Rozelle's daughter Ann is at college now, but the four children of Carrie Cooke Rozelle live at home. Carrie's first husband was Ralph Cooke, the son of Jack Kent Cooke, whose wife just won a record $41-million divorce settlement. Mrs. Pete Rozelle says that the former Mrs. Jack Kent Cooke is "my best friend in the world." Mr. Jack Kent Cooke is the majority owner of the Redskins, one of the 28 owners Mr. Pete Rozelle serves.
And this is the way it works: the players, press and fans matter, but only the owners count. "This job is a hybrid," Rozelle says. "It's in between being the chief executive of a large company and being the executive director of a trade association. I inherited a strong constitution and an office that held respect, but the whole thing—no matter what the constitution says—is getting the confidence of the owners."
And Rozelle has been a master at this; he's the perfect hybrid for the hybrid job. On the one hand: "Let's face it," says Len Hauss, the former Redskin center who is president of the NFL Players Association, "Rozelle's an entertainer and the league social chairman; all he is is the highest paid P.R. man in the world." But Rozelle is also a consummate money man; the glad hand always comes back with some honey stuck to it.
Rozelle is a P.R. man who genuinely tries to stay out of the spotlight: "Some people think I'm aloof, but I really am bashful." It is also instructive that, according to his wife, "Pete never puts his monogram on anything." If you were a clever P.R. man and your initials were P.R., would you put that fair warning on your breast pocket? Instead, Rozelle has always understood that first you must establish the ground game, i.e., turn a dollar. He has never forgotten that what owners do is own. Or: Pete, obviously, money is everything.
And besides that, Rozelle on owners: "No matter how much you stroke them, it's never enough."
Still, for a clever commissioner, it is a great deal easier to deal with owners than to deal with players, because owners don't have a union. The very thing that made them owners—that they are strong, independent men, most of whom have already become successful in some other business by listening to no one—makes them naturally reluctant to join forces with one another. When it counts, Rozelle can pick them off" one by one as they come through the pass, as he did last fall to Robert Irsay, the portly Baltimore mogul, who had been tripping around the country, shopping the Colts in such places as Jacksonville and Memphis and Los Angeles, proclaiming that the club was "my candy store and I can move it wherever I want to." Rozelle met with Irsay for 40 minutes, one-on-one, and the Colts are staying in Baltimore.
Irsay has had plenty of company through the years. Probably the first owner Rozelle faced down was the venerable Halas, who was coaching his Bears at the time. Papa Bear wanted to protest the work of the officials in some Chicago games, and he said he would deign to meet the child czar at the airport. Rozelle ordered him into Manhattan, to his office, and Halas capitulated. A more disagreeable foe was the Redskins' owner, the cantankerous George Preston Marshall. Bill MacPhail, now a cable TV executive, was, in the early '60s, not only an especially close friend of Rozelle's but also the head of CBS Sports. He recalls a visit he made with the commissioner to Washington, when Marshall started "wagging his finger no more than an inch from Pete's nose and saying over and over, 'Young man, you were in diapers when I started in this league.' I couldn't believe any man could control himself under such circumstances, but Pete never flinched, and finally all he said was, 'Mr. Marshall, I'm sorry, but you haven't answered my question.' "
Carroll Rosenbloom, owner of the Colts and, later, the Rams, was a strong man, attractive in many ways, and he picked some fights with the commissioner. Al Davis of Oakland has been an even more persistent critic. But for whatever reasons—Rosenbloom may have been too slick, while Davis forever seems to be burdened with a chip on his shoulder—they could never attract others to their banner. Ed Garvey, the union boss, chubby and untutored still in the uses of charm, is a tailor-made adversary for Rozelle: shrill and doctrinaire when on the attack, vulnerable on the defense, unable to maintain a united front. "I know I make it easy for him," Garvey moans.
Just as Rozelle's antagonists have always been no match for him, so has he been lucky to have had no real competition from his peers. The other personally engaging commissioners—Clarence Campbell, late of the NHL, and Larry O'Brien of the NBA, say—suffered internal problems in their leagues that dimmed their flames, while Rozelle's only real rivals in the power department, the baseball commissioners, have been Frick, Eckert and Kuhn—none of them beguiling. It is revealing that while baseball's great resurgence of popularity has been well documented, none of the credit is ever given to Kuhn—in the public mind he will forever remain just the dummy who goes to freezing cold baseball games in tropical worsteds—while the press and fans are quick to attribute even the most minor NFL advances to Rozelle.
Rozelle is not only lucky, but he also has a history of falling upon good fortune right off the bat. As soon as he got back from the Navy in 1946, there were the Rams training at his little JC. As soon as he went to USF, a neighborhood college nobody had ever heard of, Joe Kuharich's football team went 9-0 and Pete Newell's basketball team won the NIT. And as soon as he became the football commissioner, "I was really lucky that certain problems developed right away that could be solved."