American Football: Hero of the NFL dies

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The Independent Online
Pete Rozelle, the father of the Super Bowl who put the National Football League on television around the world and transformed the way Americans spend their Sunday afternoons, has died of brain cancer. He was 70.

The NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue, who succeeded Rozelle, said: "No one was more responsible for the success of the National Football League and public passion of the game than Pete Rozelle. Though he would credit others, Pete was the driving force in changing the face of professional sports in [the US]. His vision, integrity and commitment made him the ideal leader during a period of tremendous growth for the NFL," Tagliabue said. Art Modell of the Baltimore Ravens, an NFL owner since 1961, said: "It's the end of a great era. What we enjoy every Sunday can be attributed to Pete's vision."

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

Rozelle shepherded the league from 12 teams to 28, turned it into a Sunday obsession and guided it to the pre-eminent position it still holds today - the No 1 spectator sport in the United States. He achieved it 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 a financial coup, bringing a league that got only $75,000 from Dumont television for its championship game in 1951 to the present television contract which nets $1.58bn for four years from the Fox network.

It was Rozelle who negotiated a landmark five-year, $2.1bn contract with television's three major networks in 1982. Then he expanded to cable, selling a Sunday night series to the ESPN cable network as part of the next contract in 1986.

But his biggest contribution may have been introducing revenue-sharing in professional football 30 years before it created havoc in other sports. Doing so allowed teams in minor markets such as Green Bay to gain an equal share of TV revenue with the big-city teams in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles.

Rozelle first came up with the idea of Monday Night Football, now the nation's longest-running sports series, in 1969, a year before the NFL's merger with the rival American Football League was about to take place.

Rozelle also steered the league successfully through player strikes in 1974, 1982 and 1987, although he was criticised during the latter two for staying on the sidelines and leaving negotiations to the NFL Management Council.

Rozelle is survived by his wife, Carrie, a daughter, Anne Marie, and two grandchildren.

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