Recently it came to light that Adam Silver, current NBA commissioner, was quietly approached by a few NFL owners in 2017 to be commissioner of the NFL. Silver declined, however the thoughts of a 24-second play clock and the ball being advanced to midfield on a time out boggle the mind. In any event it got me wondering about Goodell’s job performance over his 12 years and how his tenure measures up against other NFL commissioners throughout history.
Elmer Layden (1941-46)
Elmer was tasked with being the first commissioner of the NFL. There were only 10 teams during Layden’s reign and his contract was for five years at $20,000. You can’t even get an intern to work for that these days. Layden was responsible for enforcing player conduct standards and in 1941 enforced his first fine on players in the amount of $25, roughly equivalent to $450 today. There were also some interesting rule changes made while Elmer Layden was commissioner. At one time if there was offensive pass interference in an opponent’s end zone, it resulted in a touchback. Have to say, I like this one but hasn’t offensive pass interference been abolished in today’s game? Can I get a ruling here?
Instituting sudden death overtime in playoff games.
Bert Bell (1946-1959)
Bell took over when Layden resigned and held the role until his untimely death. The league expanded to 13 teams in 1950 then dropped to 12 for the remainder of his time as commissioner. It was during this period that the NFL began to rival Major League Baseball in terms of popularity. Bell added the rule allowing punts and missed field goals that go beyond the goal line to be returned by the defense. In 1948 Bell had plastic helmets banned because he felt they were being used as weapons. The helmet used as a weapon? Who comes up with these crazy ide…never mind. The facemask penalty also came into being during Bell’s reign.
Bell was at the helm to usher in the television age. The NFL title game was on TV for the first time ever in 1951. Bell also sold the rights to broadcast games to the DuMont television network. In 1955 NBC purchased the rights for $100,000. Thankfully there was no Maroon 5 to perform at halftime.
Pete Rozelle (1960-1989)
This began the era of possibly the best commissioner the game has ever seen. When Rozelle took his post at only 33 years of age (I know. I thought he was perpetually 70 too), there were 13 NFL teams. By the time he was through, the NFL had merged with the AFL and there were 28 NFL franchises. In 1960 Rozelle introduced a game for the runners up in each conference that benefitted the players’ pension fund. This game would be played for 10 years. In 1962 the league worked out a deal with CBS making them the exclusive television network for the league until the merger in 1970 when NBC was added to the mix. In 1963 Rozelle dealt with a gambling scandal. It led to the one-year suspension of Paul Hornung and Alex Karras, two of the league’s bigger names. This was also the season where President Kennedy was shot and killed. Rozelle made the difficult decision to play all games two days after the assassination.
The 1974 season saw several major rule changes, including the introduction of a 15-minute overtime period for regular season games, the moving of goal posts from the goal line to the end line, and the moving of kickoffs back from the 40-yard line to the 35. More innovation from the Rozelle period was the adding of wireless microphones to officials, giving fans more insight on penalties and complex plays. The explosion of offense also came as a result of Rozelle’s rule changes made in 1978. This is when defenders were allowed contact with receivers only within the first five yards of the line of scrimmage prior to a pass being thrown. The rule still applies today unless you are playing in New Orleans during the NFC Championship game. In 1982 Rozelle dealt with a players’ strike that shortened the season to nine games. The decision was made to have a playoff tournament that put the eight teams in each conference with best records into the playoffs, ignoring division standings. Another shorter strike took place in 1987, leading to replacement players filling in for three weeks. Contrary to popular thought, Shane Falco did not appear.
The first attempt at a replay system came under Rozelle in 1986 but it was repealed after the 1991 season as there was no set timeframe in place for finishing reviews.
Creation of the Super Bowl. The first Super Bowl was played after the 1966 season. It was originally slated to pit the NFL champion vs. the AFL champion but stuck around once both leagues became one. There may have been talk to rename this game, “The New England Patriots Invitational” over the past several years but cooler heads most likely have prevailed.
Paul Tagliabue (1989-2006)
Tagliabue had big shoes to fill following Rozelle. The league expanded to 30 teams in 1995, then to 31 in 1999, finally getting to 32 teams by 2002. Tagliabue added two playoff teams in his first full year as commissioner in 1990. In 1991 Mr. Tagliabue instituted one of my ‘favorite’ rules when he declared a fumble out of the end zone by the offense would result in a touchback and a turnover. I’m not sure what’s worse: the rule itself or the fact that it hasn’t been changed yet. In 1993, a new contract was reached that gave FOX rights to broadcast games beginning in 1994 while CBS was out of the mix. Doh! My favorite NFL rule came during the Tagliabue Era. In 1993 ‘clocking’ the ball became legal as quarterbacks were allowed to spike the ball in front of them immediately after receiving a snap to stop the clock. Isn’t that what time outs are for?
The final change instituted in 1994 was the addition of the two-point conversion after touchdowns. This announcement may have led to a party at Mike Tomlin’s house but there is no confirmation. It was in 1997 that CBS got NFL games back with NBC being temporarily on the outside looking in while ESPN became the network for Sunday Night Football. The 1999 season saw the return of instant replay, revamped to save time so at least when the review was wrong it was quicker. There was another ‘little’ rule instituted in 1999 that allowed a player starting his hand forward in a pass attempt to lose possession of the ball in an attempt to tuck it back to his body without consequences of a fumble but that rule would never play a major role in a game. Oh wait. Finally the removal of fun the NFL began in 2004 when it became a 15-yard penalty for excessive group celebrations.
In an effort to expand the reach of the NFL, regular season NFL games were played outside the U.S. in 2005. The San Francisco 49ers lost to the Arizona Cardinals, 31-14, in Mexico City in front of over 103,000 fans.
Expansion of television viewership and revenue generation through network competition. The 1994 season was the first season where fans who wanted to watch every game every Sunday could purchase the NFL Sunday Ticket on DirecTV.
Roger Goodell (2006-Present)
While league revenue has skyrocketed under Goodell’s tenure several scandals have plagued this embattled commissioner, not the least of which were the league’s handling of player concussions and domestic violence, which is likely why owners approached Adam Silver in the first place.
The NFL began its official International series in 2007 when the New York Giants defeated the Miami Dolphins, 13-10, at Wembley Stadium in London. This series has now expanded to include multiple games across the Pond each season.
In 2009 Commissioner Goodell instituted procedures related to concussion protocol stemming from Congressional hearings. Prior to this new protocol, as long as a player did not lose consciousness he could return to a game.
Goodell changed the overtime rules for the post season in 2010 when each team would get a possession if the first team to possess the ball scored a field goal. This rule was expanded to the regular season for 2012 and will forever be called by me the, “Let’s See How Else We Can Piss Off the Vikings Fans Rule.” The 2013 season saw the “Tuck Rule” repealed (but probably not without the blessing of a certain Patriots’ quarterback).
It was 2014 that put domestic violence into the spotlight for the league, with Ray Rice, Greg Hardy, and Adrian Peterson all being involved in separate incidents. This prompted a domestic violence policy instituted by the league involving suspensions and a lifetime ban for any player committing a second offense. The further reduction of fun continued as ‘dunking’ the football over the cross bar was outlawed, forcing Jimmy Graham to work on his outside jumper. There was also a little matter regarding some underinflated footballs and lost cell phones but we’re all over that now, right?
The NFL had breakthroughs in 2015 with Jen Welter earning a coaching job with the Cardinals and Sarah Thomas becoming the league’s first female official. The rule on what is or is not a catch was tweaked again (and still made no sense). We also got a change in extra points with the ball being moved from the two-yard line back to the 15. While this shouldn’t really have mattered because a kicker has one job and a 33-yard kick should be makeable even after a night of tequila shooters, this rule got into kickers’ heads and changed the game. Additionally, defenses would be allowed to return blocked extra points and turnovers on two-point conversions worth two points to their own teams.
Touchbacks were brought out to the 25-yard line instead of the 20 beginning in 2016. The rule was an attempt to deter kickoff returns because hey, who wants to see one of the most potentially exciting plays of a football game actually take place? The 2016 season was also known for player protests against police brutality and what looks like the end of Colin Kaepernick’s NFL career.
We got more overtime changes in 2017 with extra periods during regular season games shortened from 15 minutes to 10, further confusing Donovan McNabb. We also got one of the best rule repeals ever when ‘Rog’ (possibly after a night of margaritas with Jimmy Buffett) allowed boys to be boys as celebrations would no longer be penalized. I now expect to see ‘team choreographer’ become a thing in the NFL.
Finally in 2018 we got a Catch Rule that appears to make sense, meaning that it most likely won’t last. Of course with every clarification of a rule in the NFL must come a rule to confuse the hell out of us all. Defensive players would be charged with unnecessary roughness for landing with full body weight on a QB after a sack. Leave it to the NFL to challenge gravity. Oh, and if you’re a fan of the onside kick, consider 2018 its death because new kickoff rules make recovery a near impossibility (down from 21% to 8%).
Expansion of league revenue from $6.5 Billion to roughly $14 Billion.
So there you go. Some of the things that have happened in the NFL under each of its commissioners. To be honest, the only commissioner worth talking about for me is Commissioner Gordon. Can you imagine the Bat Phone today? It could never work. The cell signal in the Bat Cave would probably suck, big time.
Until next time, true believers, don’t drink bad beer, keep your personal catch rules simple, and remember that Tom Brady probably can’t play forever.
Yours in football,
Mike Zimmers Ears is a Minnesota Vikings fan and regular contributor on Blitzed. He also hosts his own Vikings podcast Sound the Gjallahorn.