SI Vault
Robert H. Boyle
December 13, 1965
Carroll Rosenbloom is a mysterious millionaire who would rather lose a corporation than a ball game. But he seldom has to worry about either—he has a Midas touch and he owns the best football team in the land
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December 13, 1965

The Pleasure Of Dying On Sunday

Carroll Rosenbloom is a mysterious millionaire who would rather lose a corporation than a ball game. But he seldom has to worry about either—he has a Midas touch and he owns the best football team in the land

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On a day when the Baltimore Colts play in the National Football League, Carroll Rosenbloom, their owner, is in torment. His palms are wet with sweat, and his superstitions run wild. In the locker room before the game he always pats the head of Johnny Unitas, the quarterback, and accepts a piece of adhesive tape from Lenny Lyles, a defensive back. After the pregame drill Rosenbloom makes it a point to circle the field with Don Shula, the Colts' jutjawed coach. In his box for the game, Rosenbloom turns pessimistic. If the opposing team fumbles the opening kickoff, he regards this as a clever plot to throw the Colts off guard. When the Colts kick a field goal he frets over the touchdown they failed to score. Even when Baltimore is comfortably ahead with only two minutes to go, he worries that the other team will score and try an onside kick. After the gun sounds he slumps in his seat, exhausted but all smiles—until he remembers next week's game. For Carroll Rosenbloom, tycoon, the world of big business provides no kicks or worries like pro football. Money means nothing compared to victory, and Wall Street can go to hell. "I don't want any yachts, and I don't want any castles," he says. "I would just like to have about 30 more championships, and then I'd be all set."

For a man as involved as Rosenbloom is in the well-publicized game of pro football, he is, nonetheless, a mysterious figure. For instance, few people know exactly what he does for a living. Bill Ford of the Detroit Lions means cars. Clint Murchison Jr. of the Dallas Cowboys is oil. Barron Hilton of the San Diego Chargers in the rival AFL, a league Rosenbloom regards as vastly inferior to his own, is hotels, and Sonny Werblin of the New York Jets is show business in big, bright lights. But Rosenbloom has a multiplicity of interests. He is shirts, stocks, movies and toys and perhaps even snips and snails and puppy-dog tails as well, for his money is spattered across the board. Even when Rosenbloom's interest in a single company is pinned down, his position is still confusing. He is, for instance, the largest single shareholder in an outfit known as the Philadelphia and Reading Corporation. This has to be a railroad, surely, but it is not. Originally in the coal business, it is now a holding company for a lot of other companies, including a dozen shirt and work-clothes concerns that used to belong to the Rosenbloom family. Rosenbloom is also the largest single shareholder in a company with the marvelously Goldfingerish name of Universal Controls. This company does not control the universe—although there were some delirious market speculators who once thought it would—but it does control, among other things, the American Totalisator Company, which leases the tote machines to racetracks. Rosenbloom is also the largest single shareholder (naturally) in Seven Arts Productions Limited, a company that backed Funny Girl, the Broadway musical starring Barbra Streisand, and such films as What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?, Lolita and The Night of the Iguana.

Rosenbloom directs his varied interests from no office to speak of, preferring to operate from indecipherable scribbles jotted down on the back of the envelope he carries in his breast pocket. In appearance he looks like a swinger. He is dapper, given to dark clothes with a hint of Hollywood. A Texas sportswriter who saw him for the first time exclaimed, "He's part hood!" Now 58, Rosenbloom is trim and of medium height. His face is arresting. He has high cheekbones, deeply set eyes, a strong jaw and sharply flaring nostrils. His manner is relaxed, polite and knowing. Smooth is the word friends often use to describe him. Whenever Rosenbloom sees an old friend, his voice lapses into a semisouthern drawl. "How are yewww?" he will say.

If Rosenbloom's numerous business ventures fail to bring him into focus, his press clippings are little help either. There have been favorable stories praising his generosity to his players and stories about his close friendship with the Kennedy family. But there have been others that Rosenbloom would, understandably, like to forget. These stories—there was a spate of them two years ago—began on the order of: "Attorneys for Carroll Rosenbloom today denied charges that...." In the main these charges dealt with alleged betting by Rosenbloom, not just on pro football—sin enough for anyone connected with the sport—but against his own team. Unfortunately for Rosenbloom, the accusations received prominent play, while his eventual clearance by the league wound up in small type next to the dog and cat ads.

Watching Rosenbloom watch his Colts, it is impossible to believe he could ever bet against them. Ever since he took over the Baltimore franchise in 1953 the Colts have been a consuming interest. Rosenbloom has seen every game and exhibition except two. Twice during the season he addresses the players personally, once when the squad has been picked at the end of training and then later before a critical game. One season when the Colts were playing poorly Rosenbloom told them he was going to stay out of the locker room until they performed like world champions. He recalls that Big Daddy Lipscomb tearfully asked, "Ain't you comin' back, Carroll? Ain't you comin' back?" Rosenbloom himself can get rather teary about the Colts, and after a tough loss he has been known to sob.

Rosenbloom has helped any number of his players into business on their own, and three of them, Alan Ameche, Joe Campanella and Gino Marchetti, are on their way to becoming multimillionaires with a chain of drive-ins and hamburger stands. According to one ordinarily cynical Wall Street man, Rosenbloom's character is best summed up by his interest in his players. "I think that Carroll Rosenbloom would be heartbroken if any of his old players ever came to him for a handout," the man says. "Carroll is not in the football business to make money. He is in it for two reasons: 1) to win and 2) to help his players direct their incomes so that they are well established in business before they are has-beens. He doesn't look upon the Colts as hired athletes. To him they are adopted sons."

Rosenbloom himself grew up in comfortable circumstances. His father, Solomon, was an immigrant from Russian Poland who went to work at 15 and eventually became a prosperous manufacturer of work clothing in Baltimore. Carroll was the last of six sons and the eighth of nine children. For a spell, the family lived down the street from H.L. Mencken, and Rosenbloom recalls, "He gave me my first hard-shell crab."

Rosenbloom was an indifferent student and a good athlete. He was a halfback in football, a pitcher in baseball and boxed a bit. In 1926 he entered the University of Pennsylvania, where he quickly became friends with another football player of similar background, Marty Brill, whose family owned the J.G. Brill Company, streetcar and bus manufacturers. The backfield coach was Bert Bell, who later became commissioner of the NFL. Rosenbloom and Brill got along well with Bell but had a difficult time with Lud Wray, the line coach, who delighted in having his linemen pile it on in practice. At the end of their sophomore year Brill and Rosenbloom went to South Bend, where they spoke to Knute Rockne, who was eager to have them. Rosenbloom's father talked Carroll into staying at Penn, but Brill transferred to Notre Dame and came back to score three touchdowns in a game Penn lost 60-20. Meanwhile at Penn, Wray finally got Rosenbloom benched. In his senior year Rosenbloom did not go out for the team, devoting his time to his major, psychology.

After graduating from Penn, Rosenbloom planned to work for the J.G. Brill Company in Philadelphia. He had no desire to join his brothers in working for his father ("He and I were too much alike"), but his father persisted and Rosenbloom returned to Baltimore. "I always knew I'd be a millionaire," Rosenbloom says. "I believe that anyone who wants to can make money. That's not very difficult. I can remember sitting on a park bench in front of our house in Baltimore, and my brother Ben said, 'What are you going to do?' 'I'll tell you one thing,' I said. 'When I'm 34 I'm going to retire.' " Rosenbloom spent two years with his father, and although they had their quarrels, the lessons he learned were lasting. Once his father allowed him to fill an order with a buyer. After the buyer left, his father said, "You told him you'd send the order on Friday. This is Tuesday and, no matter what you do, the factory won't be able to ship until next Wednesday. Did you know that?" Rosenbloom said that he did, whereupon his father replied, "I've never met a man smart enough to be a good liar." Rosenbloom called the buyer to say that he had been wrong.

Despite the wisdom dispensed by his father, Rosenbloom wanted to be on his own. The chance came in late 1932, the depth of the Depression, when he went to Roanoke, Va. to liquidate the Blue Ridge Overalls Company, a small factory that his father had acquired. He liked the company and returned to Baltimore, where he made a deal with his father to run it on his own. He moved to Roanoke, and Blue Ridge began to grow. Luck played a part. When the U.S. Civilian Conservation Corps was authorized, officials were desperate for denim work clothes, and Blue Ridge got a huge order. Rosenbloom also set about wooing the large distributors, such as Sears, Roebuck, Montgomery Ward, W.T. Grant and J.C. Penney. "I knew if you wanted to be big, you had to be associated with large sources of distribution," Rosenbloom says. "The large distributors have a policy—they see everybody. They do pretty much with manufacturers as we on the Colts do with college football players. We look for prospects."

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