Palo Alto, Calif.
Even as the National Football League was showcasing its main product during Super Bowl XIX between the Miami Dolphins and the San Francisco 49ers, it hardly seemed like the best of times for Commissioner Pete Rozelle. Noting that the NFL is still waiting for an appeals court ruling on the $49 million in damages it must pay the Los Angeles Raiders for trying to block their move from Oakland three years ago, Rozelle said:
``What we need is some understanding of where we fit in the country's anti-trust laws. We are hopeful that the courts will someday give guidelines to Congress so Congress can tell us where they apply to the NFL and where they don't.''
Meanwhile, he said, the NFL remains in ``a state of confusion'' regarding such laws -- which was why the league took no legal action when the Baltimore Colts suddenly moved to Indianapolis at the end of the 1983 season.
Rozelle, in his annual State of the NFL press conference over the weekend, also talked candidly about various other pressing problems. These included:
(1) The league's annual 20 to 30 percent escalation in player salaries, which reportedly now average $157,000. If this is allowed to continue, according to Pete, it would result in all 28 NFL teams losing money by 1986. And that's not even taking into consideration the rise in off-field costs like travel and lodging.
(2) The possibility of both the St. Louis Cardinals and the New Orleans Saints shifting their franchises to other cities. The commissioner admitted that he has letters from both teams which don't actually say they will move, but are intended to let him know that they believe they have the same rights as the Raiders, who three years ago left Oakland to set up shop in Los Angeles and its more lucrative TV market.
(3) The rival United States Football League's $1.3 billion anti-trust suit against the NFL, which Rozelle claims is baseless and which the USFL would undoubtedly drop if the two leagues were to agree on a merger. ``I think the USFL is misleading itself about a merger,'' Pete said. ``I haven't heard from one owner who thinks it makes any sense. We're a different league than in 1966, when some of the old American Football League teams were allowed to join the NFL. We already have 28 franchises, although I'm sure the NFL will eventually expand to 30. But the present clubs want to pick the new cities and also approve the new owners themselves.''
(4) The continuing drug problem. ``I think we have been lax on the after part of our drug rehabilitation program -- the outpatient part,'' Rozelle said. Just because an alcoholic has gone through 30 days of treatment at a center doesn't mean he's cured when they let him out. The need for followup work is obvious, which is why Alcoholics Anonymous is so great. Well, I think we've finally begun to realize that football players aren't cured when they leave a drug rehabilitation center either. To make the NFL drug-free, we've got to provide more after-support, more help, and more education, if the violators will accept it. If not, then the ony thing left is discipline.''
(5) Pro football's declining television ratings. ``I think it's due to a glut of football on the tube, and the USFL with its spring football is part of the problem,'' Rozelle said. ``During the fall, there are eight or nine college games on TV every Saturday. On Sunday, we take over. Then, after our season, comes the USFL. Despite their [low] ratings and their [poor] attendance, they still get attention in the media. I think people need a rest from football. That's why the USFL's move to a fall schedule in 1986 might actually help the situation.''
After 25 years on the job, during which the NFL has grown steadily and several of its owners have made millions overnight by selling their franchises, Rozelle seems more of a fixture than ever. Pete has stayed around because he has excelled as a politician and negotiator; also because in tough question-answer interviews he can be elusive and still somehow come out candid.
Not 30 seconds after saying the NFL was in a state of confusion, for example, Rozelle was telling his listeners that, ``We are still the most stable of all pro leagues in my opinion.'' The noise level in the room at the time he said this neither rose nor fell.
The typical Super Bowl fan was between the ages of 40 and 44; relatively affluent; and rented hotel space in San Francisco for at least three nights. The authority for that statement is the Bay Area's Task Force Group.
Task Force officials also said approximately 1,500 private aircraft had scheduled landings at fields within 50 miles of San Francisco, and more than 500 limousines, most of them equipped with their own TV sets, had been engaged to transport VIPS to Stanford Stadium.
San Francisco is also claiming a record for the world's largest tailgate party, which was held Saturday night at the city's Moscone Center. It featured numerous bands, more than $1 million worth of entertainment, and reportedly enough food to cover the deck of an aircraft carrier.
If you wonder how this year's Super Bowl tickets were distributed, 29.5 percent each went to the Dolphins and the 49ers, who in turn sold them to sponsors and season ticket holders. Another 25 percent was gobbled up evenly by the 26 teams that didn't make the Super Bowl.
The NFL keeps 15 percent for advertisers and sponsors. The rest are parcelled out in various ways. For example, many of this year's tickets went to to Stanford officials, corporate benefactors, and individuals who contributed to the stadium's $2.3 million in renovations.