Back in the Game at Covington & Burling

Paul Tagliabue, NFL commissioner for 17 years, is getting away from sports.
Paul Tagliabue, NFL commissioner for 17 years, is getting away from sports. (By Melina Mara -- The Washington Post)
Monday, December 3, 2007

It is tempting to look at Paul Tagliabue's new job at Covington & Burling as a homecoming. Before leaving 17 years ago to become commissioner of the National Football League, Tagliabue had worked at the District law firm for two decades, primarily as pro football's go-to counsel. He was succeeded as commissioner in September 2006 by Roger Goodell.

Tagliabue won't call it a homecoming. Sure, he is returning to his old firm -- the move will be announced today -- but he won't be talking about salary caps and free agency. He is much more interested in quoting Tom Friedman and talking about how the world is as flat as the open field in front of Clinton Portis. (The latter part of that metaphor was ours, not his.)

"I'm looking forward to getting away from sports," he said in an interview. He will instead advise clients on doing business in a globalized and digital world, dipping into several of the firm's key international practices in communications, media and technology.

Tagliabue and the firm figured he would have a lot to offer on those matters considering his tenure as commissioner coincided with a rise in prominence for the NFL, which was largely the result of numerous TV, cable, Internet and satellite deals he helped negotiate.

"Whether it's football or a number of other things, Paul has an amazing background of being a serious lawyer and having built a major brand in combination with the media," said Stuart Stock, who heads the firm's management committee. "He provides a unique package of skills for us."

Tagliabue will work for the firm part time in Washington and New York while continuing to advise the NFL. He said he is also looking at other opportunities, including consulting with large banks and private-equity firms.

He recently bought a home in Georgetown, renewing an old connection with that part of the District. He is a graduate of Georgetown University, where he was a standout basketball player -- he still ranks No. 20 in career rebounds, with 584.

Tagliabue's career move is likely to prompt some interesting questions around the office.

For instance, now that he no longer must be impartial about such matters, which NFL team does he root for? Asked that the other day, Tagliabue danced around the question like Jason Campbell avoiding a sack, saying stuff about rooting for close games and generally sounding like he hadn't lost his gift for smooth lawyering.

Also, will he be allowed to enter the office football pool? "I am not going to touch that one with a 10-foot pole," Stock said. "I'm not going to acknowledge that we even have an office football pool because that would be illegal."

-- Michael S. Rosenwald

© 2007 The Washington Post Company