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Looking back, one can see that Rozelle's career was built on his talent for 1) persuading rich men who were unfamiliar with not having everything they wanted to take less than they deserved and 2) preventing full-scale revolt the minute the stakes became high. The subsequent endless pressures on Rozelle are familiar to anyone who has ever built a successful cartel--and cartels by and large fail. A member is more inclined to cheat the group the more successfully the group drives up his price. When Jerry Jones of the Dallas Cowboys cut a side deal with Pepsi to become the official drink of Texas Stadium, thus violating at least the spirit of the lucrative agreement the NFL had cut with Coca-Cola, he was playing the same game as the renegade Libyan oil industry.
By today's standards, Rozelle was vastly undercompensated, given the wealth he created for the NFL's owners. He was a special case: the business giant who didn't lust for financial fortune and overt personal dominance. But if the measure of business success is the creation of new enterprise, then Rozelle was one of the greats. Once, late in his career, after it was clear what he had accomplished, Rozelle was asked by a reporter if he had an ego. Pete Rozelle replied that if you took all the egos in pro sports--the players', the coaches', the owners'--and averaged them out, his ego was just above the average. It might have been true, but no one ever knew it. That was his genius.
Michael Lewis is the author of Liar's Poker and Trail Fever
Big Moments in TV Sports
The marriage of television and pro sports has been a fruitful one, bursting with great events. A sampler of unforgettable milestones:
1939 First sports telecast: NBC broadcasts Columbia-Princeton baseball game; radio's days are numbered
1967 NFL's Packers snatch championship from Cowboys in tense final seconds of "Ice Bowl." Broadcast rights jump
1972 Munich Olympics' violence rivets worldwide audience
1974 Evel Kneivel's Snake River Canyon "jump" bellyflops, but millions tune in. P.T. Barnum was right
1975 Muhammad Ali outfoxes power-punching Joe Frazier in the Thrilla in Manila. Era of big TV fight is born
1980 Amateur U.S. hockey team beats seasoned Soviets 4-3 in one of the Olympics' greatest upsets
1994 Tonya Harding-Nancy Kerrigan Olympic figure-skating showdown is third most-watched event ever
1996 After his father's murder, Michael Jordan leads Chicago Bulls to NBA championship, then collapses on court in tears
1997 Tiger Woods' record Masters win prompts millions under 50 to try golf
1998 Mark McGwire hits 62nd