Owners anoint Tagliabue’s protege as commissioner


Nancy Gay
Wednesday, August 9, 2006
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Five ballots in only three hours of voting Tuesday at a Chicago airport hotel ultimately determined the man who will inherit professional sports’ most powerful job, that of NFL commissioner.

Relatively quick, clean and painless.

What a surprise, for a collection of 32 franchise owners with vastly different agendas to agree on something — someone — so quickly.

But this was the slam-dunk right call, and in the end, even the NFL’s most maverick owners, among them the Raiders’ Al Davis, voted for Roger Goodell.

By appointing Goodell, the NFL showed it has moved squarely into the 21st century.

Outgoing commissioner Paul Tagliabue has been hailed as a Hall of Fame-caliber leader who ensured there would be labor peace between the NFL and its players, giving fans uninterrupted play over his 17-year reign.

Goodell, 47, who was appointed the NFL’s chief operating officer in 2001, has been Tagliabue’s front man on matters of new stadium construction, expansion, NFL Europe and the league’s various multimedia ventures, including the ever-growing NFL Network.

He has been at the forefront of efforts to bring an NFL team back to Los Angeles, the nation’s No. 2 television market.

If Tagliabue has been the litigator, Goodell has been the visionary. And the facilitator.

And pretty darn good at making the NFL a lot of money.

He has come a long way since 1982, when Goodell — the son of former U.S. Sen. Charles Goodell, a New York Republican — joined the NFL office as a public-relations intern. He grew up idolizing Pete Rozelle. He sat at Tagliabue’s right hand for years, learning the ropes and earning respect.

Now, he succeeds them as commissioner.

“I spent my life following my passion,” said Goodell, who is the league’s fourth commissioner since 1946. “The game of football is the most important thing. You can never forget that.”

So is prosperity, something the owners kept in mind as they voted.

In 1989, bickering owners went through 12 ballots over seven months before finally electing Tagliabue, the bookish attorney, over popular Jim Finks, the colorful Saints general manager.

The buzz word among the 32 owners Tuesday was “continuity,” keeping the good times rolling.

The big-dollar teams — the Cowboys, the Patriots, the Redskins — want the stream of NFL riches to keep flowing.

Tagliabue, who announced his retirement earlier this year, ends his 17-year reign with the NFL locked into more than $20 billion worth of assorted television contracts.

The lower-revenue teams, such as the Raiders, the 49ers, the Chargers and the Bills, want to be heard, and they demand more consideration for their difficulty financing new stadiums and their assorted smaller-market woes.

Goodell deserves a lot of credit for bridging the gap between what could have been feuding factions.

In recent weeks, owners such as Buffalo’s Ralph Wilson intimated that the commissioner voting was being rigged in Goodell’s favor. Goodell responded by focusing his efforts on convincing all 32 owners that he would be responsive to everyone’s needs.

“The process was good in that it got everyone looking ahead and not just at the circumstances in their own city,” Tagliabue said of the final unanimous vote.

If Tagliabue came across at times as dull and scholarly, Goodell always has been energetic, approachable and friendly, the type of person who will tell a joke and remembers your name every time he speaks to you.

John and Denise DeBartolo York always have been Goodell supporters. He counts Raiders chief executive Amy Trask as a close friend.

“I have worked with Roger for many years and know that he has tremendous passion for the game of football and significant experience in matters of importance to the league,” Trask said.

John York said, “Roger and I have had a great working relationship over the years. He is a strong communicator who quickly grasps the perspective of the owners and is able to come up with solutions that can be endorsed by the majority.”

Goodell won the job over four other candidates, including NFL outside counsel Gregg Levy, who many believe was the runner-up in the earlier ballots. Levy is expected to remain a part of the new regime, along with most, if not all, of Tagliabue’s proven lieutenants.

“I believe in continuity,” Colts owner Jim Irsay said. “It’s a lot like with head coaches, and that’s what Roger brings us.”

A majority vote of 22 of the 32 owners was required for election.

By voting unanimously Tuesday, the NFL’s owners sent a clear mandate: They know they’ve got a good thing going. Their consensus-maker was the right choice, the only choice, to be the new decisionmaker.


Meet the new bossName: Roger Goodell

Age: 47

Career: Started as an intern in the league office in 1982 and then served as an intern with the Jets. Helped the league’s efforts to host games overseas, and he was a key administrator in the introduction of instant replay. Helped negotiate contract with NFL Referees Association in 2001. Appointed chief operating officer in 2001.

Most recent job: Executive vice president and chief operating officer of the NFL. Was commissioner Paul Tagliabue’s top assistant, particularly on expansion and stadium construction.

College: Washington and Jefferson.

Hometown: Jamestown, N.Y.

Family: Has twin daughters with wife Jane. Father Charles took Senate seat of Robert Kennedy after Kennedy’s assassination

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~ by Sactown Raider Boosters on August 9, 2006.

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