Rozelle remembered as innovator, friend
Jan. 17, 1997
NEW YORK (AP) _ Pete Rozelle's philosophy for the NFL could be summed up in a familiar phrase: The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
That explained revenue sharing. That explained the single television contract. That explained the universal draft.
Wellington Mara, co-owner of the New York Giants, speaking at a memorial for the commissioner who died from brain cancer Dec. 6, remembered how the NFL flourished under Rozelle's guidance.
``He moved the NFL from the back page to the front page, from daytime to prime time,'' Mara said. ``He inspired selflessness and moved the NFL to the undisputed front line of professional sports in this country.
``Then he saw cracks in the foundation of sharing. He was spending too much time in court. He foresaw the entire structure might crumble from within. At one of his last owners' meetings, he said, `The enemy is in this room.' Shortly therafter, he announced his retirement.''
Mara, who helped choose Rozelle to lead the league in 1963, said the late commissioner set the standard by which all sports executives will be measured. ``His like will not pass this way again,'' he said.
A crowd of about 700 attended the service at the Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church. Among the worshipers were owners and officials from 17 NFL clubs, former baseball commissioner Bowie Kuhn, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, NBA commissioner David Stern and scores of football figures.
ABC executive Roone Arledge, who negotiated with Rozelle the TV rights for Monday Night Football, called him ``cool, sophisticated and fun to negotiate with.''
Arledge said he was on the defensive in contract talks with Rozelle. ``I had about as much clout as the Dahli Lama has dealing with the Chinese army,'' he said. ``You know where the power was.''
Arledge said he and Rozelle talked for two years about the Monday night package, and just when it began to crystallize, Rozelle turned the tables. ``He said, `Of course, you understand we have to offer it to CBS and NBC first because of existing contracts,''' Arledge said. ``I was about to slit my throat.''
That was part of Rozelle's loyalty to the networks already carrying NFL games. Only when the others turned the package down did Arledge and ABC get it, launching the longest running prime-time series in TV history.
Commissioner Paul Tagliabue, who succeeded Rozelle in 1989, called his friend forthright, persuasive and charming. ``When you were in his presence, you knew he was someone special,'' he said. ``He was strong-willed and tenacious.''
Tagliabue recalled seeing Rozelle just weeks before the death. ``His spirit was still burning bright,'' he said. ``He was sharp as sharp could be.''
The two men just talked football for a while, and Tagliabue wondered about Rozelle's picks as the greatest player and greatest owner.
``He said he couldn't pick one player because there were so many great ones,'' the commissioner said. ``He said the luckiest thing the NFL had going for it was that its great players on the field were great individuals off the field.''
And what about great owners?
``Pete said probably Art Rooney and George Halas _ when they worked together. The league could accomplish anything, working together.''
Rozelle had been telling them that all along.
Other speakers at the service included Joe Browne, the league's vice president of communications and government affairs; Rozelle's daughter, Anne Marie Rozelle Bratton; and longtime friend Herb Siegel.