NFL needs someone like Rozelle, who didn't shrink when it came to expanding

Phil Jackman

October 21, 1993|By Phil Jackman

A conservative estimate is that if the NFL had been in charge of the Normandy Invasion, D-Day wouldn't have been until the 7th of June . . . 1952.

This never-ending soap opera, which supposedly arrives at its final episode next Tuesday in the Windy City (an apt place), has been raging since, what, the Reagan administration?

In any case, it has been quite a while since the league commissioner said in all apparent sincerity, "I wouldn't expect another city to be added this week, but the expansion committee will explore additional expansion. We are not restricting ourselves."

That was Pete Rozelle and it was June of 1974, right after Tampa and Seattle had landed franchise Nos. 27 and 28. In the preceding nine years, the league had expanded by a half-dozen teams and absorbed nine others in a merger with the old AFL.

Why the sudden feeding frenzy then? Perhaps the best answer was provided by Sports Illustrated, which noted at the time, "Having created an opiate for the people, the NFL can no longer deny it to those who can support the habit."

Think back to the years leaving the 1960s: Was pro football more of a epidemic then than it is now? Were there more stadiums, luxury boxes, men with big money looking to get involved, more marketing and promotion, more money tumbling in from television than there is now?

Satisfied that the new teams and the mergerites were on solid ground, the league got serious about striking out into new territory in April of 1973. A solid cast of front- runners was lined up -- Memphis, Phoenix, Seattle and Tampa -- and right behind them came 20 more cities expressing interest.

With the news that the World Football League was planning to commence play in the fall, it took Rozelle about an hour to come up with a reasonable-sized expansion committee of four. In no time, Stanford Research Institute was commissioned to come up with a report entitled "Socioeconomic Information on Candidate Areas for NFL Franchises."

The way it worked out, the report was finished nearly as quickly as it took to read the title of the survey. Two dozen locales were looked into, a total of 14 in added detail and, through process of elimination, the list was pared to 10, then five.

That was Rozelle -- decisive, a guy who could make up his mind and get cracking, a far cry from the stuffed-shirt lawyer type Paul Tagliabue, who has proven mostly inept as successor to "Pepsodent Pete."

Even when the Stanford report ranked New York, Chicago and Los Angeles with their huge populations "substantially above" all the other areas, even in absorbing a second team, Rozelle didn't let the process slow down.

He was aware teams going into Anaheim, onto Long Island and somewhere in Chicagoland would be successful, but this wouldn't be expanding the NFL's monopoly, it would be reducing it. Less than a year after getting serious about it and all the studies, surveys, pleading, political posturing, bribery and tears were done, the league owners were directed to a decision.

Four of the five finalists were serious contenders, Hawaii being included for some strange reason. Seattle assumed the favorite's role because Senator Scoop Jackson of Washington was talking up how the NFL might not be in complete compliance with the dictates of the trust-busting Sherman Act.

Despite all the sideshows, the WFL, congressional pressure, the infighting of the candidates, etc., the expansion decision was to arrive on time. Or almost. Suddenly, the franchise fee was a problem.

Rozelle and his finance committee figured $8 million per team was equitable since they didn't want to put the new kids on the block in such a hole they might never recover. Leonard Tose, specious custodian of the Philadelphia Eagles, gasped, "I owe ,, more than that to the bank."

No sweat. The price was doubled and, shortly after Rozelle had assured the world that the Colts franchise would always be in Baltimore in spite of the fact owner Robert Irsay was grumbling about not getting a new stadium promised by Carroll Rosenbloom, first Tampa and then Seattle hit paydirt.

Why Irsay figured Rosenbloom had the authority to promise a new playpen is anyone's guess. Perhaps the red-faced owner was not aware of the fact that Rosey was neither the mayor of Baltimore, nor the governor of Maryland, nor Santa Claus, nor the tooth fairy.

Phoenix lost out because of stadium problems, but later served as a friendly port of call for the Cardinals' fleeing St. Louis. Indianapolis was the last city dropped from the list in 1974 and Irsay was able to locate it a decade later. The rub against Memphis was it was too small, plus the NFL likes to keep a couple of cities in reserve to serve as exhibition game sites (take a bow, Jacksonville).

Months, not years, it took for this scenario to play out. Rozelle concluded, "Going from 28 to 30 clubs is probably the next logical step," as though the move was right around the corner.

Come back, Pete, you have to be sick of playing golf six days a week by now. If Baltimore misses out this time, a lot of us think waiting until the year 2015 may be just too long.

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