Late last Tuesday
afternoon, in room 755 of the Renaissance hotel in Northbrook, Ill., a
47-year-old man registered as Roger Washington fidgeted and tried to read. Mr.
Washington was actually Roger Goodell, one of the five candidates for NFL
commissioner. Like the others, Goodell was booked into the hotel using a
presidential pseudonym--ironic, since his late father, Charles, was a career
politician who once served as a lightning rod of a senator from New York.
Goodell heard a
knock at the door. He opened it to find Pittsburgh Steelers owner Dan Rooney,
the cochair of the commissioner search committee, with a wide smile on his
face. "Commissioner," Rooney said, and they embraced. Tears welled in
Goodell's eyes as he thought of his father, who'd been so influential in his
life, and of the letter he'd written to his dad upon graduating from Washington
& Jefferson College in 1981. "If there is one thing I want to
accomplish in life besides becoming commissioner of the NFL," wrote the
young graduate, who, looking for a job, any job, had sent his r�sum� to every
NFL team, "it is to make you proud of me."
Goodell will need
his father's inspiration in his new gig. He was elected as the league's eighth
chief executive on the fifth ballot of a typically contentious meeting between
fractious owners, fending off a surprisingly strong challenge from NFL outside
counsel Gregg Levy. That meeting says much about the rough seas Goodell will
have to navigate when he takes over from Paul Tagliabue on Sept. 1. With a
two-thirds majority required for victory in the secret balloting, Goodell led
the 53-year-old Levy--who orchestrated the NFL's legal victory in the 2004
Maurice Clarett draft-eligibility case--by a scant 17--14 margin after two
ballots (with Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis abstaining). Many of the pro-Levy
owners came to Northbrook still mad about the five-month-old collective
bargaining agreement with the players, feeling not enough was done to bridge
the gap between high-revenue teams like the Washington Redskins (who'll gross
about $320 million in 2006) and the Jacksonville Jaguars (about $170 million),
and that the league's hallmark, competitive balance, will soon be adversely
affected by the gulf.
A third secret
ballot ended with the same numbers: 17 for Goodell, 14 for Levy. But the threat
of a voice vote persuaded several pro-Levy owners to shift their support to
Goodell (they didn't want him to enter office thinking they were against him)
and, as Atlanta owner Arthur Blank said Monday, there was speculation--fueled
by five owners who spoke to the group--that Goodell would leave the league if
Levy won and take some trusted lieutenants with him. "We thought we might
be able to have our cake and eat it too," Blank said. "We hoped with
Roger as commissioner, Gregg would stay on." Two ballots later Goodell had
the required votes, 23--8. Prompted by Tagliabue to make it unanimous, the
owners voted one last time: 32--0 for Goodell.
So who is this man
with the fresh face, the Fox News--anchor wife (Jane Skinner) and a five-year
contract to run the most lucrative sports league on earth? The fact that the
public knows little about Goodell as he takes office is one reason he's taking
office. "Roger has been in the middle of the biggest news in the NFL for
years, and what I admire is that he had no ego about it," says Giants
president John Mara. "You never saw him quoted, never saw him in front of
the cameras. You can't draw up a man with better job experience and a better
personality for the job."
through the NFL ranks, from unpaid intern in 1982 to chief operating officer in
'01. He was Tagliabue's point man on labor issues, television rights and the
effort to return a team to Los Angeles. Hey, two out of three ain't bad.
"Roger's been doing a lot of the hard stuff, the stuff no one sees,"
says former San Francisco 49ers and Cleveland Browns president Carmen Policy.
"He's very loyal to the owners, but he's more loyal to the brand. He's fine
with doing the unpopular thing, as long as it's the right thing."
that strength to two pages from the Congressional Record that he has hanging on
the wall of his office at the league's Manhattan headquarters. Dated Sept. 25,
1969, the document is a record of the speech made by Republican senator Charles
Goodell on the floor of the Senate that day. In it, Goodell, who'd been
appointed by then New York governor Nelson Rockefeller to finish the term of
the assassinated Robert Kennedy, called for the withdrawal of all U.S. troops
from Vietnam by Dec. 1, 1970. "Mr. President," the speech began,
"the war drags on. It still bleeds the human, moral and economic strength
of our people. Its slaughter reaches even deeper into the ranks of our
youth.... It knew no real beginning, and it seems to know no end."
Goodell was voted
out of office a year later. Breaking ranks with his party may have ended his
political career but it resonated with Roger, the third of his five sons.
"He lost his political seat over [ Vietnam], but he never regretted his
decision," Goodell said in his office last Friday. "I always remember
that. You have to do what you think is right, regardless of the consequences.
The other thing Dad had was incredible patience, an ability to understand and
listen, particularly to people who didn't necessarily agree with him."
The seminal moment
of Goodell's professional development came in 1998, when he negotiated with the
groups looking to buy the Cleveland expansion franchise. Credit-card mogul Al
Lerner, the favorite, told Goodell he should get a price break because of the
strength of his position--he had community support and was promising to commit
the money necessary to make the new Browns a flagship franchise. Lerner's
accountants told him that $425 million was the absolute maximum the team was
worth. "It's not going to work that way," Policy recalls Goodell
telling Lerner. "You're going to have to make the highest bid." Later,
at Lerner's Manhattan apartment, Lerner again pressed his case for paying less.
"With the coolness of a New York winter," Policy says, "Roger
looked him right in the eye and told him if he wanted to play in this arena,
he'd have to bid the most." Lerner agreed to pay $530 million, and the
explosion in NFL franchise valuation was on. The following year Bob McNair paid
$700 million for a team in Houston. "After that," says Policy, "Al
respected Roger more and liked him a little less."
It's a sign of
where the league is headed under Goodell that this season the NFL will
distribute games live on the Internet outside of North America. If you've got a
broadband connection in Cambodia, you'll be able to order the Giants-Eagles in
real time next month. "That's the future," said Goodell. "People
want football on demand, on different platforms, with different