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There is no reading material in the stockade, just a lone long sofa and a potted palm, and constant dialogue on the same theme as the elevators disgorge passengers at this vault-office: "Wait. I have to buzz you in." "Will you buzz me?" "Can you buzz me in there?" "No, I can't buzz you in Films. I can only buzz you in my door or on the other side." And so on.
Not even Commissioner Rozelle can enter without being recognized and buzzed. He then passes through another reception area, this one roomier and friendlier, but lying fallow since no one can reach it. Rozelle's own office is simply huge, much the largest among the commissioners, but utterly unremarkable. "I haven't done a lot with it," he admits, although he has been here since 1968. There are a desk, a couple of personal photographs, just the right amount of tasteful, comfortable furniture, one small table statue of a football player and nothing else. The walls are stained dark, the rug light. There is not a single picture on the walls, no ornamentation at all. There is nothing in this place where Pete Rozelle spends much of his life to reveal anything about him—who he is or what he does.
"When I became commissioner in 1960," he says, "the offices were located in Philadelphia. They weren't even in Philadelphia, but in a suburb—Bala-Cynwyd. We had four full-time employees and an elderly Kelly Girl. I didn't know what the hell I was doing—I was only 33—but I thought we better move to New York. One of the older employees told me that wouldn't be very wise, since if I stayed in Bala-Cynwyd I wouldn't get bothered like I would in New York, but I figured it was better to be bothered.
"Now we have 40 full-time employees in this section, plus the people in our liaison office, Films and Properties. In the beginning I used to go to all 12 training camps, but now I don't even get to all 26 cities in a year. And that's good. You can waste too much time traveling. I travel more in the season, showing the flag. Curiously, that's the most placid time of the year. Our people are too busy to get into trouble then. You think back, almost all the controversial things have happened out of season. Well, yes, playing games that Sunday after President Kennedy died, that was in season. But I don't think of that as controversy, just distasteful.
"I'll tell you a story about that. Some people think I'm Italian—that you pronounce the e, Ro-zel-li—just the way some people feel they should address me as Peter, although that's not my name. I was christened Alvin, but I had an uncle who was nice enough to start calling me Pete. Anyway, Ben Scotti, who used to play for the Redskins and Eagles, told me recently that he had punched a teammate out on the Kennedy Sunday who had said something like "that goddamn Dago" because he thought I was Italian. Scotti took exception to the remark because he is Italian. He was not exactly defending me.
"Actually, Rozelle is French Huguenot. We got out and came to New Orleans and then went up the Mississippi and finally migrated to Southern California around the turn of the century. When I got the Ram PR job after I got out of the University of San Francisco, I thought that would be it for me. I had wanted to be a writer before that and I had been a high school stringer for the [ Los Angeles] Times. I remember thinking the greatest job in the world was one held by a guy named John de la Vega. He covered high school and junior college sports for the Times. That was the job I had really wanted, John de la Vega's.
"It's funny how timing works. I was always in the right place. I left the Ram job to go into a PR firm, and that matured me. I never would have gotten the Ram general manager's job if I had stayed on with them as a publicity man, and then, of course, I wouldn't have gotten this job. I only got this because I was so young I hadn't had time to alienate anybody.
"Seven clubs wanted Marshall Leahy of San Francisco, but there was another bloc dead set against him because he wanted to move the office to the West Coast. Well, the owners started to feel the pressure. They were down there in Florida for 10 days and couldn't reach a decision. The newspapers were on them. So Tim Mara and Paul Brown came to me. It happened quickly and was a total shock to me. I hardly knew some of the owners before this except to talk to on the phone, and I'd been quiet the 10 days. So they decided let's pick somebody, and that will give us time to look around if he doesn't work out.
"My being so young helped. People were more willing to give me a chance. And Bert Bell had such stature that nobody was expecting much from me. So people were tolerant. Different possibilities have come up for me since then, but there's nothing else I want to do. I made up my mind before I signed a 10-year contract last February."
So this is your life's work?