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Birth:
01 Mar 1926 1
Death:
06 Dec 1996 1
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Full Name:
Alvin R Rozelle 1
Birth:
01 Mar 1926 1
Death:
06 Dec 1996 1
Residence:
Last Residence: Rancho Santa Fe, CA 1
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Social Security:
Card Issued: Unknown Code (PE) 1
Social Security Number: ***-**-7559 1

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Pete Rozelle, 70, Dies; Led N.F.L. in its Years of Growth

Pete Rozelle, the commissioner who presided over the changes that made the National Football League the premier professional sports organization over the last four decades, died at his home in Rancho Santa Fe, Calif., yesterday. He was 70.

The cause was brain cancer. Mr. Rozelle had a benign brain tumor removed in December 1993.

During Mr. Rozelle's nearly 30 years as commissioner -- which spanned the terms of eight Presidents -- he oversaw a merger and expansion that more than doubled the size of the league, obtained the most lucrative television contract in sports, established Monday night football and introduced revenue-sharing among the teams.

On his watch, the N.F.L. rose to unprecedented heights of popularity, so much so that it surpassed baseball as the national pastime in the eyes of its followers. It also enjoyed huge economic success, attracting escalating television contracts, marketing income and expansion fees.

And his monument to the sport was the Super Bowl.

Soon after the first championship matchup between the well-established N.F.L. and the upstart American Football League in 1967, the game became one of the most watched television programs, garnering ever-higher rights' fees from the networks and escalating prices for tickets, of which there were never enough.

Indeed, when he surprised his employers -- the owners of N.F.L. teams -- by announcing his retirement on March 23, 1989, Mr. Rozelle said the strongest reflection of his tenure was not the merger with the A.F.L., which became final in 1970, or the expansion from 12 to 28 teams. He instead named the annual January game.

''The most fun thing was watching the development of the Super Bowl because the game is what it's all about,'' he said then. ''I really felt a high at every Super Bowl with all the glitz and the spectacular halftime shows.''

When Mr. Rozelle retired later that year, 9 of the 10 television programs with the largest audiences in history were Super Bowls, with No. 1 being the 127 million viewers for Super Bowl XX, between the Chicago Bears and New England Patriots, in 1986. In addition, four polls taken between 1978 and 1985 declared that pro football was America's favorite sport by increasing margins over baseball.

Mr. Rozelle was also consistent in naming the decision he most regretted as commissioner: playing N.F.L. games on Sunday, Nov. 24, 1963, two days after John F. Kennedy was assassinated. He called the decision a mistake even though he had sought advice from Pierre Salinger, the President's press secretary and a friend from Mr. Rozelle's days at the University of San Francisco.

''In the afternoon, I went to the Giants' game,'' Mr. Rozelle said in 1994. ''We had a moment of silence. I could not concentrate on the game. I brooded about my decision the entire game. You have to understand, I was more than depressed over the assassination. I had lost someone whom I'd respected as the leader of our country, but I was also a close friend of the Kennedy family.''

As a leader, Mr. Rozelle blended compromise with showmanship (he was an ever-present figure with an ever-present tan) and was a moderate man with more wit than ego.

His 29-year term as the leader of the N.F.L. came in two parts, the first beginning with his unlikely election on Jan. 26, 1960, at age 33, and including unprecedented success for the league and his C.E.O.-like control of it, along with his reputation as the most skilled head of any pro sports league. The second part of his reign, beginning in the mid-1970's, was less satisfying, with years of turmoil and litigation that led to his resignation.

Afterward, he largely withdrew from the professional sports scene. He is survived by his wife, Carrie; a daughter, Anne Marie, and two grandchildren.

Alvin Ray Rozelle, nicknamed Pete at the age of 5 by an uncle, was born on March 1, 1926, in Los Angeles and grew up in the suburb of Compton. He went to Compton Junior College and, late in World War II, servedon a Navy coastal tanker that, he said, never went far from San Pedro, the southern California port.

Sports were always an interest, if not a passion. He sometimes mentioned that Duke Snider, a high school teammate and later a Hall of Fame baseball player for the Dodgers of Brooklyn and Los Angeles, had knocked out his two front teeth in a basketball practice.

He obtained work as the sports information director at the University of San Francisco, at a salary of $250 a month, when its football and basketball teams were nationally prominent.

A publicity trip before a football game with Fordham at the Randalls Island Stadium in 1951, brought Rozelle to New York for the first time. He was impressed. ''The big time,'' he later said.

Los Angeles was next, as the public relations director for the Rams, the N.F.L. team. After a brief interlude in public relations with a San Francisco firm, he returned to the Rams as general manager.

Bert Bell, who had been a respected N.F.L. commissioner since 1946, died suddenly while attending a Philadelphia Eagles game in October 1959. At a meeting to elect a successor the following January at the Kenilworth Hotel in Miami Beach, the owners of the 12 teams ended a nine-day deadlock by choosing Mr. Rozelle, a compromise candidate, on the 23d ballot.

The new commissioner immediately moved the headquarters from Mr. Bell's Philadelphia to New York and commenced a courtship of television that had far-reaching results.

The first of Mr. Rozelle's several fruitful petitions to Congress brought about legislation legalizing single-network television contracts for professional sports leagues. CBS signed up early in 1961 for an annual fee of $4.65 million to televise the 98 regular-season games. The last such pact of his era, among the three networks in 1987, returned $420 million annually. Such growth affected the value of team franchises which, in Mr. Rozelle's time, went up in transfer deals from $2 million to $80 million.

By initiating the teams' sharing of the revenue from television and with such later innovations as N.F.L. Films and NFL Properties, or contributions to other firsts like N.F.L. Alumni, N.F.L. Charities and the N.F.L. Hall of Fame, Mr. Rozelle put in place the all-for-one, one-for-all concept among the franchises.

He was hardly responsible for the emerging pervasiveness of television. But he did direct its orderly growth with pro football through the eras of blackouts of local teams, Sunday doubleheaders, the Monday night game beginning in 1970 and extended playoffs with wild-card teams.

His first landmark, however, had to do with people, not television. In 1962, he fined George Halas, a league founder and the owner-coach of the Chicago Bears, for abusing field officials. Mr. Halas accepted the fine with some grace and thereafter was one of his strongest supporters.

And because Mr. Rozelle was so shocked by the college basketball gambling scandals of 1951, he set up a security program that was far more advanced than others in sports. In 1963, he fined and suspended two stars, Paul Hornung of the Green Bay Packers and Alex Karras of the Detroit Lions, for placing bets on N.F.L. games. He said it was one of the toughest decisions he ever made.

The suspensions lasted only one season, the fines were minor ($2,000 for each player) and the betting incidents now appear small. But the suspensions were crucial, representing the establishment of his authority and the backing of the owners. ''I felt relieved,'' he said.

But this commissioner had no relief in his attempts to resolve division-of-money issues between the owners and the players union that became heated in the 1970's. The so-called Rozelle rule, which required a team signing a free agent to compensate the player's former team, was declared illegal in a suit brought by John Mackey and other players that eventually cost the league $13.65 million in damages.

In an earlier blow, his policy of ''league think'' -- his mantra promoting unselfishness among the franchises -- was undermined by Al Davis, the maverick owner of the Oakland Raiders, in a 1983 court case that cost the N.F.L. about $50 million.

At the end of that season the Raiders, who had moved to Los Angeles against Mr. Rozelle's wishes, won the Super Bowl. He presented the traditional trophy to Mr. Davis with his congratulations in the customary locker room ceremony on national television.

''That was Pete's finest moment,'' said Ed Sabol, the N.F.L. Films founder. ''He never flinched, while Al never looked him back in the eyes.''

Pete Rozelle, Father of Modern-Day Football, Dies

Pete Rozelle, who made "Monday Night Football" and the Super Bowl parts of American culture during his tenure as commissioner of the National Football League, died Friday at his home in Rancho Santa Fe. He was 70.

Rozelle, who headed the NFL for 29 years until his retirement in 1989, had been suffering from brain cancer.

A former Los Angeles Ram public relations executive and general manager, Rozelle brilliantly used television to make the NFL the most powerful league in professional sports. Under Rozelle, who engineered the NFL's merger with the American Football League in 1966 and created the Super Bowl as the league's championship game and annual showcase, the NFL grew from 12 teams to 28, and its television revenues skyrocketed.

The Super Bowl is America's most-watched sporting event and "Monday Night Football" is the longest-running sports series on TV. Football widows can blame Rozelle for their loneliness on Sundays, for it was his idea to televise each team's road games.

"He'll forever be remembered as the standard by which all sports executives are judged," said New York Giant owner Wellington Mara. "He did more for professional football and the NFL than any other sports executive has done."

Rozelle negotiated the league's first billion-dollar TV deal, a five-year, $2.1-billion agreement reached with the three major networks in 1982. The NFL's current television contract, for which Rozelle did the groundwork, is worth $1.58 billion over four years from the Fox network alone.

During his tenure, Rozelle fought off challenges from three rival leagues and piloted the NFL through player strikes in 1974, 1982 and 1987. He also pioneered revenue-sharing long before other professional sports leagues considered it, seeing the equal division of TV revenues as a way to keep teams in small markets, such as Green Bay, on equal footing with teams situated in major markets.

He was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1985, a rare honor for someone not yet retired.

"It's the end of a great era," said Art Modell of the Baltimore Ravens, an NFL owner since 1961. "What we enjoy every Sunday can be attributed to Pete's vision and talents."

Said Dallas Cowboy President Tex Schramm: "Now that I look back, Pete had always seemed to have destiny on his shoulder."

Destiny may be the only explanation for the way Rozelle landed the commissioner's job.

Rozelle began his football career in 1947, editing the Rams' game programs while he was still a student at Compton College. From there he went to the University of San Francisco, where he was publicity director and assistant athletic director.

After three years as the Rams' publicist, he left for a year to work for a public relations firm but returned in 1957 to become the Rams' general manager.

He was far from the obvious choice to become the NFL's commissioner after Bert Bell died in office in 1960. After long and acrimonious debates among the owners, Rozelle was the compromise choice on the 23rd ballot.

"The meetings went on maybe 10 days--day and night sessions--and an impasse developed," Rozelle said.

"As I recall, seven clubs were supporting Marshall Leahy, who was an attorney for the San Francisco 49ers, and then you had four other clubs who supported several other people--judges, team people, all sorts of others."

Mara, Paul Brown of the Cleveland Browns and Dan Reeves of the Rams suggested Rozelle. He was elected the league's sixth commissioner Jan. 26, 1960, at the age of 33.

"I was totally shocked," he said, "because I was so young and because they'd considered so many other people who had so much more experience in football than I."

Mara acknowledged that owners approached Rozelle "out of desperation.

"All the owners had discussed compromise candidates," Mara recalled. "One of them was Vince Lombardi. I think in the last analysis, Dan and Paul and I and maybe one or two others said, 'Well, how about Pete?' He was the next guy on the list--maybe the last one."

Rozelle took office about the same time the AFL began to challenge the NFL for players and TV ratings. He soon began making the bold and visionary moves that characterized his stewardship, and in 1962 negotiated a $9.3-million TV contract with CBS. That coup won him another term as commissioner.

In 1963, he solidified his power--but also made a move he regretted for years to come.

His first decisive stroke was banning Alex Karras and Paul Hornung, two of the league's most charismatic stars, for gambling. But in the same year, he allowed games to be played on Nov. 24, 1963, two days after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

Rozelle decided to proceed as scheduled after consulting with Pierre Salinger, an old schoolmate who was Kennedy's press secretary.

"I said: 'We've got planes with the players ready to get in the air and I don't know when the services will be. What can you tell me?' I was terribly upset," Rozelle said. "It was difficult to talk to him about it. Pierre said: 'I think you should go ahead and play the games.'

"I hung up and thought about it some more. I discussed it with everyone in the office. Late that afternoon, I made the decision. I had to. Our teams were calling, they wanted to know what to do.

"On Sunday, I went to church with my daughter and brooded about the decision. That was before I was recognized, so I didn't have to face anyone. In the afternoon, I went to the Giants' game. We had a moment of silence. I could not concentrate on the game. I brooded about my decision the entire game. You have to understand, I was more than depressed over the assassination. I had lost someone whom I'd respected as the leader of our country, but I was also a close friend of the Kennedy family.

"That week after the funeral and after our games were played, there were columns written against my decision across the country. Obviously, it was a mistake."

It was among the few gaffes he made.

Among his most inspired creations was "Monday Night Football," which he thought of and sold to then-ABC sports boss Roone Arledge in 1970.

Seeking wide TV exposure for his league--but limited in his options because the NFL had an agreement not to televise on Friday night or Saturday in competition with high school and college football--he settled on Monday night as a time to feature a game on national TV.

After being rebuffed by CBS and NBC, Rozelle approached ABC. Arledge loved the idea, and it proved a perfect marriage for the NFL and ABC, then regarded as the least consequential of the three networks.

Rozelle later steered the league through three player strikes, although he was criticized during the last two for staying on the sidelines and leaving negotiations to the NFL Management Council. In 1982, the league played a nine-game season and in 1987, it used replacement players for three games.

He also came through many lawsuits, including a bitter one with Al Davis after Davis moved the Raiders from Oakland to Los Angeles. The NFL lost that lawsuit, leading to what Rozelle dubbed "franchise free agency." Five teams either moved or proposed moves in 1994 and 1995.

"The litigation and the lawsuits took so much energy, time and money, but I never felt like quitting," Rozelle said two years ago. "Carrie [his wife] and I decided at the end of 30 years that it was a great time to see the other parts of life. Now I'm so glad we made that decision."

Rozelle is survived by his wife, a daughter, Anne Marie, and two grandchildren.

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