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For a long time it was accepted as gospel that pro football owed most of its prosperity to Pete Rozelle, usually described as the best commissioner in professional sport. Rozelle's remarkable skill at promoting the National Football League and negotiating its lucrative TV contracts were taken for granted. But judging from comments dropped by disgruntled owners, notably Carroll Rosen-bloom of the Los Angeles Rams, the bloom, so to speak, is off the Rozelle. Since Rosenbloom blames Rozelle for everything from bad coffee in the press box to World War III, some of his fulminating can be discounted, but he and other owners, worried by the vast increases in salaries and operating expenses, have been muttering about what they think of as Rozelle's extravagances (three public-relations directors, for example) in running the league office. They are disturbed, too, by the proliferation of costly and generally unsuccessful lawsuits. "We sued a state the other day," Rosenbloom growled, referring to Rozelle's attempt to get Delaware to stop using NFL game results in its complicated new state lottery. "Next, we'll sue the United States, and then, I suppose, we'll go over and sue Russia."
Some particularly acerb comments from Rosenbloom came shortly before the league owners met in New York City last week, giving rise to rumors that he was hoping to have Rozelle deposed. The Los Angeles owner, who did not even attend the meeting, categorically denied that report, but the fact that such rumors were taken seriously, instead of being scoffed at, indicates that Rozelle's leadership is no longer unquestioned.
LOOK WHO'S COMING
When word spread through the posh horse country of northern Virginia that Muhammad Ali was thinking of buying a home there, a weekly newspaper, The Fauquier Democrat, ran a front-page story on local reaction to the prospect of welcoming the flamboyant heavyweight champion as a neighbor. There were some chuckles, said the paper, some nods of approval, some shaking of heads. One real-estate agent wanted to know how to get in touch with Ali. Someone else wanted to invite him to a community dinner. Because Ali was raised in Louisville, there was speculation that he might be planning to breed or race thoroughbred horses.
The only comment that was even slightly adverse came from a local citizen who once lived near Ali when the champion had a home in Cherry Hill, N.J. "He was a quiet, non-publicity-seeking neighbor," this one said, "and he was an asset to the community. But he did get quite a few speeding tickets."
During the World Football League's short life, extravagant claims were made for the abilities of a few WFL teams ("They're on a par with some NFL teams right now") and there were equally extravagant put-downs ("There aren't half a dozen men in that league who could even make an NFL squad"). When the WFL died a year ago a large pool of professional talent—about 400 players in all—became available. Right now, 59 of them, or about 15%, a majority of whom had little or no previous NFL experience, are active on NFL rosters, with about a third starting, figures that appear to refute both earlier opinions.
Of the 28 teams in the NFL, only the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Cincinnati Bengals and the New York Jets have no WFL players at all. Surprisingly, the brand-new Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Seattle Seahawks have only three between them. But the vastly improved Chicago Bears have eight (one more is on injured reserve), four of whom start. The Bears apparently have benefited because Coach Jack Pardee, himself a refugee from the WFL, knew the right players to go after. On the other hand, the Washington Redskins, with six WFLers, none of whom are starting, seem no better or worse than last year. And the New York Giants, who have seven, two of them starters (including Larry Csonka), are off to their worst start in history. All but one of the Giant group came from the much-praised Memphis Southmen, the WFL team that wanted to come into the NFL.