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The circumstances surrounding the bidding would become part of television industry legend, with rumors of a mole at ABC leaking the amount of the network's bid to someone in the NFL, and the strong belief by Arledge that Rozelle had worked in concert with CBS to make it possible for the established network to submit the top bid.
Decades later, Pat Summerall, the former Giant and longtime TV announcer, offered an explanation that added to the aura of mystery. Summerall was sitting with MacPhail during the week when the bids were to be presented, when MacPhail got a call from Rozelle. "He tells MacPhail, ' NBC's bid is higher than yours, and I don't want NBC involved in broadcasting the NFL. CBS needs to up its bid.'"
The Friday of the auction several of the league's owners were on a retreat, at Cowboys owner Clint Murchison's island off the Florida coast, eagerly awaiting news, though with no phone service to receive it. As the previous contract had been for $9.3 million over two years, expectations were high for a significant bump. Browns owner Art Modell was dispatched to the mainland to phone New York and get the word.
Reaching Rozelle on the phone, Modell asked how it had gone.
"Fourteen-point-one million," said Rozelle.
After a pause, Modell said, "Well, it could be worse. I had been hoping for a little more, but, hell, Pete, seven million a year isn't half bad. We can make it--"
"No, Art," said Rozelle, interrupting. "Fourteen million per year. Twenty-eight million for two years."
There was a longer pause, and Modell's next words were, "Pete, you gotta stop drinking at breakfast."
NFL teams had been making $365,000 per season in television revenues. With the new contract, each club would bring in about $1 million per season. That news was greeted back on the island with cheers and hugs. Toasts were made to Rozelle and the brotherhood of owners, and the imminent demise of the American Football League was predicted. The elation over the expected collapse of the AFL wouldn't last long, but satisfaction with Rozelle's performance would. He had won respect--and in many cases compliance--from the 14 willful, headstrong owners of the National Football League.
Over the next decade, pro football's popularity rocketed, fueled by television's incursion into the very center of American life and, not incidentally, the steady rise in the quality and competitiveness of the sport itself. The league still had the mind-set of an insurgent, albeit an upscale one, and Rozelle still popped a cork on a bottle of champagne the morning after the final game of the World Series, announcing, "Here's to the beginning of football season." By then it was clear that his confidence, his ease, his avid attention had been rewarded. Pro football was on the way.