The Goodell boys were proud of their father for doing what he believed was right, though he told them it would probably mean the end of his political career. But they weren't ready for the onslaught from the Republican right. Vice President Spiro Agnew called Goodell "the Christine Jorgensen of the Republican Party," referring to the first well-known recipient of a sex-change operation. President Richard Nixon put Goodell on his notorious Enemies List. "We were ticked off," Roger says now. "You can imagine five boys being loyal to our father. But the real lesson was that my father never, never rapped the vice president, the president or anyone else. He loved the process, and that was just part of it."
Security around the family was beefed up because of a threat on Charles Goodell's life. "JFK, Martin Luther King Jr. and Bobby Kennedy all had been shot," Roger says. "We were concerned our father was going to be assassinated because he was speaking out."
Goodell lost the 1970 Senate election, receiving just 24% of the vote in a three-party race. "But what did he retain?" Roger says. "His principles. His integrity. His character. It had a big effect on all of us."
On the future NFL commissioner, especially. "Roger has so much of his father in him," Tagliabue says. "He listens to all sides and has the courage of his convictions. I used to see it a lot when he was dealing with state legislators and governors. He understood the pressure elected officials were under."
Living in Washington turned the Goodell boys into Redskins fans; as a boy Roger slept with an official NFL ball in his bed. When Charles resumed law practice in New York City, the family moved to Westchester County, but the football bug remained strong in Roger; he lifted weights to beef up—he played safety, running back and tight end—and he became a three-sport captain at Bronxville High. He planned to play football at little Washington & Jefferson (he was rejected by his first-choice college, Davidson) but tore a knee ligament while training the summer before he left for school. Instead of having surgery and rehabbing, he figured it was time to focus on academics. In his first semester he stunned his family by getting a 4.0 grade point average.
"My goal was to prove to my family I wasn't a dummy," Goodell says. "I learned in high school that I was going to have to outwork people. I remember running around the track, training for football, and a faster guy ran past me. I just figured, I can outlast him. If I work harder than him, I'll beat him. And to this day I overprepare."
By the time he was a junior, applying for a job at the Landmark, Goodell had figured out his career path. "When I asked him what he wanted to do with his life," says Tim Foil, "he said, 'I'm going to be the National Football League commissioner.' Oh, O.K. Sure."
While in a management-trainee program at J&L Steel in Pittsburgh, Goodell wrote 40 letters to NFL teams and to officials at league headquarters, chasing the dream. When NFL executive director Don Weiss responded with a vague, "Stop by if you're ever in the area," Goodell called immediately, said he was in the area (if you consider seven hours away "in the area") and was told to come in the next morning. He drove through the night for the informal interview, and six months later he was offered an internship in New York, clipping newspaper stories and performing other lowly media chores. That led to a full-season media-relations internship with the Jets in 1983. Goodell was assigned to the team's first-round pick, quarterback Ken O'Brien. They both came in as rookies.
"I pretty much molded him into the man he is now," O'Brien says in jest. But Goodell, the preppy kid just out of college, had to learn to hold his own in the testosterone-fueled locker room. "If you stand up for yourself, you fit in," says O'Brien. "And he fit in better than any of the other guys in the p.r. department. I'd yell at him, 'Don't tell me what to do! Who are you?' One day he yelled back, 'Who the hell do you think you are? This is what I told you to do!' It was like he was saying, O.K., I understand the game and I can play it too."
Jets assistant Joe Gardi thought so much of the kid that late in 1983 he offered Goodell an entry-level position on Joe Walton's coaching staff. But Goodell chose to return to the league office—it was administration, not coaching, that most appealed to him. "I was just really drawn to Pete Rozelle and how he managed the business," Goodell says. "That's what I wanted to be."