5 Things You Didn't Know About Pete Rozelle

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You know the stories of the great players who have shaped the Super Bowl, but how well do you know the man who made the big game possible? Pete Rozelle spent 29 years as the NFL's commissioner, so in honor of the Super Bowl, let's take a look at a few things you might not know about him.

1. He Hated the Name "Super Bowl"

The story of Chiefs owner Lamar Hunt suggesting the name "Super Bowl" after seeing his kids playing with a Super Ball is a familiar one, but what you might not know is that Rozelle hated the name. When he helped create the game, Rozelle wanted to call it the "AFL-NFL Championship Game," which you've got to admit leaves something to be desired in the catchiness department. Owners then considered "the Big One," before deciding that sounded a bit silly, too. Only then did Hunt propose the Super Bowl idea, which passed over Rozelle's strong objections.

Rozelle hated the name so much that during the first two Super Bowls he actually asked his publicists and reporters not to use the name. Rozelle later explained, "I thought it was corny. "˜Super' was a word we used at Compton High."

Rozelle does, however, get credit for adding Roman numerals to the game's name. He later explained that since the game was played in January following the fall season, simply referring to it with a year would be confusing. "It's not an affectation, as some charge. It's for clarification. When you say Super Bowl I, it helps you remember it as a 1967 game for the 1966 championship."

2. He Was a Super Dad

Rozelle's first wife, Jane, had a serious alcohol problem that required inpatient treatments that lasted for months at a time. Although Rozelle was busy helming the quickly expanding NFL, he never neglected his daughter, though. Little Anne Rozelle was a fixture at the NFL's offices, and the commissioner would take off of work early to help with her homework or take her to dinner. When Rozelle's marriage to Jane ended in 1967, he was awarded custody of his daughter, an incredibly rare occurrence in that era. Anne later said, "My dad always made every school event; I don't know how he did that but he did."

Of course, Rozelle wasn't always perfect. When Anne spoke at his memorial service in 1997, she told the story of the year even the NFL commissioner had trouble finding a talking Barbie for Christmas. Anne remembered, "Dad went to every black-market source he could, and there it was at Christmas. When I pulled the string for her to talk, it said, 'Buenos dias. Donde esta Ken?'"

3. He Couldn't Beat Doris Day

doris-dayRozelle may have been able to go toe-to-toe with some of the world's greatest football players, but he couldn't compete with beloved actress Doris Day. Rozelle brainstormed the idea for Monday Night Football during the 1960s, and he felt that putting the NFL in a weekly primetime slot was a surefire ratings bonanza.

Rozelle took his revolutionary new idea to CBS for a pitch meeting. The network's executives laughed and said, "You want us to move Doris Day?" Rozelle was undeterred, though, and convinced ABC to host Monday Night Football. The Doris Day Show ended its run in 1973; Monday Night Football is currently TV's second-longest running primetime show, behind 60 Minutes.

4. He Had One Regret

After Rozelle retired from the NFL in 1989, he was fairly open with the press about certain decisions he had made during his tenure as commissioner. Rozelle repeatedly said that his biggest regret was not canceling the league's games two days after the assassination of John F. Kennedy.

According to Rozelle, he struggled mightily with the decision about whether or not the players should take the field that Sunday. In the end, he called White House Press Secretary Pierre Salinger, an old classmate from the University of San Francisco, and asked, "We've got planes with the players ready to get in the air and I don't know when the services will be. What can you tell me?"

Salinger urged Rozelle to play the games, so the NFL schedule went on without delay that Sunday. The rival AFL, on the other hand, cancelled its entire slate of games out of respect for JFK. Rozelle, who was friends with the Kennedy family, immediately regretted the decision, and he spent a week getting lambasted in the media for allowing the games to go on.

5. He Knew How to Hide Out

rozelle-siWhen NFL Commissioner Bert Bell died in 1959, the league's owners suddenly needed a replacement. The only problem was that they couldn't agree on a suitable man for the job. The owners met in January 1960 and spent a week trying to decide on a new commish. They voted 22 times, but they just couldn't agree.

Eventually, they struck on a compromise candidate: 33-year-old Los Angeles Rams GM Pete Rozelle. The owners asked Rozelle to excuse himself from the room while they discussed his qualifications, and the young GM then had a problem of his own: he was getting swamped by reporters in the hall outside of the hotel conference room where the meeting was taking place. So he went to the only logical place a man can hide in a hotel: the bathroom.

The problem with hiding out in a bathroom is that there's not a lot to do, though. Rozelle occupied himself by washing his hands whenever another patron came in. When the owners eventually called for Rozelle and told him he had the job, he quipped, "I can honestly say that I come to you with clean hands."

'5 Things You Didn't Know About...' appears every Friday. Read the previous installments here.

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February 5, 2010 - 8:10am
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