The contentious owners of the National Football League spent a long, acrimonious week in Miami Beach selecting a new commissioner to replace Bert Bell and deciding that it would be wise to admit Dallas to their select circle as a 13th franchise. On the surface, disturbed as it was, the issues seemed clear-cut. Beneath the surface there were complex undercurrents of tension and personal antipathy. The owners were not just fighting for the fun of it, as some facile reports from Miami Beach implied. They were fighting for serious stakes, and some of their maneuverings would have done credit to backroom pros at a political convention.
The accomplishments at this marathon meeting were simple: 1) Alvin Ray (Pete) Rozelle, a charming, able man of 33 who had been signally successful as general manager of the stormy Los Angeles Rams franchise, was elected commissioner; 2) Dallas did come into the league (to begin play in 1960), and Minneapolis-St. Paul was admitted for a year later.
The architect of expansion was George Halas, the founder, owner and coach of the Chicago Bears. Halas is an ordinarily quiet man, calm and serious behind thick, horn-rimmed glasses. The mildness can be deceptive; you have to watch him ranting on the sidelines at a football game to understand the violence and determination which underlie his being. He has been a part of professional football since its inception, and he has a real dedication to it—and to his personal creation, the Chicago Bears.
When the new American Football League was formed in August of 1959, Halas became convinced that the NFL had to fight back with strength against the budding competition. He remembered only too well the long and costly war the NFL fought with the old All-America Conference from 1946 through 1949. As longtime chairman of the NFL expansion committee, Halas had already explored the possibilities of granting franchises to several cities, among them Dallas and Minneapolis-St. Paul. At Bert Bell's funeral he conducted a quick, informal poll of the NFL owners, and after these soundings took it upon himself to commit the NFL irrevocably to expansion to those two cities.
But aside from this, Halas had an even more compelling personal reason for enlarging the league. Chicago is the only two-team city in the NFL. Halas is forced to share this rich market with the Chicago Cardinals,
owned by Mr. and Mrs. Walter Wolfner. He has offered the Wolfners as much as $500,000 to move their franchise elsewhere, but Violet Wolfner is a stubborn woman who considers that the Cardinals have as much right in Chicago as the Bears. Besides this—or because of it—she has a strong dislike for Halas. And it is Mrs. Wolfner who runs the Cardinals; she inherited the team from her first husband, Charles Bidwill.
Aside from competition at the gate, which is negligible, Halas would like to get the Cardinals out of Chicago so that he can cut a bigger share of the television cake. All of the other clubs in the NFL televise their road games back to their home cities, realizing a nice profit from the deal. Halas cannot do this because when the Bears are on the road the Cardinals are at home, and league rules forbid televising a game into a league city where the home team is playing.
The Cardinals could easily have accepted Halas' offer, since they have had frequent opportunities to leave Chicago. Their very weakness at the gate has made them the first target for any rich young man seeking to own a pro football team. This marketability has inflated the value of the Cardinals, and it is one of the reasons why the Wolfners have been against expanding the league. When the National Football League finally did admit the two new teams, this meant to the Cardinals that 1) they had fewer locations available to move to and 2) they had fewer prospective franchise buyers. The bull market for the Cardinal franchise was over.
The Washington Redskins, to a lesser degree, were in the same fix as the Cardinals. Playing in a small park (Griffith Stadium seats only 28,669), they depended heavily upon an extensive TV market in the South for their profits. George Preston Marshall, the Redskin owner who has been in the league 27 years and is just as tough as Halas, was as violently against the addition of new teams as Halas was for it. Realizing that a Texas team would cut into the Cardinal TV market in Texas, he quickly made common cause with the Wolfners against expansion.
Halas knew that if the Cardinal TV income was diminished, the Wolfners would very likely be unable to stay in Chicago. What he was unable to accomplish by offering money, he set out to do more deviously.
THE HALAS WAITING GAME