Probably no major sports organization generated as much rocket power in the 1960s and early '70s as the National Football League, the final jewel in its crown being the invention of America's greatest one-day spectacular, the Super Bowl. Measured in hype, the latter had no equal. Commissioner Alvin (Pete) Rozelle had the NFL riding the crest of a tremendous wave that produced surging attendance figures, staggering television revenues, huge payrolls, and a well-conceived plan for league expansion. In fact, the news media got into the habit of saying that pro football had indeed replaced baseball as the national pastime, advertising the league couldn't have bought with any amount of money.
Today, in his 27th year on the job, Rozelle has become a complicated figure, who is hard to evaluate. His critics within the league - and they are no longer limited to Al Davis, owner of the Los Angeles Raiders - keep sniping at him. They claim he has become too cautious, too remote, and too isolated from the kingdom he used to be able to run safely with only one hand on the steering wheel.
But there are also many NFL owners who still praise and support Rozelle, or are at least sympathetic to his problems. These people aren't so far away that they can't understand the patience it takes to solve labor disputes, deal with players on drugs, levy fines, cope with fluctuating TV ratings, and wrestle with three messy antitrust suits in the past six years.
One continuously thorny area is that of franchise relocations. There are rules on the NFL books designed to limit such activity, but as Rozelle and the league found out when they tried to stop Davis from moving his Raiders from Oakland to L.A., enforcing them is another matter. Since then, of course, the Colts also have moved (from Baltimore to Indianapolis), and no one knows when one or more other teams may also seek greener pastures. More and more these days, loyalty seems to take the shape of a dollar bill, especially if the new city will build or provide a stadium that is relatively cost-free.
And always looming on the horizon is the labor situation, with its constant danger of a player strike such as the one that cut the 1982 season nearly in half. The current collective-bargaining agreement between the owners and players expires on Aug. 31, and Rozelle will need to be at his best to help the two sides hammer out a new one in time to forestall any disruptions to the season.
The 1982 strike reportedly cost the league $275 million in revenue and its players $63 million in salaries. Could that happen again? Of course it could.
Besides dealing with these negotiations, Rozelle must also work out a new contract with the television networks. One thing's for sure: Pete isn't going to get them to double the size of their contract offer again, the way he did in 1982. Still, he's got to get some kind of increase or he'll have more owners chipping away at him than he has now.
Pro football, like other sports, also has to be constantly alert these days to drug abuse. Many athletes in recent years have either been detected as cocaine users or admitted as much, and now the problem of steroids also seems to be growing. These latter drugs are artificial hormones that players take illegally, despite warnings of dangerous aftereffects, in hopes of increasing bulk and muscle.
Rozelle, now 60, has five years left on the 10-year contract he signed with NFL owners in 1982. He has already told reporters that when that contract ends he won't ask for another, but will retire to a life of ease and travel, perhaps even taking the time to write a book.
Before retiring, the commissioner would reportedly like to polish his image as a leader. This would involve finding solutions to the league's unsettled problems, opening up lucrative television markets in Europe and elsewhere, and playing a major role in the next phase of expansion.
Rozelle would like to raise the number of NFL franchises from 28 to 30 by 1989, with an eventual cutoff figure of 32. NFL all-star game coming up
With Super Bowl XXI packed neatly away in mothballs, the NFL's final production for this season will be its AFC-NFC Pro Bowl Game in Honolulu next Sunday at Aloha Stadium.
The Giants will be represented by 8 players on the NFC squad, while 5 Broncos will play for the AFC team.
The NFC won the 1986 Pro Bowl, 28-24, and leads the AFC in the series 10-6. The game will be carried live on ABC-TV (4 p.m. Eastern time). Next year's Super Bowl
San Diego's Jack Murphy Stadium will be the site of Super Bowl XXII. The date is Jan. 31, 1988. Although the stadium's capacity for Charger games is 60,751, seating will be beefed up to at least 75,000 for the championship game.
This will be done by temporarily changing the inside configuration of the stadium and by adding portable bleachers behind both end zones.
There is a rumor that ticket prices will be increased from $75 to $100 to help make up any loss in revenue.