When 33-year-old Pete Rozelle was selected by team owners to serve as Commissioner of the National Football League, the NFL was a loosely organized collection of scattered franchises, many playing to half-empty stadiums, each negotiating its own television broadcasting contracts. It lagged far behind baseball in popularity, and what little cohesion the league enjoyed was threatened by the newly organized American Football League, a virtual millionaire's club with a more aggressively coherent strategy toward broadcasting and promotion.
In his first years as Commissioner, Rozelle secured crucial antitrust exemptions for professional football, enabling the NFL to absorb the rival league and secure lucrative national television contracts. He introduced Monday Night Football and the instant replay, and presided over the creation of the Super Bowl, the most popular sporting event in the United States, and the most watched annual event in American television.
When Rozelle took command of the NFL in 1960, franchises sold for $1 million each. When he stepped down nearly 30 years later, the league had grown from 12 to 28 teams, most valued at well over $100 million, values that have continued to escalate dizzyingly in the years since. Rozelle overcame contentious team owners, rival leagues, massive court battles, and bitter players' strikes to create the game of professional football as we know it today.