Thursday, January 27, 2011

Dallas is the Epicenter of NFL History

By Evan Weiner

January27, 2011

(New York, N. Y.) -- The location of this year's Super Bowl, Arlington, Texas just west of Dallas, provides an eye opening look at the history of the National Football League. Dallas was at the center of the transformation of the NFL from a rag tag, mom and pop operation into a multibillion dollar business. This is the story of three teams from Dallas and the fortunes or misfortunes and of missed business opportunities that somehow turned into the richest sports league in the United States.

Long before Tex Schramm conceived the term "America's Team, when talking about his Dallas Cowboys, Dallas was the home to the original and real "America's Team."

This Dallas team had two future Hall of Famers, Gino Marchetti and Artie Donovan but little else except for a sense of humor.

Today there is pageantry in Dallas or more specifically Arlington (and at old Cowboys Stadium in Irving) on Thanksgiving. The Cowboys along with the Detroit Lions always host the Turkey Day game. Oddly enough, in 1952, the Dallas Texans "hosted" a Thanksgiving Day game. The game was played in at the Rubber Bowl in Akron, Ohio.

The 1952 Dallas Texans rose from the ashes of the New York Yankees, who folded after three years of struggling as both the New York Bulldogs and Yankees in both the Polo Grounds and Yankee Stadium. Dallas was a big high school and college football hotbed and should have been a good pro city. At least 10 of the NFL owners felt that way as they green lighted the move to Dallas.

Pittsburgh's Art Rooney said no. He didn't like the idea of black or Negro players being subjected to segregation in Dallas and cast a no vote. He was overruled.

NFL football did not take off. The Cotton Bowl was nearly empty. The Texans averaged nearly 15,000 people per game in their first three home contests and the owners gave up after the fourth game. The NFL took over and the Texans became Hershey, Pennsylvania's team and then Akron, Ohio's team.

Donovan said the old AAFC turned NFL 1950 Baltimore Colts was one of two of the worst NFL team's ever assembled. The 1952 Texans was the other. He should have known as he played for both.

The 1950 Colts were 1-11, when that team folded, Donovan's contract was assigned to the Yankees in 1951, a team which finished at 1-9-2. In the Texan's 1952 training camp, Donovan got inkling as to what he was about to encounter with the Texans when the owners hired Willie Garcia as their equipment manager in Kerrville, Texas. If a ball was passed or kicked into the high grass, the Texans sent Willie to get it because he had only one leg. The players figured Willie stood a 1 in 2 chance to get a rattlesnake bite.

By Thanksgiving, the NFL moved the Texans daily operations to Hershey. The 0-9 Texans would meet the 4-5 Chicago Bears as the second half of a high school-pro doubleheader in Akron. The Texans were the home team.

"In the morning they had a high school football game and they must have had about 20,000 people in the stands. When we went to warm up, there must have been about 3,000 people in the stands," Donovan recalled in his familiar thick Bronx accent.

"Now (Coach) Jimmy Phelan was one of the greatest men I ever met in my life, but football had passed him by years before. In his speech before the game, he told us, 'we are going to dispense with the customary introductions and meet 'em individually

"We went out and about eight guys climbed over the fence and started shaking people's hands. Then we played and we beat them."

How the Texans ended up in Hershey/Akron is easy to explain according to the man known as Fatso. "The team was supposed to have folded after the game that was supposed to rescue us against the Rams. We played them in the Cotton Bowl and they expected about 50,000 people and lo and behold, it hadn't rained in Texas for about a year and that day it stormed. About 10,000 people showed up and the team folded.

"We then went to Hershey. From Hershey, we went to play games in Akron, Philadelphia and Detroit. I'll tell ya what, it was a great experience."

The Texans never came close to winning another game--losing to the Eagles and Lions. Phelan was fired and only 13 Texans moved to Baltimore after Carroll Rosenbloom purchased the team and Baltimore purchased enough tickets after a ticket selling campaign.

That ended the NFL experience in Dallas but by 1956, NFL owners were thinking of expanding with Dallas back in the picture.

Legendary Cowboys Coach Tom Landry never gave much thought to being an NFL lifer. He actually started his career with the New York Yankees of the AAFC in 1949 and moved to the NFL in 1950 when the New York Giants took him when the AAFC New York Yankees folded. Landry and four others joined the New York Giants. Landry would stay there until 1955, and then coach the defense through 1959.

Landry actually was planning to get out of football because it was not a professional that paid much money and going into private business around the Dallas area at the end of the decade.

"Well I think the 1950s was an interesting era," said Landry. "In that nobody made any money. I signed for $6,000 when I started and a $500 bonus. We didn't make any money but I think we had a good time playing the game.

"We weren't concerned about the other guy who made more money than we did. We weren't worried about those things. We just went out to play football. I think that's what the guys really feel good about the fifties."

By 1958, pro football began to stabilize economically and two Texas businessmen, Lamar Hunt and Bud Adams applied for expansion franchises in Dallas and Houston respectively. NFL owners said no. Both had also tried to buy the Chicago Cardinals with the idea of moving them to Texas. Both bids were turned down.

The impetus for NFL expansion came from George Halas. In 1956, the Chicago Bears owner predicted that the league would expand from 12 to 16 teams sometime between 1960-1965. The next year, NFL Commissioner Bert Bell said the league would increase its number of teams in 1960 and by 1958, Bell had appointed Halas and Rooney to a committee to explore expansion. Dallas and Houston were identified as cities that could support and NFL team. Minneapolis-St. Paul, Buffalo and Miami were also in consideration.

Bell, Halas and Rooney were encouraged by the interest and suggested that the NFL would expand to both Dallas and Houston by 1961.

The 1958 NFL Championship Game changed the NFL. On the field, the New York Giants were the glamour boys of Madison Avenue led by the handsome Frank Gifford. The Giants were the NFL champions in 1956 and finished the 1958 season in a tie with Cleveland on top of the NFL Eastern Conference. They beat the Browns 10-0 in a playoff game and faced the Baltimore Colts in the championship contest.

The Giants had Gifford, Charley Conerly, Kyle Rote and Sam Huff. Highly recognizable names. The Colts history traced back to the New York Yankees brief fling in the NFL in 1951 and Dallas. Unitas, Raymond Berry, Lenny Moore, Gino Marchetti and Artie Donovan were fine players but the New York media had convinced the sporting public that simply the Giants were better.
The Colts and Giants finished regulation tied at 17-17. The Colts tied it on a Steve Myhra field goal with just seven seconds remaining. The Colts won it in overtime after Unitas lead the team downfield capped by Alan Ameche's one-yard touchdown run with 8:15 gone in the overtime.

The on-field drama had viewers tied to their TV sets and convinced both TV executives and Lamar Hunt that football had arrived.

Halas and Rooney moved ahead with their committee and scheduled the Bears and Steelers to meet in a 1959 pre-season game in Houston. Halas had news conferences in February and April in Houston to sell tickets to the game and discuss expansion plans. He thought the league would start expanding in 1960 with Dallas, Houston, Buffalo and Miami as the most likely expansion cities and that the NFL would act on adding teams in its annual meeting in January, 1960.

The NFL timetable was not fast enough for Lamar Hunt and by July 28, 1959 Bell told a congressional committee of Hunt’s plan with Hunt’s permission. A few weeks later, Halas announced that his expansion committee would recommend at that January, 1960 that the NFL expand to Dallas and Houston for the 1961 season with the Houston franchise joining the NFL if there was an adequate stadium available.

The NFL hoped to use Rice University’s field until a new football field was built in Houston. But Rice University officials turned down the NFL’s overture. The league ended its flirtation with Houston at that point and Minneapolis stepped up its efforts to join the NFL at that point.

Hunt decided if he couldn't join the NFL, he might as well compete with them and by 1959; the American Football League was organized with franchises in Dallas, Houston, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, Denver and New York. Eventually Boston and Buffalo would join the league, but Minneapolis owner Max Winter dropped out when the NFL awarded him an expansion franchise to the Twin-Cities in 1961 and eventually that franchise ended up in Oakland.

Winter and his group did not deposit a $100,000 performance bond with the AFL in November even though Winter’s partners sought a lease with the Minneapolis Stadium Commission to play at that city’s stadium, the group was denied until the Commissioner got a definite yes or no from the NFL about expansion into Minnesota.

"The first organizational meeting of the AFL was in mid-August of 1959 in Chicago," recalled Hunt. "I think there was an opportunity, the sport needed to grow. It had gone through a consolidation period and we had seen the 1958 great championship game between the Giants and Colts.

"There was great national interest in the game and there were a lot of cities frankly that were growing, not all of them had great stadium facilities. But it was beginning to happen. The public was beginning to perceive that this game had a national appeal."

While Hunt thought the 1958 championship game was proof that the public had accepted pro football, Johnny Unitas didn't realize that his performance along with his teammates and the Giants would change the course of pro football's history.

"No, it was just another ballgame, that's all it was. You never think of those things going into them. It just happened to be the one that was a championship game that happened to be in overtime, the first overtime game ever and it happened to be the one that was watched by more people than any other sporting event in the world at that time," he said.

"It was not an outstanding football game for us. The reason why people remember is the overtime and the way we tied it up. It put football over the top and into the prominence it holds."

Hunt's first move after he decided to go ahead with the American Football League was to meet with Adams in Houston. Hunt felt a Dallas-Houston rivalry would be important for the new league. Hunt also noted that NFL attendance had grown from nearly two million in 1950 to more than three million in 1958. The NFL signed a TV deal with CBS in 1956 and further pushed pro football into a nation's consciousness.

"The others came from really from names that were interested in getting the Chicago Cardinals to move to their city," he explained. "Harry Wismer was not in that group. He was a stockholder, interestingly in two NFL teams, Detroit and Washington and I don't know how that came about, but he came in a little later with the New York Titans.

"Ralph Wilson and Buffalo also came in October and his franchise became the seventh and then the Boston Patriots with Bill Sullivan became the eighth franchise and then we went through another consolidation and lost one team and then added the Oakland Raiders as the eighth team," he remembered.

Sullivan was interested in bringing an NFL team to Boston and was one among the first people to conceive of putting luxury boxes into a stadium in 1958. He went to NFL Commissioner Bert Bell with architectural plans for a stadium in Norwood near the airport. The stadium had a roof and executive boxes and the idea was to have the Boston Red Sox move out of Fenway Park as a co-tenant.

The plan died when word leaked out and the Red Sox walked away from the stadium idea. Sullivan entered the AFL without a home field and jumped from stadium to stadium within the Boston area.
Bert Bell died of a heart attack suffered at Franklin Field in Philadelphia during a Steelers-Eagles game on October 11, 1959. NFL Treasurer Austin Gunsel was named president in the office of the Commissioner on October 14.

It was under Bell's tenure that the Bidwill family's Chicago Cardinals began their quest to move. The NFL had concluded the Cardinals and Bears could not share the then second biggest market in the country. The two had reached an agreement in the 1930s whereby the Bears would play all of their games north of Madison Street and the Cardinals would stay on the south side.

The Cardinals wanted out of Comiskey Park and looked to move north of Madison Street to play their games. In 1959, the Cardinals played four of their home games at Soldier Field and two in Minneapolis. The only time the Cardinals drew a large crowd for a home game in the 1950s was against the Bears.
Halas asked Bell to come up with a decision on the Cardinals planned move north. Bell turned down the Cardinals request.

Bud Adams met with the Cardinals ownership in an attempt to buy the team and move them to Houston. Adams even staged a pre-season game between the Bears and Steelers to convince NFL officials that moving to Houston would be profitable. The NFL had nebulous expansion plans and was forced to deal with Cardinals Chicago problem.

The same day that Hunt was elected AFL President, January 26, 1960, Alvin Ray "Pete" Rozelle was elected as the NFL Commissioner as a compromise candidate on the thirty-third ballot.

Two days later, on January 28, 1960, the National Football League awarded a franchise to Clint Murchinson to operate the Texas Rangers franchise in Dallas. The Rangers would become the Dallas Cowboys and go head to head with Hunt, the AFL and the Dallas Texans. Minneapolis was also granted a franchise contingent on selling 25,000 season tickets for the 1961 season.

With Minneapolis joining the NFL, the AFL met on January 29 and awarded Oakland the last franchise. The AFL wanted a team in the west to go with Los Angeles and Denver and felt Oakland was a promising area. The AFL bypassed Atlanta was made a “strong case” for inclusion. Vancouver, Seattle, Kansas City, Louisville, Cincinnati, Philadelphia, Jacksonville, Miami, St. Louis and Milwaukee also made pitches for AFL teams.

Even though NFL owners were trying to throw Hunt a roadblock in his efforts to establish both the AFL and his Dallas franchise, the owners did not go out of their way to make the team very competitive.

"We didn't have much, we didn't have a draft that was the most difficult thing," Landry recalled in talking about his first year in Dallas as the Head Coach. "It was over with by the time they gave us a franchise. Once they said they were going to stock our team, then they said you have your pick of three of the worst nine players on these (the 12 existing NFL) teams.

"We started with 36 players of that caliber. They were fine guys but they were the older guys, guys who were young who they didn't think they would make it. That's where we really scouted our scouting system that brought in so many free agents.

"Like Cornell Green and Drew Pearson. That came from necessity more than anything else."

The Dallas Cowboys actually started life as the Dallas or Texas Rangers a couple of months earlier as Clint Murchinson pushed to get accepted into the NFL. Murchinson had wanted to buy into the Washington Redskins and would owe that team until a Dallas franchise was established. But George Preston Marshall wasn't about ready to sell the Redskins.

Marshall also had a stake in Dallas as a city. It was part of his vast television network that pumped Redskin games into the southeast and into Texas. CBS may have had a TV deal with the NFL but not Marshall.
Marshall wanted to protect his property. But Murchinson eventually got the franchise for a song. He had somehow ended up the Redskins fight song, "Hail to the Redskins." Murchinson threatened to not allow the song to be played and Marshall relented. Murchinson paid $600,000 for his franchise on January 26, 1960 to begin NFL play. Of course, Schramm, Landry and Brandt had already been working getting players for Murchinson who wasn't part of any league.

The Rangers opened shop and hired a Wisconsin photographer named Gil Brandt as scout, Landry as coach and Tex Schramm as President. Schramm though was hedging his bet and staying with CBS until the Dallas franchise was accepted into the NFL.

"I started in November of 1959 and my job was to go out and sign players," said Brandt talking about how he recruited athletes for a team that did not exist. "We didn't have a franchise. The players would say what's the name of your team, we don't have one. But if you are not drafted or signed by anyone else and if we don't get a franchise, then you can go wherever you may."

The first player Brandt signed was Jake Crouthamel, who was the last player released from the Dallas Cowboys' first training camp. He then joined the AFL's Boston Patriots in their inaugural season, before leaving pro football to enter the Navy in 1961.

"It wasn't hard in those days," said Brandt in describing how he was able to sell athletes on the only on paper Dallas Rangers. "The hardest thing was duplicating the contracts and putting a team's name in there when we didn't know what the team's name was going to be.

"The draft was 30 rounds and took place the Monday after the Army-Navy Game. So immediately upon the end of the draft, I was a committee of one that went out to sign 35 or 40 free agents for a non-existent team.
We got some good players, Don Perkins was a player who came out of that group and went on to be a very, very fine player. He's in our (Dallas) Ring of Honor. One of the real good running backs of all time."

Brandt was paid through the Murchinson Company, as was Tom Landry who happened to be selling insurance at the time. Schramm was putting together the TV coverage of the 1960 Winter Olympics in Squaw Valley, California for CBS.
What if there was no Lamar Hunt, no Bud Adams? No Ralph Wilson, Bill Sullivan, Barron Hilton (the grandfather of Paris Hilton and a member of "the lucky sperm club according to Donald Trump) or the rest of what the media dubbed "The Foolish Club?"

"Probably the game would have taken a different course. Certainly the league would have expanded. I would hate to hazard a guess how many teams it might be. But the AFL jerked the game of pro football forward rapidly into an era where were all of a sudden instead of there being 12 teams, in one year's time there were 21 teams. Before 1960, you had two West Coast cities in the NFL and the rest concentrated in the northeast. The AFL changed all of that. Suddenly you had pro football in cities that didn't have it before, Dallas, Denver, Houston and Buffalo, "said Hunt.

"That was remarkable addition and of course signaled other expansion. There was a need for a second football league. The argument could be made you have to fill a need. But there was a need, a natural opening for it.

"The AFL was very fortuitous, it had perfect timing."

In 1962, the AFL decided against expanding after listening to presentations by Kansas City, New Orleans and Atlanta. But Hunt, in a life and death struggle with the Cowboys who were also ailing, takes a look at Kansas City's proposal and decides to move from Texas to Missouri if the city guaranteed season ticket sales, expanded Municipal Stadium and constructed an office and practice facility for the team. Hunt moves the team on May 14.

Hunt named the team the Chiefs after Kansas City Mayor H. Roe Bartle, who fashioned the offer, who was nicknamed "Chief." Hunt was at the forefront of playing city against city for a franchise learning lessons from Major League Baseball owners of the 1950s who played city against city like the Dodgers owner Walter O'Malley who pitted New York against Los Angeles.

Dallas' last contribution to the business and politics of football was the National Football League-American Football League merger.
It was Schramm who made the initial overture to Hunt. Schramm met Hunt at Love Field in Dallas at the Texas Ranger Statue and both men proceeded to a car in the parking lot and began to talk about their leagues and the health of the football industry in general in 1966.

"He was on his way from Kansas City to Houston and we went out into a car and talked," said Schramm. "I had called him and asked him to meet with me. He was in Kansas City and was going to an AFL meeting in Houston and he said he would arrange his travel so he could meet me in Dallas. It was all pre-arranged.

"We certainly wanted to keep it confidential which we were pretty successful in doing. The ironic thing about it was that was the meeting that Lamar was going to where Al Davis was named Commissioner of the American Football League. So the negotiations had actually started at the same time he was named commissioner."

The Schramm-Hunt talks weren't the first discussions between the two leagues. However, Schramm and Hunt came up with a comprehensive plan. Baltimore's Carroll Rosenbloom had talked with Buffalo's Ralph Wilson earlier. In 1961, AFL Commissioner Joe Foss wired the NFL and purposed a World playoff game between the 1961 AFL and NFL champion.

Davis was about ready to declare all out war on the National Football League. Davis was replacing Joe Foss who was "too nice a guy." Foss had a squeaky clean image and was a World War II hero. Initially he was there to give the AFL credibility.
In the end, both leagues agreed to keep all of the teams in their 1966 playing sites despite a proposal to move the Jets to Los Angeles, the Rams to San Diego, the Chargers to New Orleans and the Raiders to Portland or Seattle. The American Football League also paid the New York Giants $10,000,000 and the San Francisco 49ers $8,000,000 for having a team invaded their territory. In the NFL money talks and either the Giants or 49ers team could have vetoed the merger, so votes were purchased.

"It was the right thing to do," said Hunt. "It consolidated the sport. It assured the continuity of every team in both leagues. There were some teams that were pretty weak financially at that point. Some teams going out of business generally accompanied previous mergers in sports. We assured that every team would stay in business. We assured the addition of new teams in Cincinnati and New Orleans. It gave the public the Super Bowl. It also provided the teams and the league with a common draft, which provided for an equal dissemination of plating talent."

Congress approved the NFL-AFL merger on October 21, 1966 when an anti-trust exemption was added as a rider to an anti-inflation tax bill. President Lyndon B. Johnson (of Texas) signed the bill into law, thus creating a newly expanded NFL. Arlington, Texas hosts the 45th Super Bowl on February 6th not far from of old Cotton Bowl, which hosted the three Dallas teams and Love Field where the Schramm proposed to Hunt which married the AFL and NFL and created the Super Bowl.

Evan Weiner, the winner of the United States Sports Academy's 2010 Ronald Reagan Media Award, is an author, radio-TV commentator and speaker on "The Politics of Sports Business." His book, "The Business and Politics of Sports, Second Edition is available at, Barnes and Noble 's, kobo's literati or amazonkindle. He can be reached at

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Gov. Christie should seek a disgruntled NBA owner instead of lobbying David Stern for Nets replacement
WEDNESDAY, 26 JANUARY 2011 12:59
There is an odd dynamic that plays out in sports. Elected officials genuflect before the commissioners of Major League Baseball, the National Football League, the National Basketball Association, the National Hockey League and Major League Soccer along with NASCAR officials begging them for a franchise or in NASCAR's case an annual event. Conversely, a sports commissioner lobbies before elected officials for stadiums/arenas and on the federal level before Washington lawmakers to make sure various antitrust laws and in Major League Baseball's case, a full antitrust exemption, stay in place.
Big time college sports executives also show up in Washington to make sure big time college sports keep tax exemptions in place.
So it should not be surprising that New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has begun a lobbying effort, not quite begging yet, in an attempt to get NBA Commissioner David Stern to think about replacing the soon-to-depart Newark-based New Jersey Nets with another team.
New Jersey's chances of landing a team on the surface seem to be non-existent however Christie has an ace in the hole that other prospective cities don't have. A major regional cable sports network that has limited winter programming, SNY, who could pay much more money in TV rights than say Louisville, Kansas City, Las Vegas, Seattle and Vancouver. In David Stern's three-legged stool world for a successful franchise, a large, local cable TV is an absolute must as is local government support (Christie is in favor of a Nets replacement) and corporate support. That last plank in Stern's platform is the major problem in New Jersey and has been a thorn in the side of past and present day Nets (and New Jersey Devils) ownerships.
Christie will have to wait though. The Brooklyn building has been on hold for years although there seems to be momentum to get the arena finally done. The NBA may not be operating in the fall of 2011 because the owners and players need a new collective bargaining agreement and Stern, as lead negotiator, figures to take a very hard line as he and the 30 NBA owners want changes in how players are compensated.
The NBA has some franchises that are on shaky financial footing. The league now owns the New Orleans Hornets, a franchise in desperate fiscal shape. The old Hornets ownership had attendance clauses built into the team lease with the state at the New Orleans Arena. There was a benchmark that needed to be reached by the end of January or the team ownership could pay $10 million and relocate. The league celebrated that the benchmark was hit but that doesn't mean the team will last in New Orleans beyond 2014. Indiana's owner Herb Simon is financially struggling and Charlotte has not been performing well financially since the NBA returned to the city in 2004.
The Maloof brothers are in a financial mess in Sacramento and claim they need a new arena. With California's financial woes and a proposal by Governor Jerry Brown to de-fund local redevelopment agencies on July 1, getting an arena built in Sacramento with public funding may be difficult. The Maloofs have failed in their quest for a new building on a number of occasions. (The Brown proposal could kill NFL stadium development in San Diego and a baseball park in San Jose for the Oakland A's.).
Newark has an NBA ready building for some owner and probably a lucrative cable TV deal. But Newark isn't the only NBA suitor. Louisville, Kentucky is once again seeking a team despite losing out on the Charlotte Hornets and the Vancouver Grizzlies about a decade ago. Vancouver may be back in the NBA wannabe category. The Vancouver saga in the NBA's mid-1990s expansion plans is worth noting in that the NBA decided to take Arthur Griffith's money ($100 million) in what seemed to be a cash grab.
Griffiths built a new arena with his own money and bought the franchise when the Canadian looney was worth 62 or 63 cents compared to the U.S. greenback. The two countries' dollar is around par right now. Griffiths sold the franchise to American businessman Michael Heisley in 2000. Heisley moved his franchise to Memphis in 2001. The Grizzlies franchise remains a cash-challenged NBA organization. A few years ago, Stern said he felt the NBA could not go back to Vancouver.
Stern can be a bullheaded bully. In 2005, the one-time New Jersey resident Stern trashed New Jersey politicians saying "you blew it" when another set of Nets owners could not get an arena built in Newark. Eventually Devils owner Jeffrey Vanderbeek worked out a deal with Newark officials and got an arena built with some of his money thrown into a publicly funded facility.
Christie seems to be willing to play ball with Stern. What Christie should be seeking out is an unhappy owner looking for greener pastures and go after that owner instead of Stern. Although the NBA blocked the planned sale and move of the Minnesota Timberwolves to New Orleans in 1994, a strong headed owner might tell Stern and his fellow owners to go stuff it and move anyway as Donald Sterling did in 1984 when he moved his San Diego Clippers to Los Angeles without league permission.

Moving an existing franchise to Newark may not be a large problem as the NBA, unlike Major League Baseball, is subjected to antitrust laws. It would take moving heaven and earth to put a third Major League Baseball team in the New York City area whether it is in Northern New Jersey or Brooklyn because Major League Baseball is exempt from certain portions of the Sherman Antitrust Act. The Steinbrenner Yankees or the Wilpon Mets or both could say no to the idea and that would be it.
Major League Baseball is struggling to find a solution to the San Francisco Bay Area problem. The San Francisco Giants franchise has the territorial rights to San Jose and Santa Clara County, California even though those areas are much further away from the Giants home base in China Basin than Oakland, the city which houses the A's. Oakland A's owner Lew Wolff wants to move his team to San Jose but cannot because the Giants ownership group has the rights to the territory. Major League Baseball is looking for a solution. The solution will come when Wolff pays millions of dollars for "invading" Giants territory or if he wins an antitrust case against the Giants and Major League Baseball.
Wolff does not seem willing to sue Major League Baseball. Sterling told the NBA to try and stop me. The NBA didn't. But Christie may have to wait before he can really go after a disgruntled owner. There is the threat of the NBA lockout on July 1 and that takes precedent over everything else.
But Christie has thrown his hat in the ring and is running. The campaign has started to replace the New Jersey Nets in Newark as soon as possible.
Evan Weiner, the winner of the United States Sports Academy's 2010 Ronald Reagan Media Award, is an author, radio-TV commentator and speaker on "The Politics of Sports Business." His book, "The Business and Politics of Sports, Second Edition is available at, Barnes and Noble or amazonkindle. He can be reached at

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Will Ben Roethlisberger get a pass at this Super Bowl?
MONDAY, 24 JANUARY 2011 22:27
The National Football League's Super Bowl matchup between the Green Bay Packers and the Pittsburgh Steelers probably will draw a lot of people to a television set on February 6, but the game also has a chance to become very political because of the Steelers starting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. The Steelers quarterback has been involved in two highly publicized "incidents" with women and earned a four game suspension from the NFL for whatever happened.
Of course, very few people know what really happened in both cases. But the fact that Roethlisberger is in the national spotlight should spark some attention from national media about athletes and behavior.
Did Big Ben's win over the Jets complete his rehabilitation and his image or should there be a real discussion about Roethlisberger and others not only in the NFL but all sports who have been in trouble?
Don't expect anything from Rupert Murdoch's FOX syndication or his FOX News Channel on the topic. Don't expect people like Kathy Redmond to all of a sudden be on Face the Nation, Meet the Press or This Week discussing jocks and sexual assault. There is no way the National Football League television partners, Murdoch and FOX, General Electric (soon to be Comcast/GE) and NBC, Disney's ABC or Sumner Redstone's CBS would ever touch that type of story.
Kathy Redmond would be a great guest on FOX's Super Bowl pre-game hype show. Redmond was allegedly raped twice by University of Nebraska star Christian Peter at the university in 1991. The university did nothing to punish Peter at the time. Eventually Congressman Tom Osborne, the former Nebraska coach, apologized to Redmond. She founded The National Coalition Against Violent Athletes in 1998.
Needless to say, Redmond isn't a hero to all, particularly in the jock community.
The National Coalition Against Violent Athletes has no place at the Super Bowl table. It is too dangerous to the image of the NFL. Kathy Redmond and her group should be heard however during the Super Bowl lead up, especially with Roethlisberger being so prominent in the game.
Instead there will be the nonsense about how Big Ben has been a good citizen, kept quiet and served his four game suspension. Roethlisberger will be rehabilitated by the media and will just become a loveable, maybe slightly misunderstood fellow. As long as Lawrence Taylor could terrorize offenses during this time with the New York Giants, a lot of stuff off the field was overlooked and during the LT days with the Giants there were some allegations that some people were given money to look the other way at LT's discretions although nothing was ever substantiated. LT was probably just misunderstood as well.
The news will pivot to the last small town NFL team playing another grand old NFL team and the coverage will get silly.
The Super Bowl is serious business however. It was a catalyst behind a holiday in Arizona and changed broadcast rules in the United States. It is like Christmas, the Fourth of July and Thanksgiving rolled into one.
The Super Bowl is after all, America's Holiday. It is the Christmas sales season for fast food pizza, supermarket markets which have Super Bowl sales on snacks, it is a big day for beer sales and there are the commercials which are seemingly more important than the game.
The truth is this. The Super Bowl has an economic impact on virtually every city, town, village and hamlet in New Jersey and the United States because people are throwing parties and buying big screen TVs and food. The Super Bowl has been in the past an agent for change both in Arizona and in the world of television and radio in the United States.
The National Football League pulled a Super Bowl from Arizona and put the political weight of the entity known as the NFL into a lobbying position in the state capital in Phoenix. Arizona "celebrates" Martin Luther King Day as the result of direct intervention by the National Football League in terms of dangling a Super Bowl in front of voters. In 1987, newly elected Arizona Governor Evan Mecham's first act in his new job was to erase Martin Luther King Day from the Arizona calendar as an official state holiday. That decision set off a boycott of the state with entertainers like Stevie Wonder refusing to perform in any venue in Arizona.
Governor Mecham's reasoning was simple. The Arizona legislature in 1986 and Governor Bruce Babbitt, in Mecham's opinion, created the holiday illegally.
The National Football League, in an attempt to help the Phoenix Cardinals owner Bill Bidwill to sell more seats after he misread the Phoenix-area market following the move of his Cardinals from St. Louis to Tempe in 1988, awarded Tempe the January 31, 1993 Super Bowl. But Mecham's decision created a number of problems for the league, specifically the National Football League Players Association was not too keen on playing the NFL's showcase game in a state where a governor took away the holiday and the action was supported by Senator John McCain.
In 1989, the Arizona state legislature approved a law making Martin Luther King Day a state holiday but voters needed to approve the measure. In 1990, Arizonans went to the polls and rejected the making Martin Luther King Day a state holiday. Shortly after the voters said no, the NFL said no to Arizona and pulled the January 31, 1993 game from Tempe.
The National Football League after pulling the 1993 game went back to Arizona and laid the cards out on the table telling voters if they approved the holiday in a November 1992 vote, the NFL would award the next available Super Bowl to Tempe. Arizona voters approved the 1992 ballot initiative and five months later the NFL lived up to their part of the bargain and granted Tempe the January 28, 1996 game.
Given the events of the past year in Arizona, it would seem that the National Football League will make another statement with silence. The Super Bowl probably is not returning to Glendale, Arizona any time in the new future and will give the game to "quieter" areas.
Meanwhile, the 2004 Super Bowl changed TV. Janet Jackson has left more of an impression on American society than her brother, the late Michael Jackson, because without Janet Jackson's "wardrobe malfunction" during Super Bowl XXXVIII in Houston, Texas back on February 1, 2004, American's would be getting "live" over-the-air radio and TV, warts and all, since over-the-air radio and TV station owners would not have to worry about being fined for indecent programming whether it is a visual or something said.
American politicians and political appointees or at least those politicians who were pandering for a certain block of voters became prudes and put more teeth into public airwaves indecency laws because of Janet Jackson. Those politicians wanted to protect viewers and listeners who tune into over-the-air radio or TV shows and might be offended by language or nudity. Cable TV, broadband and satellite radio do not have the same restrictions for whatever reason.
That performance changed how America's receive over-the-air TV and radio offerings and gave American conservatives a new rallying point and eventually would introduce a new censorship or morality through the threat of hefty fines against media companies who might be found in violation of "indecency."
Of course "indecency" is in the eye of the beholder and for some members of Congress, it took about 15 hours for them to start screaming about Janet Jackson's exposed breast on the steps of the Capitol in Washington.

Viacom's CBS television network had the rights to the game which featured New England and Carolina. As part of the game presentation, Viacom had MTV produce the halftime show which featured Jackson and Justin Timberlake. During a song and dance routine, Timberlake exposed Jackson's breast for less than a second but that was enough time to get the "purity and vice" machine of the Republican Party going on morality. The usual suspects got on that bandwagon led by The Parents Television Council, Brett Bozell and Phyllis Schlafly. Congress got on that train as well as Michigan Republican Fred Upton proposed legislation that would raise fines for violating indecency rules from the 2004 level of $27,500 to $275,000. Zell Miller, the Democrat who was the United States Senator from Georgia, thought the incident was part of the "decaying morality of America" and Federal Communications Chairman Michael Powell wanted an immediate investigation into the Super Bowl half time show.
This was red meat for certain politicians and their followers but for the most part it was a tame incident that was not really seen but most people until they were alerted to the fact that there was an "wardrobe malfunction" and that is when most people saw the incident on TIVO in slow motion. What has been forgotten about the Super Bowl show were the actions of the other acts including a performance by Nelly in which he pointed to his crotch and Kid Rock's poncho which looked like a cut up American flag.
Even more interesting, Janet Jackson was fingered as the culprit and got the brunt of the criticism with Timberlake pretty much emerging unscathed.
The NFL put out an apology almost immediately for the halftime show and fired MTV on the spot although the league had no problem accepting Viacom's money for the right to show the Super Bowl.
The Super Bowl gave conservative Republicans running for office in 2004 a platform and they ran with it. Janet Jackson was soon replaced on the indecency list by Howard Stern and eventually the whole thing morphed into a debate about gay rights (the Dick Chaney-John Edwards Vice President debate) which was a perfect plank for the Republicans in a Presidential election. An issue with little substance or importance, perfect for the American TV and radio punditry culture.
Eventually, Viacom was fined $550,000 for broadcasting the Jackson "wardrobe malfunctioning" incident. CBS continues to appeal the fine.
After the Super Bowl incident, Michael Powell and the FCC dug in and started to go after other areas.
By October 2004, Commissioner Powell and his FCC colleagues started thinking whether or not a hockey game that feature fights was suitable programming between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m. daily.
The Federal Communications Commission did a study at the behest of Congress on over-the-air, cable and satellite television violence and how that type of programming impacts children.
The FCC already had rules banning so-called indecent programming on radio and TV between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m. daily. The FCC indecency guidelines have been in effect since 2001 but most people were unaware of the rules until Janet Jackson's bare breast was exposed after a "wardrobe malfunction."
The FCC was very serious in 2004 about what was seen on TV, after all it was an election year but the study was crucial business not only to those looking for an election issue aside from the Iraq War and the FCC could give politicians some cover for other "important" issues.
Yes, hockey fighting might very well be considered violent programming. This is a major problem for not only the National Hockey League, but also the National Football League which has sold violence for decades going back to the CBS production of the Violent World of Sam Huff, narrated by Walter Cronkite, in 1960.
One of sports major selling points is violence. When the Nashville Predators began marketing its product to Tennessee in 1998, the marketing department showed hockey collisions and NASCAR accidents in sales presentations.
Sports TV highlight shows feature collisions, fighting and general rowdy behavior. Sports video games routinely feature fighting and blood.
The National Hockey League did fight back in 2004. NHL attorney Phillip Hochberg wrote a letter to the FCC saying that "the NHL feels that it is improper to even consider whether a sport like hockey would fall into any definition of televised `violence."
Should both the Congress and the FCC get involved and regulate fighting in hockey, violence in football, boxing matches, and high and tight pitches in baseball? Of course not.
The morality fight continued after the Janet Jackson Super Bowl. ABC-TV scheduled the movie Saving Private Ryan for Veteran's Day 2004 but 65 of the network's affiliates would not show it because of language concerns in the movie. Howard Stern was fired by Clear Channel stations (whose Texas owners had heavy ties to the Bush White House although to be fair Clear Channel became a major factor in the broadcasting industry because of the 1996 Telecommunications Act signed by President Clinton). There were incidents surrounding the 2009 Super Bowl.
The Super Bowl is much more than just a championship football game.
Evan Weiner, the winner of the United States Sports Academy's 2010 Ronald Reagan Media Award, is an author, radio-TV commentator and speaker on "The Politics of Sports Business." His book, "The Business and Politics of Sports, Second Edition is available at, Barnes and Noble or amazonkindle. He can be reached at

Monday, January 24, 2011

Once upon a time, Pittsburgh was the final stop for NFL players

By Evan Weiner

January 24, 2011

(New York, N. Y.) -- For younger Pittsburgh Steelers fans, it may be very hard to believe that Pittsburgh was once the last stop for marginal players in the National Football League after Green Bay. The Super Bowl matchup of Green Bay and Pittsburgh should make for big television ratings for FOX as both teams have massive national followings. But it wasn't always like that. Vince Lombardi turned Green Bay into winners in the late 1950s and it would not be until cash flowed into Steelers owner Art Rooney's pocket in the late 1960s thanks to the American Football League-National Football League merger that Rooney began investing in his team. Rooney also got a new stadium which helped out the franchise. Rooney's football team, a doormat from 1933 through 1969, has been the most successful franchise since the AFL-NFL merger took effect in 1970.

During World War II, there was not even a "Steelers" brand.

Art Rooney combined his Steelers combined other teams. The first was with Philadelphia in 1943 and the second was with the Chicago Cardinals in 1944. The "Steagles" split home games between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, the "Car-Pitt" team played at both Comiskey Park in Chicago and in Pittsburgh.

“The Steagles, which was a great name, they had a very good team,” said the Pittsburgh Steelers chairman, Pro Football Hall of Fame member and U. S, Ambassador to Ireland Dan Rooney. “They started to win and had a quarterback by the name of (Leroy) Zimmerman who was really good. They won the first number of games. They won half of season and were really in first place and got a lot of injuries. In those days, you couldn’t replace them.

“Then the Cardinals the next year. That was disastrous. We had four coaches, none of whom was named the head coach. So it was the old story, who is in charge. We were 0-10.

“But the reason for it was, of course, the war. Not only was it difficult because guys were gone. But where you could have a good team was where there was a military operation. In both Chicago and Philadelphia, they had a lot of navy people because of being on water. So that’s the reason they were able to get the players and that’s the reason we combined with them.”

While the Americans were fighting on two fronts, sports went on for the morale of those who remained home. The Steagles were good entertainment according to Rooney, who was a kid hanging around his father Art and the Steagles in 1943.

“They all had fun. It was one of those things that was a tough time. They had a lot of fun,” Rooney recalled. “We had a receiver by the name of Tony Bova who was 4-F because he couldn’t see. But he was our leading receiver.

“In 1945, it looked like things were ending and we split and went on our own. We did start to get players like Bill Dudley, who was one of our great players. He came back in the middle of the season and played the end of the season.

Football was a part time endeavor for players, coaches and owners in the 1950s. Some teams didn't even provide shoes for players. Rooney said that wasn't a problem in Pittsburgh.

“I used to go to camp, actually since the time I was five years old, we did issue equipment. We didn’t just throw it out for them,” said Rooney. “We used to get in some battles with them about different things. I will tell you a great aside, when the union, their first demand was a second pair of football shoes. As you know today when you go into the locker room they have 30. But there was the demand back in 1958.

“Jack Butler, who was a great player for us and had gone to the Pro Bowl and probably should be in the Hall of Fame, he wore the same shoes for three years because they were his luck shoes and he had taped them on. We said, hey you can’t be doing that. We did give them one pair each year. We said use the new shoes. He thought they were good luck the shoes that he had. He wore them literarily out.”

Despite growing prosperity, not all of the NFL teams operated in a first class manner in 1958. Pittsburgh, long a league doormat, was considered the last chance stop on the NFL circuit. If the Steelers cut a player it meant the end of the line.

Buddy Dial had been cut by the Giants during the 1959 training camp portion of the season and tried out for the Steelers. Dial had been an All-American in college but was drafted by a start-studded team with no room for him or Don Maynard. When Dial got to Pittsburgh, he was in for a shock.

"I was with the Giants and we were in Los Angeles, the Giants were going to open the season with the Rams on the west coast," Dial recalled. "This was on a Friday. Every Friday at breakfast time they would make their final cuts.

"Lee Grosscup, the All-American quarterback from Utah and myself were going to be the last two cut. This Friday morning breakfast, Jim Lee Howell, the head coach, came around and tapped us on the shoulder
said come by his room and bring your playbook. We both were gone.

"I'm out in Los Angeles and I find out from Sam Huff, the great middle linebacker that I was picked up by the Steelers."

Huff's news did not help Dial's bruised feelings in anyway. Pittsburgh was the end of the line for NFL players.

"Man, I am not going to Pittsburgh because Bobby Layne is their quarterback and he's drunk all the time. I didn't know he was the finest quarterback who ever lived and the funniest and most beautiful guy I would ever meet.

"So I flew all night long to Pittsburgh and I walked into Forbes Field and the stadium and they didn't have a football uniform for Me." said Dial.

"The Pittsburgh Pirates baseball team had just finished their season the Wednesday before and this is Saturday. The Steelers are going to open the season on Sunday against Cleveland, so Bobby Layne said Dial get your butt in the huddle.

"I said I have been flying all night and the equipment manager said Buddy get your uniform on. I went into the locker room; there wasn't a football suit. There was a Pittsburgh Pirates baseball uniform left over from the season and I put that thing on and trotted out to the field. My first time with the Steelers and Bobby Layne in a daggummed Pittsburgh Pirate baseball uniform.

"They had a good season, but a professional football player don't wear a baseball uniform. I felt like an idiot."

Dial was a graduate of Rice University, an All-American football player and his first day with his new employer left quite an impression.

"That was my introduction to the Steelers. A baseball uniform from the Pirates. No," he continued. "No helmet, no hat either, no gloves just a football. It was a Pirates jersey and pants. I had football shoes because I brought my own shoes. I got baseball pants, a baseball jersey and no hat and no gloves. I kept the football!"

As more money came into the operation from CBS, conditions improved and Dial said the Steelers had plenty of uniforms available for other players to try out. Pittsburgh would become a perennial winner once the team got a new stadium which happened in 1970.

“Forbes Field was a great stadium, it was a grass field and had a great tradition, but there were only 10,000 good seats for football. The rest of them were all in the end zone. Home plate was in the end zone,” recalled Rooney. So that made it very difficult. But those 10,000 they were right there on top of the game. They could see it better than anywhere.

“And then, of course, we went to Pitt Stadium which was a typical college field that they had made in the 20s and 30s. It was a bowl cut out of hill. Three Rivers Stadium was much better, but the new stadium will be the state of the art.

“(Forbes Field) was really the old days when you walked down the tunnel, and there was dirt underneath the stands, the locker room was overly crowded, the coaches had to dress on the bench on the side and had a nail to hang up their suit coat. But hey you played great games there.

When the merger officially took effect in 1970, NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle managed to convince Art Modell, the Baltimore Colts Carroll Rosenbloom and Pittsburgh's Art Rooney to switch to the American Football Conference.

"Nobody else wanted to go," recalled Modell. "Pittsburgh went with me and Baltimore went on their own. "I announced it and went to the hospital as sick as a dog and made my decision in the hospital. I broke the long jam. (Steelers owners)Dan Rooney, Art Rooney and (New York Giants co-owner) Well Mara came up to my hospital room we talked about it. I said Art, if you go with me, I will go into the American Football Conference.

"Dan said under no conditions would the Pittsburgh Steelers play in that conference. Art chomped on a cigar and said Dan that's okay you can stay where you want but I am going with Art Modell."

Rosenbloom's Colts, Rooney's Steelers and Modell's Browns each received
$3,000,000 to go into the AFC. In the NFL money talks and without the compensation, they would not have switched conferences.

For the Rooneys, moving to the AFC was a great decision. The team became dominant after being perennial doormats in the NFL and won four Super Bowls with a star studded team between 1974 and 1979. The Steelers used the $3,000,000 to help improve its football operations, and thus directly contributed to the team's on-field success. Pittsburgh won the Super Bowl in 2005 and 2008.

The team's success since 1970 is nearly a 180 degree turn for the franchise. Between 1933 and 1971, the team made just one playoff appearance, that in 1947. In the last 39 years, Pittsburgh has been in the playoffs 25 times and has six Super Bowl victories.

Evan Weiner, the winner of the United States Sports Academy's 2010 Ronald Reagan Media Award, is an author, radio-TV commentator and speaker on "The Politics of Sports Business." His book, "The Business and Politics of Sports, Second Edition is available at, Barnes and Noble's, kobo, literati and amazonkindle. He can be reached at

Friday, January 21, 2011

Bears and Packers: Bitter Rivals? Not Really

By Evan Weiner

January 21, 2011

(New York, N. Y.) -- Those bitter old rivals, the Chicago Bears and the Green Bay Packers, who take to the football field in Chicago on Sunday, really aren't the bitter old rivals after all. You see the football teams in Chicago and Green Bay are really old business partners who needed each other's financial support to survive in the very early days of the National Football League in the 1920s and were still dependent on each other as late as the 1950s.

In 1919, Earl (Curly) Lambeau and George Calhoun organized a football team in Green Bay, Wisconsin. Lambeau and Calhoun may not have realized what they were doing at the time, but Green Bay's football team was named after the team's benefactor and Lambeau's employer, the Indian Packing Company, Green Bay was not paid of any league and played whoever was available.

The Indian Packing Company gave Lambeau $500 for equipment and allowed the team to use the company field for practices. Lambeau's team might have been the first "pro" football club to depend on corporate backing for naming rights even if it was just $500. Interestingly enough, the Chicago Bears franchise has a similar history.

There was a momentum to organize football into some entity after World War I. In 1920, The American Professional Football Conference came about because of three reasons. Rising salaries was becoming a problem; players were jumping from one team to another following the highest offers and the use of college players still enrolled in schools. The "owners" of the day sound an awful lot like the owners of 2010 complaining about giving players too much of the revenues generated by football games.

On August 20, 1920, the Akron Pros, Canton Bulldogs, Cleveland Indians and Dayton Triangles agreed to join a league that would follow the same rules. Four weeks later, there was another meeting in Canton with Akron, Canton, Cleveland and Dayton from Ohio, the Hammond Pros and the Muncie Flyers from Indiana, the Rochester Jeffersons of New York and the Decatur Staleys, Racine Cardinals and Rock Island Independents in attendance.

The group changed the name of the circuit to the American Professional Football Association, charged a $100 a franchise membership fee and named Jim Thorpe President of the APFA. None of the teams ever paid the $100. There was no league schedule as teams could play whatever opponent they could book and four other teams joined the league, the Buffalo All-Americans, Chicago Tigers, Columbus Panhandlers and the Detroit Heralds.

The APFA's first game was on September 26 when Rock Island defeated the St. Paul Ideals 48-0 before 800 fans at home. By season's end, the Chicago Tigers and Detroit had folded.

In 1921, the APFA had 22 teams including the first year Green Bay Packers. A. E. Staley turned the Decatur Staleys over to George Halas who moved the team to Cubs Park. Staley gave George Halas $5,000 to retain the Staley name for another season. The Staleys who finished 9-1-1 were named champions. Staley was a big producer of corn based products and was another corporate sponsor, a much bigger benefactor than the Indian Packing Company.

In 1922, Green Bay withdrew from the league after admitting the Packers used college players the year before. Curly Lambeau rescued the team by putting up $50 to buy the franchise and promised to obey APFA rules. Lambeau went broke keeping the Packers going but local businesses arranged a $2,500 loan to keep the team playing. By year's end, a public non-profit cooperation was set up to operate the team and that arrangement is still in place eight decades later.

On June 24, the APFA changed its name to the National Football League and the Chicago Staleys became the Chicago Bears.

Halas was already wielded an enormous amount of power in the newly named NFL. As the NFL came into existence, the owners adopted a constitution that required an owner's vote to approve a franchise move. That night, Halas moved the Bears to Chicago without a vote.

The Bears and Packers became bitter rivals in the 1920s yet allies in many ways. Lambeau and Halas needed one another and the NFL needed them.

"Halas came up the hard way, sort of like we did, we were a town team that had to struggle through a number of financial crisis in our early history and he had somewhat the same. His wife had a laundry and they did the uniforms.

"When he started out, he did press releases in long hand and delivered them to the Chicago Tribune and Chicago Sun Times, a think it may have been a case of a common experience, a common bond and also there was a strong, intense rivalry between the two teams in part because of the two guys who coached them, Halas and Curly Lambeau who coached the Packers. Lambeau was equally intense, I can assure you," said Lee Remmel, a long time Green Bay Press Gazette sportswriter and Packer Public Relations Director.

"In 1956 when (Green Bay) had a citywide referendum to funding the building of the stadium that is now Lambeau Field, (Halas) came up personally and spoke on behalf of the referendum, the yes vote obviously.

"He was one of the key figures in getting the equal sharing of television revenue when the league went to television. That is a big factor in our survival in the NFL. Without it, obviously we would not."

Green Bay Packers officials knew Halas would do anything to win on the field, but he was extremely important in helping to maintain the franchise in northern Wisconsin. But Green Bay also helped assure the finances of the Bears as well.

"We did make a loan to Halas one time to meet his payroll in his early days," Remmel said. "In fact, when he did his book Halas by Halas in 1979, he asked me if I could find an affidavit or an IOU and I tracked it down at the Pro Football Hall of Fame. It was an IOU that the Packers had loaned Halas something like $1,500 in 1930."

Neither Halas nor Lambeau seemed to be a stickler for rules. The 1925 season would be a turning point for the league as Harold (Red) Grange signed a contract with George Halas and the Bears following his All-American season at the University of Illinois. Halas admitted to signing Grange early, before his college eligibility was up.

On Thanksgiving Day, Grange made his debut as the Bears hosted the Chicago Cardinals at Wrigley Field before a crowd of 36,000. At the beginning of December, the Bears went on an eight game, 12-day barnstorming tour in St. Louis, Philadelphia, New York, Washington, Boston, Pittsburgh, and Detroit and back to Chicago.

The Bears-Giants game at New York's Polo Grounds drew 73,000 people and gave the struggling first year New York Giants franchise a much needed financial lift. The Bears went out west and attracted a crowd of 75,000 in Los Angeles. Because of Grange's drawing power, the NFL faced its first competition from a league called the American Football League in 1926.

Grange made $100,000 and his manager/agent's C.C. Pyle, often referred to as "Cash and Carry Pyle," also made $100,000. Grange played 18 games in three months. More importantly for the NFL, the Galloping Ghost brought the pro league much needed publicity.

Pyle told Halas that Grange wanted a five-figured contract and one-third ownership in the Bears for 1926 season. Halas refused. Pyle leased Yankee Stadium in New York and then petitioned the NFL for a franchise. The NFL refused. Giant owner Tim Mara felt threatened with Pyle's request and the NFL backed up Mara.

Pyle then started the AFL, which included a New York Yankees team led by Grange, Philadelphia, Cleveland, Chicago, Boston, Brooklyn, Newark and a road team representing Los Angeles. The ninth team Rock Island jumped over from the NFL. Grange's presence could not save the AFL and the NFL came up with a new star, the Duluth Eskimos Ernie Nevers who played in 29 games throughout the country to earn his $15,000 paycheck.

Halas got legislation through that prevented people like Red Grange from joining a team in mid season. Teams could not sign a player whose college class had not graduated. Halas then put a stop to a common practice. In the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, there is an exhibit that goes back to those days when it was very common for a player to suit up for a college team on Saturday and a pro team on Sunday. The Grange signing clearly violated NFL rules, but the signing of Red Grange, and the subsequent national barnstorming tour of the Bears may have saved the NFL in the 1920's.

"We have some headgear from the 1920s and 1930s. The headgear not only went over the head and behind the head, but over the face too," said John Bankert, who was the Executive Director of the Pro Football Hall of Fame in the 1990s. "A lot of people say it was facial protection, but I don't believe that though. Many of those guys played in college on Saturday and under an assumed name on Sunday.

"George Trafton, however, who played for Notre Dame as a center also played some pro football in those early days. He had part of his index finger missing. So when he would reach down on the ball, a guy across the line who says, "Hey, didn't I see you yesterday? Trafton would say, "If you saw me then you must have played too!"

Green Bay was the last of the small towns in the NFL after Portsmouth, Ohio’s team moved to Detroit in 1934. Green Bay and Chicago's histories date back to a place that no longer exists. The NFL of 1922 included the Chicago Cardinals, a franchise that now plays in Glendale, Arizona and the Dayton Triangles, a team that moved to Brooklyn in 1930 and ended up in Indianapolis after various attempts at success in Brooklyn, Boston, New York, Miami (All American Football Conference), Baltimore, New York, Dallas, Baltimore and finally Indianapolis. All the other teams have been relegated to the dustbin of history.

The oldest rivals in the NFL clearly are dependent on one another and football in Chicago and Green Bay would not be the same if Green Bay disappeared from the NFL. Lambeau saved Halas and Halas returned the favor in the 1950s.

Bitter rivals? Maybe not.

Evan Weiner, the winner of the United States Sports Academy's 2010 Ronald Reagan Media Award, is an author, radio-TV commentator and speaker on "The Politics of Sports Business." His book, "The Business and Politics of Sports, Second Edition is available at, Barnes and Noble's and amazonkindle. He can be reached at

Thursday, January 20, 2011

ESPN will get real competition from Comcast-NBC merger
Thursday, 20 January 2011 14:26

If you thought you heard a groan from the Walt Disney offices in Bristol, Conn., Manhattan and LA on Tuesday afternoon after the Federal Communications Commission approved the planned merger between the Philadelphia-based Comcast Corporation and NBCUniversal, you weren't imagining the sounds. The suits at Disney probably aren't too pleased with the FCC's decision to allow Comcast and General Electric's Peacock network and other holdings to go to the altar and be wed.

After all, Disney's cash cow, the so-called "World Wide Leader in Sports" will more than likely get real competition since the folding of CNN Sports Illustrated in May 2002. FOX Sports does program local regional cable sports networks but really has never been an outright competitor to ESPN. Neither CNNSI nor FOX successfully challenged ESPN SportsCenter but that could change as Comcast has the ability to put on a national cable TV sports show as they are doing that locally with some of the company owned regional sports cable TV networks.

Comcast, the largest multi-system operator in the country (with systems located in New Jersey) owns Versus, an all sports channel, the Golf Channel, a piece of the Major League Baseball and a boatload of regional sports networks around the United States, including SNY (a venture that includes Time Warner and New York Mets ownership in the partnership) and in Philadelphia. NBC has deals with the National Football League, the National Hockey League, Notre Dame football, and the 2012 Olympics among the network's sports properties. NBC has not had Major League baseball, the NBA or NASCAR in years. The network does have golf and tennis events.

Versus, or whatever the Comcast owned cable sports network will be called, could become a much bigger player in sports. Right now, Versus has the NHL, some cycling events, the United Football League (if that league makes it into a third season next fall) and some other events. Versus has not be able to get nearly 100 percent penetration onto cable TV's basic expanded tiers thorough the country as of yet.

But that could be changing.

More than likely, in the short term, there will be integration of Comcast sports programming with NBC's sport programming and some of that will end up on cable TV networks which including USA.

Comcast NBC may be too late to the table to bid on some events in the short term.

Disney is talking with the National Football League about extending ESPN's contract with the league for the Monday Night Football package which might bring as much as $2 billion annually to the NFL through 2022 or 2023. (NFL owners are complaining that they cannot afford to continue giving players 59 percent of the league's revenues because of tough economic times. If the reports that Disney is ready to pay billions — which would come out of cable TV subscriber's pockets whether they watch Monday Night Football or not and most of ESPN's potential audience does not watch the channel — it makes it hard to believe the NFL is in dire economic straits as a March 3, 2011 deadline looms as a possible lockout date if the owners and players do not agree to a new collective bargaining agreement.)

The Monday Night NFL package may be a done deal for Disney, but Comcast has NBC's Sunday Night NFL package through 2013 as part of the merger. NBCUniversal was cash strapped prior to the announcement that Comcast was buying 51 percent of the company. Sunday Night Football has been the top rated prime time series on over-the-air network TV in 2010. It stands to reason that Comcast-NBC will attempt to throw as much money as possible to the "cash-poor" NFL owners to keep the franchise.

The big prize, or the "perceived perception" big prize, in TV is the International Olympic Committee's pride and joy events — the Summer and Winter Olympics. NBC Universal has the rights to the 2012 London Games. The IOC, an entity which believes that it is an international entity with the power to dictate to countries policy and has permanent observer status at the United Nations, waited for the FCC to act before it opened up contract negotiations with American TV networks for the rights to the 2014 Sochi (Russia) Winter and the 2016 Rio (Brazil) Summer Games. The IOC can now go ahead and start a bidding war or what they hope is a bidding war between Brian Roberts's Comcast-NBC, Rupert Murdoch's News Corp, Sumner Redstone's CBS (and possibly Redstone's NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament partner Turner Sports) and Disney for the rights to future Olympics.

NBC lost money on the 2008 Beijing Olympics and American networks, particularly in an economic recession and recovery might not want to spend every last Swiss franc to satisfy IOC President Jacques Rogge and his band of merry men for the big prize.

Future Olympics will be seen over a multitude of platforms including over the air TV, cable TV and broadband. All of the US bidders have the wherewithal to provide that type of coverage to the IOC.

Disney has the rights to the Bowl Championship Series through January 2014. Disney and Turner share NBA rights until 2016. MLB's TV deals with Rupert Murdoch's FOX, Time Warner and Disney's ESPN are done in 2013. ESPN's non-exclusive deal with Major League Soccer is done in 2014. The MLS is currently trying to negotiate a new deal with Murdoch's FOX Soccer Channel and is reportedly asking for a 700 percent increase in rights fees. Reportedly Murdoch's channel wants to just slightly more than double payments from $3 million annually to $7 million.

Cable TV sports networks negotiate with other people's money — subscriber fees — and the subscriber is at the mercy of the network or multiple systems operators. It is either all or nothing for basic expanded tier customers.

Comcast and NBC have National Hockey League national cable and over-the-air TV rights. Disney, according to reports, would like to get a piece of the NHL's cable TV deal. This could be the first bidding war between ESPN and Comcast. Comcast owns a team in the NHL, the Philadelphia Flyers. Comcast also has the cable TV rights of a number of NHL teams including the Flyers on Comcast Sports Net, Philadelphia.

There is also another aspect of this deal that could impact local news operations at various NBC owned and operated stations including those in New York and Philadelphia. SNY and Comcast Sports Net Philadelphia already have sports staffs and Comcast could decide to drop the local sports anchors on WNBC in New York and WCAU in Philadelphia to save money.

There was a report in 2010 that WPIX, Channel 11 in New York was considering outsourcing the station's local sportscast to the Comcast-owned SNY but that never materialized. Local news operations around the country have been marginalizing or dropping sports reports within the news show.

Critics of the merger contend Comcast will simply be too big, too controlling of content (critics have ignored how cable TV has been set up, this is nothing new) and that a multiple system operator cannot also be a programmer and that Comcast could muscle out competitors like ESPN by simply dropping the channels from Comcast systems. It is unlikely that Comcast would drop ESPN since the channel makes them money. But there will be disputes. Comcast and the NFL have been fighting over the NFL Network for years. Comcast might have played hardball with the NFL after the multi-systems operator thought it had a deal with the league for a small Thursday-Saturday night package for the Versus network. The NFL decided to keep the games in-house and put them on the NFL Network. After that, Comcast decided the NFL Network charged too much money for programming for their subscribers.

There will always be skirmishes between the multiple system operators and cable networks over money. That will not change with the Comcast-NBC merger.

The merger probably will not be in the best interests of consumers as rights fees, retransmission costs and other fees will continue to go up. The question that needs to be answered is whether Comcast can make the merger work because big media deals over the past 15 years including the AOL Time Warner agreement have been failures. Clear Channel bought out thousands of radio stations following the 1996 Tele Communication Act passage by Congress which was signed into law by President Bill Clinton and that has been a disaster for the company. And for those who are worried about the direction Brian Roberts might take NBC News, here is a question. What kind of job did General Electric do in covering the news? One of GE's properties is MSNBC, a so-called news channel which like FOX News Channel and CNN doesn't cover news but is long on shrill and fake confrontational arguments led by carnival barkers. NBC Dateline once blew up a General Motors truck in 1992 in a staged report called "Waiting to Explode" which questioned the safety of GM trucks.

Comcast has been a major player on the sports scene for a long time. The company owns the Philadelphia Flyers and 76ers and has partnerships thorough Major League Baseball, the National Hockey League, the National Basketball Association, golf and limited National Football League team business arrangements. NBC Sports has properties; a combined Comcast NBC is stronger and has some money to spend. That is music to the ears of sports owners and promoters but not necessarily the sound that makes Mickey Mouse and Disney too happy as ESPN is no longer alone as the undisputed heavyweight champion of sports programming.

Evan Weiner, the winner of the United States Sports Academy's 2010 Ronald Reagan Media Award, is an author, radio-TV commentator and speaker on "The Politics of Sports Business." His book, "The Business and Politics of Sports, Second Edition is available at, Barnes and Noble or amazonkindle. He can be reached at

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

What if the N.Y. Jets were bought by Zygi Wilf instead of Woody Johnson?
MONDAY, 17 JANUARY 2011 23:03
A little more than a decade ago, two New Jersey businessmen decided that they wanted to own a National Football League team. The estate of Leon Hess was selling the New York Jets and both Robert Wood Johnson IV and Zygi Wilf wanted the team. In 2000, Johnson beat out Wilf's group and bought the franchise from the Hess estate. There is no way of knowing what would have happened to the franchise had Wilf outbid Johnson for the team.
Wilf did end up with a National Football League franchise in 2006 when he led a group that bought the Minnesota Vikings.
Both Johnson and Wilf are still playing for a championship in the winter of 2011 although the titles they seek are totally different. Johnson's Jets will be in Pittsburgh on Sunday in the American Football Conference title game. Wilf is in a totally different arena but the stakes are probably much higher.
Wilf and his lobbyists are blanketing the state houses in St. Paul, Minnesota in a bid to get money to build a new stadium somewhere in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area,
Johnson's Jets play in a new stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey complete with all the bells and whistles that make a venue a state-of-the-art facility. He has personal seat licenses, large concourses to sell food and Jets merchandise, and access to large in-stadium revenue streams. But Johnson's facility did not happen overnight.
Johnson wanted a stadium on the west side of Manhattan at a rail yards site between 30th and 34th Streets and 11th and 12th Avenues next to the Hudson River. He might have also been able to get land for a new stadium in the Jets old home borough of Queens. The west side stadium would have also served as the centerpiece of the 2012 Summer Olympic Games in New York and New Jersey. The stadium plan died when New York Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno and New York Assembly Speaker Shelton Silver refused to support the plan in 2005. The International Olympic Committee soon afterwards eliminated the New York bid and gave London, England the 2012 Games.
Eventually Johnson along with the New York Giants ownership, the National Football League and New Jersey officials signed an agreement to build a new stadium next to Giants Stadium. The NFL loaned Johnson, and the Giants Mara and Tisch families hundreds of millions of dollars and New Jersey kicked in hundreds of millions of dollars for infrastructure along with tax breaks such as reduced property tax payments to provide stadium funding.
Johnson and the Mara/Tisch family put up some of the money for the structure that is estimated to have cost $1.5 billion.
Wilf is looking for hundreds of millions of dollars from Minnesota to help finance the stadium. He will not get NFL help, at least not right now, as the NFL's stadium finance fund is tapped out. The NFL is also not actively seeking to help owners looking for funding for a stadium until there is a new collective bargaining agreement. The NFL wants the players to put up money for a new stadium in Santa Clara, California that would be home to the San Francisco 49ers.
In somewhat of a muddled message, the NFL's senior Vice President of Public Relations, Greg Aiello, wrote on ESPN's website that the lack of a new collective bargaining agreement with the players is hurting Los Angeles chances of getting league financial support for a new stadium. Aiello said there are other cities also looking for money but did not name them. The other cities are Santa Clara and Minneapolis.
Minneapolis has been one of the epicenters of the sports financial earthquake that started in 1950 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Milwaukee elected officials decided that the only way they could attract a Major League Baseball team to town was by building a stadium with public money and then giving virtually all of the revenue generated in the building to an owner.
The strategy worked as Lou Perini moved his Boston Braves to Milwaukee in March 1953.
Minneapolis elected officials pursued the same course of action. They allocated $8.5 million to build a stadium in the Minneapolis suburb of Bloomington that opened for the minor league Minneapolis Millers in 1956. The Millers team was the New York Giants top farm club and the stadium caught Giants owner Horace Stoneham's eye when he decided that playing in Manhattan's Polo Grounds was no longer a viable financial option for him.
Stoneham kicked the tires in Minneapolis but took what was a better offer in his mind from San Francisco in the summer of 1957. In 1958, Minneapolis elected officials took out a $9 million bond to expand the 21,000-seat Bloomington seat to 41,000 seats.
The nine million dollar gamble paid off as the Bloomington stadium was big enough for Calvin Griffith who moved his Washington Senators baseball team to the Twin-Cities market after the 1960 season and the National Football League. The Minnesota Twins franchise started play in April 1961. The NFL persuaded the owners of the Minnesota American Football League franchise to drop out of the new league and join the NFL in 1961.
The NFL's Chicago Cardinals had played two "home" games in Bloomington in 1959. The Minnesota AFL franchise was replaced by Oakland, California. The Oakland team played in San Francisco in 1960 and 1961.
In 1965, public money was set aside for the construction of an indoor arena in Bloomington. The gamble again paid off for politicians when the National Hockey League in 1966 decided to double in size from six to 12 teams and added a team in Bloomington.
On the other side of the Mississippi, public money built the St. Paul Civic Center that became a competitor to the Bloomington building. Minnesota was totally immersed in sports spending by the early 1970s.
There is more than a half-century of public support for sports facilities in Minnesota and Wilf is hoping to be the latest owner to grab public dollars for a private business — the Minnesota Vikings.
Ironically, it was the 1966 American Football League-National Football League merger that doomed the Bloomington park. One of the NFL's proposals before Congress as they lobbied Washington to approve the merger was ran in the face of antitrust laws was to move teams. The league planned to have 24 teams in 24 different cities. There was some discussion that would have moved Sonny Werblin's New York Jets (with Joe Namath) to Los Angeles. Daniel Reeves' Los Angeles Rams would have gone to San Diego. Barron Hilton's San Diego Chargers was headed to New Orleans and the Oakland Raiders franchise would have ended up in either Portland, Oregon or Seattle. But Brooklyn Congressman Emanuel Cellar and his colleagues weren't in favor of the idea and it was dropped.
Werblin's Jets paid the Mara Giants $10 million to share the territory and the Raiders ownership gave San Francisco ownership $8 million to share the Bay Area territory. New Orleans was given a team in exchange for yes votes from Louisiana Senator Russell Long and Congressman Hale Boggs. The NFL owners pocketed expansion money from New Orleans and Cincinnati. The league did get one perk from Congress. They established that they could move any franchise if stadium capacity was fewer than 50,000 seats.
The Bloomington stadium had less than 50,000 seats.
In the 1970s, Vikings owners began clamoring for a new stadium and explored a move to Los Angeles. (Wilf could be offered a stadium deal in Los Angeles if things in St. Paul don't work out)
State legislators cobbled a deal to build a multi-purpose domed stadium for the Twins, Vikings and the University of Minnesota. The $80 million to fund the building came from a variety of taxes.
With a new stadium and two arenas built on the public dime, Minnesota seemed to have all of the sports facilities need in the 1980s. But that wasn't the case. The National Basketball Association was expanding and two Minneapolis businessmen, Harvey Ratner and Marvin Wolfenson, decided to go after an NBA franchise. In April 1987, the NBA junked its two team expansion in favor of a four-franchise expansion and took $32.5 million from "Harv and Marv" in exchange for a Minneapolis franchise. The two decided not to ask for public funding for an arena and that proved to be a massive mistake.
By 1994, "Harv and Marv" were broke. They sold the franchise to a group led by Boxing promoter Bob Arum and the franchise was headed to New Orleans. The NBA blocked the sale and found a local buyer. The Minnesota legislature allowed the city of Minneapolis to purchase the building. The NBA was still in the Twin-Cities, which is more than could be said about the NHL.
Minnesota might have been hockey country but various Minnesota North Stars ownerships struggled financially. The last North Stars owner Norman Green, a Canadian who had a sexual harassment suit hanging over him, moved the team to Dallas in 1993.
In 1997, the NHL was completing a nine-team expansion. St. Paul mayor Norm Coleman decided to go after one of the final expansion franchises and put together a more than $100 million proposal for funding to build an arena for an NHL team. The new arena was built on the site of the old St. Paul Civic Center. The NHL returned to the Twin-Cities in 2000.
The Twins ownership didn't like the Metrodome very much and almost sold the team to North Carolina interests led by Don Beaver. The team would have played in Greensboro, N.C. had voters approved a referendum to raise a restaurant tax to fund a stadium.
One of the reasons Greensboro needed a stadium? Young people would be energized to stay in the area and look for jobs in the Triad area of North Carolina because there was a baseball team there.
The Twins ownership began very serious discussions with state legislators in 2005 for a new Minneapolis stadium. Eventually a deal was worked out with the legislators on a funding mechanism, which called for the state to invest $392 million in a $522 million facility. There would a be sales tax hike in Hennepin County but Hennepin County residents would have to approve the hike in a referendum. The vote never occurred as politicians pulled an end around and claimed there was no time to hold a referendum.
The Republican governor Tim Pawlenty signed the funding bill into law and Minneapolis got a new baseball stadium.
Pawlenty, who seems to be running for the Republican nomination for President as one of those let's cut government spending to the bone didn't exactly act like a cheapskate when it came to sports spending.
Not only did he approve the $392 million Twins stadium deal in 2006, but two days prior to the Twins deal, Pawlenty put his signature on a deal to build a new football stadium on the campus of the University of Minnesota. Nearly half of the $288.5 million cost for the facility came from the state. Students at the school, whether they liked football or not had to pay part of the cost for the stadium in their student fees
Pawlenty put at least a half of a billion dollars to build stadiums and that is without debt service.
Pawlenty did not run for re-election in 2010. The fiscal conservative left Minnesota with more than a six billion dollar deficit. He was in favor of a new Vikings stadium but did not want to spend public money. Pawlenty is now running around and doing the TV carnival barker route pushing a book and arguing against raising the federal debt ceiling.
Pawlenty's old Vikings problem is now the Democrat Mark Dayton and the GOP state houses' problem. Wilf's lease at the Metrodome ends after 2011 so there is pressure to get a new stadium-funding package done.
What Wilf wants is the same toy that Johnson has. A new stadium with overflowing revenue streams. Sometime after the Super Bowl, the Minnesota legislature will tackle the Vikings problem. Wilf wants an open-air stadium but if the state wants to put a roof on the building that's fine too. Wilf isn't going to pay for a roof but would come up with about one-third the cost of an open-air stadium.
The Jets-Giants building allegedly cost $1.6 billion. Jerry Jones' Dallas Cowboys home, Cowboy Stadium in Arlington, Texas is also well over a billion dollars. An outdoor Minneapolis stadium is estimated to cost $700 million.
Wilf is next on line in St. Paul for a new stadium. Had he won the big game in 2000, he might have been sharing the Meadowlands with the Mara and Tisch family. But he came in second to Woody Johnson. Johnson's Jets are playing to get into the Super Bowl but Wilf's Vikings are playing for a bigger prize.
A new stadium.
Evan Weiner, the winner of the United States Sports Academy's 2010 Ronald Reagan Media Award, is an author, radio-TV commentator and speaker on "The Politics of Sports Business." His book, "The Business and Politics of Sports, Second Edition is available at, Barnes and Noble or amazonkindle. He can be reached at

Friday, January 14, 2011

When Football and Basketball Were Just Games

By Evan Weiner

January 14, 2011

(New York, N. Y.) -- As the National Football League playoffs roll on and the "drama" continues to unfold surround the will the Denver Nuggets trade Carmelo Anthony to the New Jersey Nets so he can sign a huge multi-million dollar before the opportunity dissipates should the National Basketball Association owners change working conditions in the next collective bargaining agreement, it should be remembered that at one time that being a "big league" athlete was job a seasonal job.

Back in the 1940s, 20-somethings played ball for fun, a little money or used it as time filler until a real job opened up.
Sports began to change in the 1950s when municipalities started building stadiums for baseball (and football) teams and television began sprinkling money into the leagues because sports programming filled up television schedules. Today major league sports in the United States cannot live without government support (stadium or arena funding, the waiving of TV antitrust issues for sports leagues, cable TV rules and corporate tax breaks on big ticket items such as luxury boxes and club seats at stadiums and arenas), cable TV and corporations buying tickets.
Today, the National Football League is a multi-billion dollar business; the National Basketball Association is a multi-billion dollar global entity with ties to Europe and China. Back in the 1940s, baseball in the United States was "the" sport but boxing and horse racing also had rabid followers. There was little interest in the pro basketball leagues at the time and the NFL was barely a notch above semi-pro status.

There is only one athlete who was been a member of a pro basketball championship squad and a pro football championship team in the same calendar year. Neither league is in existence today although the two leagues' DNA can be found both in the National Basketball Association and the National Football League.

As you continue reading and trying to figure out the answer, here is a little clue for you all. It happened after World War II and the player in question went to college (Northwestern) on a basketball scholarship and needed to be talked into playing football. Yet the player is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton.

A little background is needed.

The defunct basketball circuit was the National Basketball League. The NBL was the only pro basketball league at the time and had franchises in small Midwest cities and those teams usually were company teams with the players working for a piston manufacturer or tire companies in some cases. The Rochester Seagram’s were a semi-pro independent team which was sponsored by a distillery. After World War II ended in August 1945, the NBL invited Les Harrison to bring his team into the pro league.

Harrison brought athletes to Rochester. His collection included baseball players Del Rice and Chuck Connors and an eventual Pro Football Hall of Famer, Otto Graham who led the Cleveland Browns to championships in both the All American Football Conference and the National Football League. Baseball players flocked to basketball in the off season for a chance to make a few extra bucks and the emphasis here is on the words "a few." Graham is the answer to the trivia question. He is the only athlete to win “major league” championships in basketball with the 1945-46 Royals and the 1946 Cleveland Browns of the All American Football Conference in the same calendar year.

The NBL was not a fulltime enterprise. The All American Football Conference was organized by Chicago Tribune sports editor Arch Ward with teams in New York, Brooklyn, Buffalo, Miami, Cleveland, Chicago, San Francisco and Los Angeles and started play in 1946.

Graham ended up with the Browns and quarterbacked Paul Brown's championship squad in 1946 and in 1947 and in 1948 and in 1949. Graham became a football superstar and one of football’s highest paid performers, something that was not going to happen in Rochester playing basketball.

"We won the championship in all four years there (AAFC)," said Graham. "We played in the championship game six straight years (1950-55) in the NFL and won three of the six there. I went to college on a basketball scholarship. I didn't even play football I played intramural football," he said. ”I played with the Royals the season before the All American Football Conference had started. My teammates were Del Rice, Chuck Connors, the Rifleman of TV fame, Bob Davies, Red Boltzmann, Fuzzy Levine and we won the championship.

"I think I'm the only guy to have played on a championship basketball team and football team in the same year (1946). I played in Fort Wayne, Indiana and in fact they did dominate professional basketball at that time. We knocked them off. It was fun. But basketball took up too much time and I couldn't play football and basketball both, so I stuck with football.

"The NBL was the best league in the world. The Browns hadn't started yet and the Browns and the All American Football Conference didn't start until the fall of 1946. So I had nothing to do at that time, so after I started football, it overlapped with basketball and I didn't go back."

Graham was the quarterback on the dominant team of the AAFC. Rochester wasn’t too shabby either. The team won two NBL “pennants” but lost to George Milan in the NBL championships twice. Rochester joined the NBA in 1948 and won an NBA title in 1951.

Graham on the other hand had four AAFC crowns and one NFL title by 1950. The Baltimore Colts, Cleveland Browns and San Francisco 49ers entered the NFL after a merger of sorts between the AAFC and NFL after the 1949 season. Graham and the Browns quickly showed the NFL how good they were.

"It (the AAFC) was a good league. The NFL people would say our worst team could beat your best team. Go get a football before you think about playing our teams.

"Paul Brown, who was very intelligent, he was a great coach not because he knew more football necessarily. But he brought organization to professional football. I was really very lucky to have played for Paul Brown. I was drafted by Detroit (in 1944) and if I had gone to Detroit to Detroit and Paul Brown had gotten Bobby Layne, I would have liked to see what would have happened when those two collided,” recalled Graham in the 1990s.

"We did dominate the (AAFC) league and so we joined the NFL and they were going to run all over us. Well, the very first game, (NFL Commissioner) Bert Bell scheduled us to play against the Eagles who had won the two previous years in the NFL in Philadelphia and we kicked the hell out of them, 35-10 and we proved we had a good football team.

"Bert Bell said it was the best organized football team he had ever seen. From that time on we were a dominant football team. We beat the Rams in the championship 30-28 on a field goal by Graze. We proved we belong."

NFL teams targeted the Browns. The Browns were 47-4-3 in the AAFC, but the league was considered second rate.

"Our feeling, quite frankly, we did so well that every team we played against we knew was going to give their utmost to beat us because we at that time were the top team. So we never had an easy schedule because even the worst team is going to play their best game against us. Paul Brown just prepared us to do our best. We were well prepared. No other team in history was as well prepared as us,” Graham said.

Graham said the entire the 1950 season was the highlight of his career. He on occasion gave some thought about playing both sports simultaneously and with the basketball and football season not having much of an overlap except in November and December; it could have been possible for Graham to do both. But travel was limited to buses and trains in both football and basketball and that was a deterrent.

"Rochester is now out in Sacramento after going to Cincinnati and Kansas City and Fort Wayne is in Detroit,” said Graham in the 1990s. “I remember one train trip. We played a ballgame in Rochester; we spent the night on a train, not a sleeper but sitting up all night long. I was so mad and we had to go to Oshkosh two nights later. That's the way it was in those days. Our owner (Lester Harrison) wanted to save money.

"It's tough to do both sports," he said of Deion Sanders and Bo Jackson, "but if I was paid they kind of money they got, I would be tempted."

Graham made $25,000 in his best season with Cleveland. He was the NFL’s highest paid player, NBA teams were going out of business at a rapid rate and the league was down to just eight teams while Graham was quarterbacking. The All American Football Conference is just a footnote in NFL history now. The NFL took AAFC three teams, the Baltimore Colts, the Cleveland Browns and San Francisco 49ers. By 1949, Chicago could not support a third team after the Bears and Cardinals, the Los Angeles Dons were financially tapped out, the Brooklyn Dodgers had merged with the New York Yankees. Buffalo supported its Bills but was not an NFL city. Buffalo was left out of the NFL-AAFC merger.

“They were going out of business and we just felt that getting a west coast team was important and getting Cleveland was important. We also brought in Baltimore but they didn’t make it at that particularly. But the 49ers and Cleveland Browns and were very important at that particularly time to get a national scope,” said Pittsburgh Steelers owner and now American Ambassador to Ireland Dan Rooney. "That was a good move."
The other "good move" for putting money in the pockets of owners and players and front office staff was television. Television development, which was halted during World War II, resumed. That would be the important component to the skyrocketing popularity of sports in the 1950s. An interesting side note to Graham's teams. The Rochester Royals also called Cincinnati, Kansas City, Omaha and Sacramento home. The franchise could be on the move again. Graham's Browns ended up in Baltimore in 1996. The new Cleveland franchise in the NFL started in 1999. The 1946 Cleveland Browns replaced the Cleveland Rams in the city after Rams owner Daniel Reeves took his franchise to Los Angeles. The Cleveland Rams started life in the second American Football League in 1936 and joined the NFL in 1937. The franchise moved to Anaheim in 1980 and to St. Louis in 1995.

Evan Weiner, the winner of the United States Sports Academy's 2010 Ronald Reagan Media Award, is an author, radio-TV commentator and speaker on "The Politics of Sports Business." His book, "The Business and Politics of Sports, Second Edition is available at, Barnes and Noble or amazonkindle. He can be reached at