Pete Rozelle Biography

Pete Rozelle of the United States served as commissioner of the National Football League (NFL) from 1960 to 1989. During Rozelle’s tenure, the first Super Bowl between NFL and American Football League (AFL) champions took place, and many teams were added, some from the merger of the NFL and AFL, which was completed in 1970.

Pete Rozelle (1926-1996), American professional football executive, who was commissioner of the National Football League (NFL) from 1960 to 1989. He was born Alvin Ray Rozelle in South Gate, California, and educated at Compton Junior College and the University of San Francisco.

As an undergraduate Rozelle was the athletic news director for the University of San Francisco, and after graduation in 1950 he became assistant athletic director. In 1952 he was named publicity director of the Los Angeles Rams, beginning his long association with the NFL. In 1955 he was hired away by a San Francisco public relations firm, but in 1957 he rejoined the Rams as general manager. When Commissioner Bert Bell of the NFL died in 1959, Rozelle was the compromise choice as his successor. He held this position from 1960 until his retirement in 1989.

During Rozelle's tenure professional football became a successful and very large business. The price for a club franchise was about $1 million when he became commissioner, whereas the last club to change hands during his reign sold for more than $140 million. Shortly after being named commissioner, Rozelle added the Dallas Cowboys and the Minnesota Vikings to the league, expanding it to 14 clubs. The rival American Football League (AFL) immediately charged the NFL with attempting to stifle competition and sued the older league. Antitrust legislation research carried out by the commissioner and his staff helped the NFL to win the suit and an appeal, and in 1966 Rozelle negotiated a merger of the two leagues. The first Super Bowl game between the NFL and AFL champions was played in January 1967.

Rozelle was not always successful in court. During the early 1980s Al Davis, the principal owner of the Oakland Raiders, challenged Rozelle and the NFL. Davis wanted to move the Raiders to Los Angeles, presumably to take advantage of a potentially lucrative television market. The NFL initially blocked the move, but a 1982 court decision superseded the NFL's prohibition and Davis moved his team to Los Angeles that year. With a precedent established, the Baltimore Colts moved to Indianapolis before the 1984 season without league approval. Throughout his career Rozelle dealt successfully with complicated financial negotiations for players and owners and television rights, while also confronting drug and steroid scandals and increasing litigation. He retired in 1989, two seasons before his contract was due to expire, explaining that the stress of ongoing legal entanglements had taken the fun out of the job.

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