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Pete Rozelle
Pete Rozelle
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Pete Rozelle Interview (page: 6 / 9)

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  Pete Rozelle

Another evolution during your tenure as commissioner was the tremendous increase in salaries to the players. Some of the public kind of grumbles about how much the players are earning. How do you feel about those inflated salaries?

Pete Rozelle: Well, there has been such a tremendous change, fueled by the gate, but primarily from television and what the owners make. The players have done a good job of getting a lot of it.

I remember when I was General Manager of the Rams in 1957, they had already drafted selected senior players. And the Rams' first draft choice was an end from USC. I went out to see him, and he was working in a little studio out in the Valley, and I talked to him and gave him my charm, and so forth, and offered him what, at that time, was about par for the first draft choice -- $7,500 and a $2,500 bonus. And I was just shocked that my charm didn't sway him. But I figured that, "Well, he will eventually," and I got back to him on the phone. He never did play football. I found out he was married to Walt Disney's daughter. His name was Ron Miller; he became head of Disney Studio. So the Rams didn't give me a very good pick. But they get tremendous sums, and they are deserving of them as long as the league is developing the money to pay it. They're deserving a lot of money, because they deliver.

It's an odd career in a lot of ways, because it's so short-lived. It's really fast and furious.

Pete Rozelle: Yes, and for the smart ones, it works out well. But for those that aren't too smart, go through the money quickly, and only have a career of five or six years, well then all they have is their pension. If they're not equipped to go into the market place and find something other than being a football player, they don't have a very nice life. It's too bad. The smart ones do very well, obviously. They capitalize on their football name and get involved even while they're playing football. Get involved with some company, various companies, endorsements and so forth. It builds a foundation for when they quit, or are through, or retire rather. But some obviously do not. Most unfortunate.

It's a particularly short career, football. Isn't it?

Pete Rozelle: But a good one, barring injury. That's the key thing, injury. But if they're outstanding football players, they can have a career of eight or ten years or more. But they always have injury as a possibility, and the wear and tear and so forth. So the average is obviously much less than that.

If you were talking to somebody from Mars who never had seen a football game, how would you describe why it's so exciting to adult humans, both male and female?

Pete Rozelle: Very interesting. I had that test one day, in the '60s. I was in the Navy during World War II, out in the Pacific on a tanker, and take that into account. But in the '60s, we have a visitor to this country. Came to New York and came to the New York Jets game. Hirohito! And to me, it was so incredible, thinking of my background, and having been out there, and the way everything was during the war, and I was sitting with my family behind bullet-proof glass, covered, watching the game from a box.

And you had fought his troops in the Second World War!

Pete Rozelle Interview Photo
Pete Rozelle: Sure. And it was just so -- you know, what sports can do. It's just weird! Too much for my mind. So I attempted to explain the game through an interpreter as best I could, just as you suggested. I did the best I could, but I don't know if it was very good though. A funny thing, we had our stepson with us at the game. He was about six or seven. A couple months after the game, Mrs. Rozelle went to a PTA or some school function and his teacher showed her the work. She had told the kids that weekend, right after that weekend of the game, to write what they did on the weekend. Of course it was very terse, and all the little sentences and so forth. So the teacher said, "Robby has really got a very creative imagination, very vivid." And Carrie said, "How's that?" So she showed Robby's paper. He wrote, "I went to a football game and ate a hot dog, and sat with the Emperor." And the teacher said, "Obviously all fanciful," but Mrs. Rozelle said, "No, it wasn't."

What is it that's so exciting about football? Why do millions and millions of Americans stay glued to their sets Sundays and Mondays?

Pete Rozelle: I think just pure excitement. The passing. The tremendous comebacks. Obviously, the physical contact. It's just a great game that was created by, I guess, Walter Campbell, and it gives so much excitement and color to sports, and is just fascinating to watch.

There's a sense of evenly matched forces on the football field.

Pete Rozelle Interview Photo
Pete Rozelle: That's a big thing in any sport, if you can create that. You never can have perfection of that. It wasn't good for baseball, for example, years ago when the New York Yankees won virtually every year. I think baseball probably suffered during that period. You can't have a close race every year. But at least when -- well, like the Packers in the early '60s. They were a small community, and they hadn't done much for many, many years. Always an also-ran. And then Vince Lombardi got there and they won championships. That was a great thing to see. That gave hope to the fans in other cities. "Our team can do that now. You've seen it with Green Bay."

There was kind of a backlash, wasn't there? You were so big on promoting equality of the small markets and the large markets, and then after that you were criticized for making all the teams too much alike.

Pete Rozelle: I remember that. But, you know, if you look in the stands, you'll see that what I said was true. One of the happiest presentations I ever made was when the Pittsburgh Steelers won the Super Bowl. Art Rooney got into football about 1930 or so, one of the early pioneers of the NFL, and so beloved by everyone -- players, coaches, the other owners -- a tremendous man. It was really a thrill for me to give him the trophy. I didn't know he was going to get greedy and win three more! They did have a mini-dynasty during that period. But you always have different teams. The big teams, in New York, who won the last one, of course. But they will vary. You will have the small teams like Green Bay or Pittsburgh also rising up to win.

So there is hope. There is always hope.

Pete Rozelle: Right.

You mentioned Joe Namath and the upset victory in Super Bowl III. What are some of the most exciting plays that you remember? Are there a couple that stand out?

Pete Rozelle: Oh, there are so many, so many. Probably the most exciting would be the plays at the end of the game that win it for one team or the other, when they come from behind with a blocked field goal, or a long touchdown pass. There are so many of those, it would be hard to characterize one in particular. But that type of game would really interest me, and the play that would be a part of it would be a significant play to remember.

Perhaps that's what makes the game so exciting for such a broad range of people, that sense that anything can happen.

Pete Rozelle: I think that's part of it.

When you become part of a crowd of 60, 70, 80,000 people, you are swept up with the emotion that other people feel. You feed off that emotion. Like the wave they have in some stadiums, that we all see. And you become part of the synergism of the big crowd. And I think a lot of women who don't know football too well, but they get excited at a football game because of this feeling you take from a big crowd -- the excitement that everyone feels.

[ Key to Success ] Passion

Do you think there's also a sense that you kind of get out of your own personal troubles, and your day-to-day routine, whatever your headaches are at work, and you become part of something bigger?

Pete Rozelle: I think that's a big thing that sports does. Not just football, but baseball, basketball, hockey. There is a great escapism. People watch with sheer entertainment, and they know that the athletes are going to do their best, play very hard, and be exciting. I think everyone needs an outlet, and fortunately, in our case, a large part of that public, they find that in football. Escapism. Escape from the day-to-day routine and become a part of something that others enjoy, and are screaming and excited about.

There is a sense of justice, too. Of rules being followed, and people doing what they're supposed to do.

Pete Rozelle: That's right.

Do you think people are attracted to that?

Pete Rozelle: I think so, because they scream so much on a close call. They get all down on the referee or the umpire, or whatever, because they know that there are certain rules, and they feel that he has misinterpreted what happened on that play, and they do feel a sense of injustice when that occurs.

Of all the great achievements in your three decades as commissioner, what are you most proud of? Pete Rozelle: I have never really studied them very much.

I think that I was proud of -- not just what I did -- but my staff played obviously a major part, did in popularizing the sport, with the early promotional activities of NFL Properties, merchandising, NFL Films, all the work that we put on the Super Bowl to make that a top attraction. All those things, I feel very good about, but I think they played a big part in popularizing the league. I know that with the Super Bowl, someone once wrote, obviously facetiously, that if Jesus Christ were alive today, He would be attending the Super Bowl. Tongue in cheek, but it is a terrifically awesome one-day attraction.

It seems like the whole world stops that day.

Pete Rozelle: Practically. I think it's a great day for many people, because there is so much group viewing. I used to argue with the networks that we don't get enough credit for the audience. Because the average home may get about ten viewers per set. But this lends itself to it. Again, talking about the crowd, how you view a crowd. And the Super Bowl -- why, they like to have group showings, like to share the experience. Have a party, have a set on -- set or sets -- and watch it together.

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This page last revised on Apr 11, 2009 12:20 EDT
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