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Former NFL Head Pete Rozelle Dies of Cancer


Pete Rozelle, the father of the Super Bowl who put the NFL on TV just about everywhere and transformed the way Americans spend Sunday afternoons, died yesterday of brain cancer. He was 70.

Rozelle died at his home in Rancho Santa Fe, Calif., at 5:45 p.m. PST. He had undergone surgery for brain cancer in December 1993.

"No one was more responsible for the success of the National Football League and public passion of the NFL game than Pete Rozelle," said commissioner Paul Tagliabue, who succeeded Rozelle.

"Though he would credit others, Pete was the driving force in changing the face of professional sports in this country. His vision, integrity and commitment made him the ideal leader during a period of tremendous growth for the NFL," Tagliabue said.

As perhaps the premier commissioner in all of sports, Rozelle led the National Football League for nearly three decades before retiring unexpectedly in 1989, helping it survive bidding wars with three rival leagues and three player strikes.

Rozelle shepherded the league from 12 teams to 28, turned it into a Sunday obsession and guided it to the preeminent position it still holds today -- the nation's No. 1 spectator sport.

"He'll forever be remembered as the standard by which all sports executives are judged," New York Giants owner Wellington Mara said. "He did more for professional football and the NFL than any other sports executive has done."

Said former Dallas Cowboys president Tex Schramm: "Now that I look back, Pete had always seemed to have destiny on his shoulder."

And owner Art Modell of the Baltimore Ravens added: "It's the end of a great era. What we enjoy every Sunday can be attributed to Pete's vision and talents."

Rozelle built the NFL by linking the game with television, creating Monday Night Football and the Super Bowl, which blossomed into America's most-watched sporting event.

It was, on the one hand, a financial coup, bringing a league that got $75,000 from Dumont television for its title game only in 1951 into one of the wealthiest sports entities in the world. The current television contract, for which Rozelle set the groundwork, gets $1.58 billion for four years from Fox alone, more than 2,000 times what Rozelle got in his first contract with CBS in 1962.

It was Rozelle who brought sports into 10 figures when he negotiated a landmark fiveyear, $2.1 billion contract with television's three major networks in 1982. Then he expanded the NFL's TV exposure to cable, selling a Sunday night series to ESPN as part of the next contract in 1986.

His biggest contribution, however, may have been introducing revenue-sharing in pro football 30 years before it created havoc in other sports. Doing so allowed teams in minor markets like Green Bay to equally share TV revenues -- the biggest part of the NFL pie -- with teams in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles.

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