Tex Schramm, the man who brought Pete Rozelle to the NFL in 1952 to be the public relations director for the Los Angeles Rams, left Dallas on Thursday to fly to the Rancho Santa Fe bedside of his old friend for a final farewell.
"I walked in with a J&B; in my hand and said, 'What do you say, Pete, how about a Rusty Nail?' That's what he used to drink, you know," Schramm said with difficulty. "He kind of looked at me and tried to smile, and then he tried to say something. But he couldn't.
"You don't have to talk to a friend. No, you don't have to talk. You talk with your eyes, and I could see in his eyes he knew I was there and how much it meant to him. There was recognition of our friendship.
"What a wonderful man. I mean we go back to the late '40s, and now a person who was such a tremendous part of my life is gone. It hurts a great deal, but I am just so happy I had the chance to be there with him."
Rozelle, who would later replace Schramm as Ram general manager before becoming the commissioner of the NFL in 1960, died in his home Friday afternoon after a long bout with brain cancer.
Don Klosterman, a lifelong friend of Rozelle's and also a former Ram general manager, has been making weekly visits to Rancho Santa Fe.
"I was trying to cheer him up," Klosterman said of his Thursday visit. "I told him I had a horse for him. We always went to the races and we were always telling each other we had a horse. I told him this one was running next Wednesday.
"I told him Pete Newell had called from Hawaii and to tell me to tell him he loved him. I told him Will McDonough called to say the same thing.
"His lips told me he liked that."
Schramm said it was obvious that Rozelle was a young man "with destiny perched on his shoulder."
"The Cleveland Rams moved to Los Angeles in 1947 and opened training camp at Compton Junior College, and it just so happened there was a young student there by the name of Pete Rozelle."
That young student went on to become publicity director for the University of San Francisco before returning to the Rams, and then at 33, he became the NFL's compromise choice as commissioner.
"That young man went on to become the greatest administrator that sports has ever known," said Sid Gillman, who was the Rams' coach during much of Rozelle's time with the team. "The game of football could use him today."
More than that, said Jack Faulkner, an assistant coach with the Rams at that time and in recent years a dinner companion of Rozelle's, "He was the game."
Klosterman, calling Rozelle "the most incredible person I've ever met," says he set the standard for commissioners in all sports for all time.
"We called him 'the Standard.' What he accomplished with television, Congress and everything else was amazing. He brought all the egos of the owners together on one page.
"No one has been able to do that in any sport since."
Baltimore Raven owner Art Modell called Rozelle's death "the end of a great era."
"What we enjoy every Sunday can be attributed to Pete's vision and talents. He will be missed as a person as he was missed when he left the game."
From the very beginning, say those who knew him best, he was cool, smart and unafraid to do what he felt necessary to secure the success of the NFL. He will be remembered for the Super Bowl, revenue sharing and his ability to broker tremendous TV deals for the game, but first he had to establish his credibility.
Ed McCaskey, chairman of the board of the Chicago Bears and son-in-law of the late George Halas, recalled a time when Rozelle fined Halas, one of the league's founding fathers.
"Peter fined him $1,000 and let him know he was the boss," McCaskey said. "Halas told me: 'He's going to be a great commissioner. He slapped me.' "
Rozelle banned Alex Karras and Paul Hornung from the game, two of the league's top players, for gambling, and Schramm said Rozelle, more than anyone, understood the importance of maintaining the integrity of the game.
"He did not come across as a tough competitor," Schramm said, "but this guy was as tough as they came, and he had the ability to get what he wanted."
Neal Pilson, former CBS Sports president, was involved with Rozelle in negotiating television contracts on three occasions.
"It was Pete and Art Modell," Pilson said. "Pete did the talking and Art did the yelling. It was a very effective partnership.
"Pete never lost his temper, never lost his cool. What set Pete apart is he came in to a negotiation with so much information. He knew more about our pricing than we did. He had so many contacts in the advertising world, he could just pick up the phone and call our sponsors. . . . .
"Pete was an elegant and classy gentleman and I'm saddened by his passing."
Schramm said he recalls one of Rozelle's toughest times as commissioner in 1966 when Rozelle wrestled with the decision to merge the NFL with the rival American Football League.
"I was with him in the room that night when he had to make the decision," Schramm said. "And what I remember most is him going into the bathroom and crying. But when he came out, he said, 'Let's get on with it and get it done.'
"Pete had the vision. He was a man of the times. It was a time for young thinking, the explosion of TV, and he was very aware of the public's role in making the league successful. Professional sports had never seen anyone like him.
"The reason he is so great is because there is no one achievement you can point at to sum up his career. There are so many, and if a statue were to be erected in his honor, where would you put it? His impact was so far reaching--it could go most anywhere."
Schramm said Rozelle was both patient and persuasive, but he said the role he had to assume in his confrontational dealings with Al Davis troubled Rozelle greatly.
When Davis moved his Raiders from Oakland to Los Angeles, the two became the main characters in a bitter lawsuit, which the NFL lost.
"I talked to Al for a long time [Friday] about Pete," Schramm said after returning from his visit with Rozelle. "Al feels very badly about what has happened to Pete."
Gillman, who left the Rams to coach the AFL Chargers, said he and Rozelle teased each other about the rival leagues. "That was a great battle, and while Al Davis was a tough AFL commissioner, no one was going to chew up Pete Rozelle.
"All that conflict had to take its toll on Pete, but, boy, what a commissioner he was. I'm not sure people in sports realize just what this guy accomplished."
Rozelle was to be honored at a Feb. 11 banquet in Orange County to help raise funds for former players in need of financial assistance.
"I just talked to his brother a few hours ago," said Faulkner, who learned of Rozelle's death after being called for comment. "It just kills me. I had talked to Dick Rozelle and I knew it was bad, but I was hoping. . . .
"My God, he did such a great job for this game. All this Jerry Jones stuff in Dallas would never have happened. Pete kept so many things under control."
Rozelle, the organizer and the public relations specialist, leaned heavily on Schramm over the years for football guidance. And ironically, when Rozelle decided to retire in 1989, the Cowboys were sold and Jones dismissed Schramm.
On Thursday, the two came together for the last time.
"Pete and I came in together and went out together," Schramm said. "He made such a contribution with his life, and my only fear is that people will not remember all the wonderful things he did. This was truly a great man."
Staff writer Larry Stewart contributed to this story.
* END OF AN ERA
Pete Rozelle, who made the Super Bowl a part of American culture during his 29 years as NFL commissioner, died Friday at 70.
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