Men endowed with the divergent capabilities of Pete Rozelle--including knowledge of the game, salesmanship and political acumen--are only rarely replaced or succeeded.
It’s the same with statesmen and government leaders. Those with exceptional ability and matching records are merely followed. They have a special glow that is lasting, making it exceedingly difficult on the new incoming office holder as he’s compared with an illustrious predecessor.
So it will be with the National Football League when it finally searches out and agrees on its next commissioner. The process is now under way.
Teams are contributing to a master list of candidates, and each club has been asked to furnish the screening committee with a letter of recommendation and any thoughts it might have on the matter by April 15.
Then the interviews and the culling process will begin. Some potential candidates have already been contacted to ascertain their degree of interest. Secretary of Housing Jack Kemp has long been mentioned as a future commissioner. But he insists he likes his present cabinet job in the Bush administration.
That doesn’t mean he wouldn’t enjoy the challenge of running the NFL. So don’t discount Kemp, the former Buffalo Bills’ quarterback, until he personally eliminates himself. Certainly, if the NFL got Kemp to leave government service, it would be a coup.
Wellington Mara, president of the New York Giants, is one of six NFL team officials conducting the hunt for a commissioner. Mara, one of the most eloquent of men, in and out of sports, has appropriately described the challenge that confronts him and his colleagues.
In what amounts to a stirring testimonial, he simply says, “Pete Rozelle forevermore will be the standard by which all sports commissioners are judged. It is the job of the search committee to find a replacement for the irreplaceable man.”
Joining Mara in the quest for a qualified individual are Lamar Hunt of the Kansas City Chiefs, Art Modell of the Cleveland Browns, Dan Rooney of the Pittsburgh Steelers, Ralph Wilson of the Buffalo Bills and Judge Robert Parins of the Green Bay Packers. They will look the field over, assemble names and then offer them to the ownership-at-large for further reaction on the way to the final assessment.
It would be ideal, of course, if the league could find a commissioner who brings the background and intelligence Rozelle possessed in 1960 when, at age 33, he was named to take over for the late Bert Bell. Such a mission might now be close to impossible and the league, in fact, may not be looking for that kind of a young leader for its present era. The climate and conditions change and so do the job responsibilities.
Kemp would be impressive from the standpoint of name recognition. So, too, would Roger Staubach or Bart Starr, two other quarterbacks, both members of the Hall of Fame and respected all over the country for their knowledge of football, administrative ability and the exemplary way they have carried themselves. They would be an impressive billboard for the NFL.
Another former player with imposing credentials is Dick Anderson, who played 10 seasons as a safety for the Miami Dolphins, served as president of the National Football Legue Players’ Association and also put in a term in the Florida state senate.
Anderson also was chairman of the committee that hosted Super Bowl XXIII in Miami, which brought him extensive praise under the most difficult of circumstances.
In that connection, he handled the pressures of the civil unrest in Miami with extraordinary sensitivity and poise, bringing credit to himself, the city he represented and the NFL in a time of crisis. If being tested under fire is a prerequisite, then Anderson fulfilled the measure with skill, courage and intellect.
Other former players offering high qualifications for a job of this magnitude are Calvin Hill, former Dallas Cowboy and Cleveland Brown, now an executive with the Baltimore Orioles; and three Hall of Fame members--Ron Mix, one-time Oakland Raider, Alan Page of the Minnesota Vikings and Merlin Olsen of the Los Angeles Rams and NBC.
It would be in the best interests of the NFL if a man who once played the game was tabbed for the commissionership. This would quickly create a better understanding with the players’ union and put down some of the hostility that exists between football management and the employees. It doesn’t have to be that way, but it is.
It would be unprecedented for the NFL to be led by one of its former players. Some owners might abhor the idea, but often good things have happened to the NFL in spite of itself. Isn’t that precisely what happened when Rozelle got the job?
The owners were so sure about his credentials they couldn’t get to the line of scrimmage. It took them 23 voting rounds over an 11-day period to find him, and then the vote was a not-so-overwhelming 7-4-1. But Rozelle provided smart, perceptive leadership over the longest reign of any commissioner in the history of professional sports.