Many powerful Republicans threw their support behind James Buckley, who won the Senate seat running as a member of the Conservative Party.
“He lost his political career he loved so very dearly,” Goodell recounted at a 2010 commencement address at the University of Massachusetts at Lowell. “But what did he retain? Something much bigger: his principles, his integrity, his character.”
The 1970 election proved to be devastating to Goodell’s family, which left Washington with harsh but enduring lessons.
“We never even thought about moving back to New York. We always thought of Washington as our home,” Tim Goodell said. “It was definitely hard for us and very traumatic to see him lose.”
Destined to be commissioner
Roger Goodell had hopes of playing football at Washington & Jefferson, a small liberal arts school south of Pittsburgh. But though he tore a knee ligament before his freshman year and never played the sport again, Goodell wasn’t willing to give up on football.
The high school jock began focusing more on his studies. Despite working the late shift at a town bar, Goodell was still ever-present in his 8 a.m. American government class. As graduation neared, one of Goodell’s political science professors, Joseph DiSarro, tried to convince him that law school or business school would be the most prudent step. Goodell, an economics major, said he preferred going to the NFL.
“I hope not as a player,” DiSarro told him.
Goodell wrote letters to every NFL team and the league office in New York. He landed an internship in Commissioner Pete Rozelle’s office and started a slow climb up the NFL ladder.
“I think you’d be hard-pressed to find one person who didn’t respect and like Roger and see a lot of potential in him when he was in his 20s,” said Jim Irsay, the Indianapolis Colts’ owner.
Working in the background, Goodell handled matters large and small, and it was clear he would not be following his father’s footsteps to law school any time soon. He negotiated with TV networks, Fortune 500 companies and governments at all levels.
“I knew very quickly he was going to end up in the position that he holds today,” said Joe Ellis, who worked with Goodell in the league office and is now the Denver Broncos’ team president.
When Commissioner Paul Tagliabue decided to retire in 2006, Goodell’s name was on the short list of favorites to assume the NFL’s top position, but he wasn’t everyone’s immediate preference. It took six votes before all 32 owners agreed on Goodell.
“When we chose him, I think everyone felt it was the best decision,” Kraft said. “I don’t think anyone believed that he would hold his own the way he has.”