cowboys shortly before and it was still a scramble who would be the first string quarterback and during the course of that meal, Roger looked at me without an ounce of arrogance, without and how to re go and he said, I'm going to be the regular Dallas Cowboys quarterback.
You know it was 1962 right in this area that I turned the first shovel of dirt for the construction of the first part of the facility. It was with Mr. William Umstaddt of the Timken Co. and the Timken Co., of course, then as it is now, has been such a great contributor to sucess of the Hall of Fame. I know that that day when I turn the shovel of dirt, I never imagined I would be standing here today in this capacity. I think that we all get a sense of what it is about, the inductees today in that parade. It seemed like there were several 100,000, I don't know what the count was, it seemed like so many periods it personifies the spirit of Canton. I know in discussing with Lamar hunt the other evening, he said “you know, I enjoy so much, we agreed, we both enjoy so much, coming here each year as members of the board of directors of the Hall.” It's like an Oasis, an Oasis of calm, tranquility and upbeat. It's like a fix that each year we come here and get a sense of enthusiasm of you people of the sport that we represent and I can't tell you from the Hall of Fame staff, the board of directors right down to the volunteers. I know we have the same wonderful man, Eli Jaskic for 10 years and he drives us around and he is with us again this year. For all the 100 of volunteers that helped put on football's greatest weekend.
The commissioner’s job, of course, is very unique. you are hired by the owners, but you are called upon to make decisions that can affect them. You can't please everyone, every time. You have to make decisions why this side will be happy and decide will be unhappy, so (tape went off). You simply have to do what you think in your judgement is in the best interest of the game. It started for me in 1960 when Wellington Mara, here today, and Paul Brown, came to me during this committee to seek a commissioner and they suggested they were going to kick me up and suggested me in the evening session and I was totally shocked. Most of the people I knew only by face I never even had a meal with some of them. I Remember Paul Brown saying “well, Pete, you’ll grow into the job ... I remember how helpful he and Well were initially and others were later.
But when I became involved in the NFL, I realized that it was a great reservoir of talent, ability and a willingness to help. I saw the first year in what has become a model for sports today, the late Dan Reeves of the LA Rams, the Mara families in New York and George Halas of Chicago. They agreed that under a plan we were developing they would share television equal. New York would make us much as Green Bay and vice-versa. And, of course, that's played a great part in giving everyone at least the base, the base to compete. The balance has to be scouting, management, coaching and players. That is the way football should be. It should not be predicated just on money.
To continue that way with help from so many of the owners. I know that Laffiar and Wellington helped a great deal in respect to commissioners of the two conferences and were involved in so many league activities. I think of Art Rooney how much he has given to us. His sage council particularly the fact that he gave us his sons, Dan Rooney and Art involved in the operation of the club and the whole family lends some sense of class to the league and they have been a great help over the years. The players themselves. You find so many of them willing to give of their time to help promote the league whether it be on a United Way spot or out speaking to people. They have been a great help.
When you are up here you try to think of the people you want to thank that played a big part in your life. There are several I would like to mention. One is Maxwell Stiles who was only a sports writer in Los Angeles and became the LA Rams public relations man when they moved from Cleveland to Los Angeles in 1946 and I was again just out of the navy attending Compton Junior College where the Rams trained and Max made me his gopher and learned something about it and I will never forget he let me do the Rams' programs.
I got $50 a program for editing their home game programs and I did that for about two years. The media -- the media has been tremendously helpful to the NFL in telling our story. The upbeat things and those that aren't so upbeat, but that's their job. The main thing is that they cover us and they have brought the NFL to the attention of the people of this country. I would like to think so many past and present people who have associated with me in business. Many are here with me today. They worked with me and I really appreciate the fact that they have come here. Also, I have schoolmates from junior high school and college all the way from the West coast, many relatives, uncles, chance, and cousins also from a great distance and I particularly want to mention two of them, my uncle Glenn and my uncle Joe.
They along with my late father, played the greatest role in my interest in sports as a young boy and I'm so happy to see them here. We also have and I am very happy to see him here today, my brother, Dick, and, of course, my family. For anyone involved in sports, the family has to sacrifice. Players family, owner’s family, administration family- you are deeply involved, and the families have to make a sacrifice and mind, of course, has been very calm and very supportive and it has enabled me to feel more comfortable about putting time on the job. We have here today, my wife, Carrie, my daughter, Anne Marrie Rozelle, my lovely stepchildren Jeanne Cook Prickett, a new bride, and her husband Bill and my stepson, Phillip Cook. their support has meant a great deal to me through the years.
I feel very fortunate to have always worked at what I love. I don't go out and stamp things on an assembly line. I was blessed. I was always able to work in sports particularly in the National Football League. I can only say that I feel very happy, proud and so grateful to be here today.