He is in a deep blue suit, and his skin tone, which has always been Pete Rozelle's finest feature, is copper. Against it, his teeth are pearls. p
She is in a gold-sequined blouse above a long, black skirt, on the replays, from all the different angles, from the front, the back, the sides, Carrie Rozelle sparkles.
They just don't walk; they glide.
They don't just smile; they beam.
They don't just greet people; They embrace them.
It goes on for hours here in New Orleans at the National Football League party that provides 4,000 pounds of food for 3,000 invited guests at a cost said to be $400,000. "Super Bowl XV . . . And All That Jazz." Oysters, crab fingers, creole-stuffed peppers and strawberries served XV, count 'em, XV different ways, jazz bands, Dixieland bands, dancing waterfalls and two young, beautiful women swinging gently in perches made to look like musical notes, tossing miniature football helmets to the crowd.
His league. Her theme. Their night.
The people never stop coming at them and for each there is a special clasp, a personal question, a warmth in the Rozelle manner that suggests cashmere. It is one thing to know your role; It is quite another to be perfectly natural at it, to never be gratuitous, to be sincere. To believe in it.
It may well be that it is hollow at the core of Super Bowl Week, that when you get there, there is no there there. But first, last, and always Pete and Carrie Rozelle thank you for coming.
The Job This Week:
"The first thing Pete does when he gets to the Super Bowl city is he makes sure the league people have done what they're suppose to," says Jim Kensil, who was executive director of the NFL before becoming president of the New York Jets. "Then, he shakes hands with everybody who wants to shake his hand."
Be visible. Be available. Be accessible.
Pass among the people. Thank then for coming.
From the Governor's Suite on the 27th floor of the New Orleans Hilton there is a view of the Mississippi River that belongs on a travel brochure. This is where Pete and Carrie live this week, and Pete has just come from his annual Super Bowl tour-deforce press conference where once again ("That's XV in a row") he struck just the right tone and said just the right things to leave 1,300 accredited journalists marveling at his skill. Having taken off his tie and put on slippers, he is sitting with his feet up on an oak table, and in his left hand is his ever-present Carlton cigarette. As always, he seems perfectly calm. Nothing to hide. Nothing to get hung about. He wouldn't spill his drink in an earthquake.
"To a great extent I accept what Jim says as valid," he says. "It's probably the most superficial week of the year because of the ceremonial responsibilities."
Parties. All over, parties. Musts.
Three on Thursday, including black-tie dinner given by Mayor Ernest "Dutch" Morial, two more on Friday including the big one; no less than six on Saturday including a reception hosted by the Rozelles' close friends the Kemps, as in Joanne and Jack, the former quarterback turned All-Pro Republican in Congress; three more on Sunday. Public relations. Classic case.
They're tiring, but Pete and Carrie have made a separate peace with that; in fact, Carrie says, they rather like them now that they've learned how to do them well.
"Look," she says. "I like people. I love to talk to people. "I'm lucky to have been that way all my life. Cocktail parties can be dreadful; I'd much prefer having dinner with six or eight people. But if I couldn't make small talk at these things I'd be a total loss to Pete. I'd stand there looking like a jerk. I know I'm on stage this week, and I see myself as a hostess. For this week especially I'm the commissioner's wife, and I want to look good. It's kind of frivolous, and at times, it's excessive, like the Mad Hatter's Ball. And it's a good time. It's like having a magic wand. I can help make a lot of people feel really good for a few days, and Pete, well, this week it's as if Pete were an orchestra leader."
"Carrie's better at it than I am," he says.
The game was sold out; the hotels were filled; the joint was jumping.
All week long the French Quarter swelled to become the French Half. In a city built on food and music, restaurants on Bourbon Street routinely told eager gourmets that the wait was no less than 90 minutes and jazz joints were so jammed that people had to do their toe tapping on the streets. Must-go bars like The Old Absinthe House were so crowded that reaching for your wallet was a delicate surgical procedure. If you drank enough -- and a lot of people made that their mission -- it could take all night to realize that the topless dancer with the large, bare breasts in the honky-tonk weren't women at all. Mondo Bizarro . . . And All That Jazz.
New Orleans officials estimated thatThe Swarm deposited $40 million on the city last week in anticipation and celebration of America's Game, and that doesn't count the profit made by ticket scalpers who got as much as $500 a pop for one of the 75,500 tickets clearly marked with a face value of $40.
After XV years surely mere "hype" can be discarded as an explanation for all this. The Super Bowl has gone far beyond the hype stage, far beyond the "ultimate game" stage. For most of the people who went riding on the city of New Orleans, the game was just the last event in a seige party. Last call, if you will. Super Bowl is now a holiday week, an American celebration. It moves of its own pace.
"I had no idea it would get like this," Rozelle says. "That it would become such a total package. People are coming for a full week and the game is played on only one day."
It may be that the "how" and the "why" are beyond us, that the snowball has become a glacier, frozen and fixed in the mid-winter conscious.
Still, you can try.
Why are we here?
"Hmmm, that's so strange," Carrie says. "I've never been asked that beore. . . You don't think, in part, that it's a media event? . . . It's funny, but I hear so many people say the game is meaningless compared to the parites. I know a lot of people say the game is a letdown when it finally comes. People seem to talk about where they went and who they saw. You know, celebrities, athletes, movie stars. Isn't that very American, though?"
She pauses to consider all of it.
"Maybe it's no longer a sports event," the wife of the commissioner says. "Maybe it's part of the American scene."
The NFL executives started talking about the hostages two weeks ago, when it appeared they might be released before the inauguration. Rozelle knew from last year that the hostages were particularly interested in the Super Bowl and he made available 100 copies of the Super Bowl program for Air Force One to carry to West Germany, enclosing a personal note he'd written to all 52.
Had they been released earlier, the NFL might well have invited them to the game (NBC actually did), but coming when it did -- just five days before the game -- Rozelle chose not to push it.
"To me," he says, "it just didn't make sense for them. We'd never bring them here just for a showcase for the NFL -- only if they wanted it."
Still, there was concern as to "how do we commemorate the release without being corny? How do we do it tastefully so it isn't viewed as taking advantage of the media and the hostages and deifying the Super Bowl? You try to strike a fine line in what's tasteful or appropriate as opposed to overkill."
The solution was to make a brief, commemorative announcement of the release before the singing of the national anthem. And to give each ticket holder a yellow bow as they entered the Superdome.
And to fasten a massive yellow bow -- 80 feet by 30 feet with 180-foot streamers -- to the face of the Superdome.
So you could see it from Mars.
Pete and Carrie:
He is 54. She is 43. They have been married almost eight years, the second marriage for both. He had one child. She had four. She was married to Ralph Cooke, son of Jack Kent Cooke, the owner of the Washington Redskins. The commissioner of the NFL is hired by the owners.
"So Pete was an employe of my father-in-law, if you will," Carrie says. "The circle is very curious."
Carrie says she was in the process of divorcing when she and Pete, both avid tennis players, were paired as doubles partners after Super Bowl VII in Los Angeles.
"I thought Pete was terrific," Carrie says. "It was instant on my part. I ran right after him."
She was born in Canada to a banking family. (She is still a Canadian citizen, though she promised Jack Kemp that if Ronald Reagan became president she would file for American citizenship.) The family had money and her father opted for becoming a college professor and told Carrie -- the oldest of his three daughters -- that it was important she have a profession. She spent a year in medical school, but dropped out and became a nurse instead. "I was never going to hack it," she says. "It wasn't the time to pioneer." She modeled off and on -- she has the classic up-turned nose and slight overbite and produces a clean, wholesome look in magazines like Seventeen -- then married.
He was born in California to the working class. He went to high school with Duke Snider, and they became close friends. What he really wanted to be was a sportswriter. But when he was a student at junior college he began hanging around the L.A. Rams' training camp as a gofer for the team's publicity man and discovered he was a natural at PR.
He did sports PR for the University of San Francisco while an undergraaduate there, then PR for a brewery, then PR for the Rams and later became general manager of the Rams. In 1960, when he was just 33, the NFL, apparently in desperation on its 23rd ballot, named Rozelle as its commissioner. He was in the men's room washing his hands when Carroll Rosenbloom, who then owned the Baltimore Colts, came in to give him the news.
To say the league has prospered under his leadership is to say you can get wet under Niagara Falls. The league has grown from 12 to 28 teams, each of which makes $5.8 million a year from a television package worth $650 million over four years. In 1961, the Cleveland Browns were sold for $3.8 billion. Today a franchise in the NFL -- any franchise -- is worth $35 million.
The league pays Rozelle $430,000 a year. There are some who say it's crumbs given his record.
They seem very much in love. They often hold hands when they walk, and one never leaves or enters their home in Harrison, N.Y., without a kiss from the other.
The day they married they vowed never to spend a night apart, and they never have. In fact, it is written into Pete's contract that Carrie goes wherever he goes. She drives him whenever he needs a car, and she does all his secretarial work on the road.
"My payoff," she says, "is that I'm married to him."
The Food Tasting:
Because she knows that people are looking at her and because she wants different outfits for each of her public appearances. Today, for the ceremonial food-tasting of what will be served at the big NFL party, she is in a deep purple dress with thin gold earrings, a gold necklace, and gold bracelet. Gold becomes her; she wears it well. Some women don't. Some women wear so much of it they look like a branch office of an import-export firm.
"Carrie has great style, grace and personality," says Don Hewitt, producer of "60 Minutes." "If you went to central casting for a commissioner's wife you'd come up with Carrie."
Accompanying her to the food-tasting -- thinking all the while it would be an informal lunch -- are some of her best friends: Joanne Kemp, Edie Wasserman and her husband, Lew, head of Universal and MCA, and Joan Tisch and her husband, Bob, head of the Loews Corporation. Notables.
As it turns out, more than 30 people including camera crews and reporters are waiting for them. Now this qualifies as hype, especially when the NFL man takes five full minutes to introduce the chef and all but invokes the memories of Washington and Lincoln in the singing the praises of American cuisine.
Through it all, Carrie is cool.
She doesn't miss a name.
"Total recall," Joan Tisch says. "She's good at it, and she likes it."
As the chef leads her from course to course to course to course, explaining each one, she asks questions.
"How many avocados will you use?
"Is this a traditional New Orleans dish?
"Are the recipes available?"
"What happens to the leftovers?"
It is a small touch, but a nice touch. Rather than make the chef act like a trained seal, she has involved him in conversation and eliminated whatever tension he might have felt. It does not go unnoticed by Joanne Kemp, a politician's wife.
"She's a pro," Joanne Kemp says.
When it is all over, Carrie has taken just one bite of a main dish and one spoonful of a strawberry and whipped cream dessert, yet she has paid such attention to the contents in each of the 11 chafing dishes that it seems she surely tasted enough food the feed Bulgaria.
"I've known her for almost eight years now," says a friend of Rozelle, "and I've never seen her make a wrong move."
On her way out, Carrie Rozelle thanks everyone for coming.
"He has no conscience, no point of view, no philosophy," says Ed Garvey, head of the NFL Players' Association. "His whole effort is public relations.If you ask about contractual negotiations with the players, he tells you to take it up with the management council, a body he created so he could stay above the real issues. If you ask him why there aren't more blacks in coaching or management, he says, 'Well, gee, golly, gosh, it's not because of anything I've done.' He's a disaster on the social issues, but when it comes to asking the press, 'How's the lobster Newburg?,' he's terrific."
"He's a great salesman," says a writer and social friend of Rozelle. "You can't lay a glove on him. Each time you think you've got him, he comes up with another film, another angle you haven't seen."
"The world's greatest PR man," Al Davis has called him. Al Davis owns the Oakland Raiders and is, by the way, suing the NFL and Rozelle to move his team to Los Angeles.
They're even his initials, thanks to an uncle who called him Pete rather than his given name, Alvin.
Good old Pete, slicker than Teflon.
"He's slick," Carrie says. "Of course, he's slick. He does his homework. He knows what he's talking about. That's slick. He is a PR man. that's how he started. And he's very good at it. And that's why, in part, the league has been so successful."
And courting the press? Providing millions of releases, mountains of worthless information, arranging tennis and golf tournaments, a 24-hour free bar, enough free food to fill the Taj Majal during Super Bowl week?
"he doesn't try to buy the press," Carrie says. "He respects the press. He likes the press. Remember, he wanted to be a sportswriter."
"i imagine it's my long suit," Rozelle says. Nothing to hide, nothing to get hung about. "life, to a great extent, is public relations . . . my reaction to being classified as a PR man depends on how it's written. In defense of the inference, in 21 years on the job I've learned more than just public relations . . . I come to the floor on controversial issues, and I'm constantly in the role of authority. The general public could have no awareness that I'm really a sensitive person."
What it comes down to is the tone.
Do we mean "slick" as in "calculating and conniving?" Or "slick" as in "smooth, confident and without deceit?"
Given the choice, Rozelle chooses "smooth."
After you shake his hand, you don't have to count your fingers.
The Press Conference:
The Rozelles normally find Super Bowl Week tiring, but exhilaration and satisfying; this year Carrie was apprehensive.
The Davis Business.
Al Davis had not only become partner to a lawsuit threatening the NFL constitution and socialistic revenue-sharing that is the legacy of the Rozelle Era, but Davis has gone so far as to accuse Rozelle of personally scalping tickets, a low, common crime.
"It's been a long, tough year," Carrie was saying. "The business with Pete and the Raiders has been hanging over our heads and making us uncomfortable. Neither one of us has been sleeping well; Pete's getting up in the middle of the night, chain-smoking, pacing. I worry about his health. He's tired. You can see it in his face. He has deep circles under his eyes."
People who hadn't seen him in a year were saying the boyish commissioner was finally looking his age. The press conference, they said, would be a real test. Surely Rozelle would look out at so many Indians that if he wasn't 100 percent he might pull a Custer. The press conference is legendary among those who cover Super Bowls. It is conceded to be Rozelle's finest hour. "He's absolutely in command," said a writer who'd seen VIII of them.
"He manages to be witty, charming and substantive. Watch him with the cigarettes, watch how he'll light one whenever he wants to buy time."
For almost two hours before, Rozelle huddles with his aides and attorneys, preparing for what will surely come. They fire questions, suggest responses.
When he takes the podium, he has his game face on.
He is in a light blue suit, and his eyes are crystal.
"Visine," Carrie says.
He lights a cigarette, puts it in an ashtray and looks out at more than 1,500 people.
O.K., shoot, he says.
As reporters raise their hands with questions, Rozelle oftens calls on them by name, as in, "O.K., Brent?" For years it has been part of his game plan to cultivate familiarity, and the first-name identification is a metaphoric arm around the shoulder of an old friend. It always scores points. m
The first eight questions and 16 of the first 20 questions are about Davis, and Rozelle's answers are in effect a public deposition. His voice is strong, his manner authoritative, but his tone is nonthreatening. He looks each questioner in the eye for the whole of the answer.
Somehow he manages to call the proposed move of the Raiders from Oakland "unconscionable" and Davis "an outlaw" without making a personal attack. And Rozelle's famed with shows through when he is asked, "Where will Oakland be in eight months?," and he answers, "Across the bay from San Francisco unless the San Andreas fault interferes."
It goes on for 80 minutes.
He's breezing. Never lights a cigarette.
Then, probably from habit, he lights one before taking a question, and that question -- not about Davis -- is the last one.
"Anybody else?" Rozelle says. No one.
"Thanks very much. I hope you had a good time."
Carrie has watched and listened attentively to all of it, and now she is smiling as her friends come up with their reviews.
"Marvelous," Lew Wasserman says.
"Super job," Joanne Kemp says.
"Politicians should be so candid," Jack Kemp says.
Then, noticing a reporter scribbling, Kemp adds, "Well, some of us are."
Later, Rozelle will review his performance with the attorneys, but for now, he is pleased. "I think I hit the tone I wanted to project," he says, "one of candor and honesty. It's not just a slick hype. I knew I'd have to spend most of the time on the Raiders' situation, but I didn't want to take on Al. It's not between Al and me; it's between 27 owners, and 1 owner."
It is pointed out that he lit only two cigarettes, took a total of three puffs.
"Don't tell Carrie," he says. "My God, she'll be all over me, insisting I can quit."
Laughing, he lights another.
The commissiondr's box is stocked with food and drink and food friends -- the Kemps, the Tischs, the Wassermans, among others. There is a TV set inside and another outside, so you can see replays while facing the field. There are headsets wilth TV or radio feeds, and two telephones, one for the commissioner to call NFL control, the other for him to call NBC control. As command posts go, it is a little bit of Park Avenue.
Pete and Carrie arrive early, some two hours before game time; they take seats in the second row, immediately behind Jack and Joanne Kemp. It may be imposible for Pete Rozelle to root, but he can still talk football and who better to talk it with than Kemp?
Fifteen minutes to kickoff and Rozelle is on the phone. It's Don Weiss, the NFL executive director, calling.
Rozelle is beaming.
"The hostages are watching," he says. "We just got word."
He looks up at the monitor.
The face he sees is his own.
He had taped an interview with NBC two days before, and he listens to the audio feed through the headset. "I'm mainly interested in how it appears I'm answering," he says. "I want to come across as candid and honest."
What surprises him is that his appearance is not followed by Davis. Instead, there is only a commentary piece on Davis by NBC's Pete Axthelm.
Though he shows no emotion while listening to the commentary -- not even when it is reported that Davis had called him "corrupt" -- he places a call to Weiss as soon as the segment ends.
"The only reason I agreed to the interview is because thery said Davis was going on, too," Rozell says. "I'd have preferred not to go on, but I'd have looked bad if I didn't."
Rozelle feels used.
"That burns me," he says.
As the game goes on, Rozelle continues to watch the field and listen to the feed. Carrie just watches. "I prefer the visuals," she says. It is especially hard on her not being able to root. "Awful, just awful," she says. e"I like to yell and scream." She opens her hands to reveal two gold earrings. "I sit there holding these like Capt. Queeg." she says. "Sometimes I actually even sit on my hands."
By the middle of the third quarter it becomes obvious that Oakland is by far the superior team today and that Rozelle will have to present the Super Bowl trophy personally to Davis. The friends in the box -- and they are good friends -- say nothing about it, but it is clear they feel for him.
"He's prepared for it," Bob Risch says. "He's set for it. I'm sure he'll handle it well."
Pete and Carrie watch the game quietly.
Often they look at each other and smile. If they share a joke, it is a private one.
With 5:30 left in Super Bowl XV, Rozelle leaves his seat to confront the inevitable. "I'll point out that it's a tremendous organization,"he says, "They did it the hard way," coming in as a wild-card team and having to win four games. "I'll credit Al for putting it together and Tom Flores for a great coaching job."
Nothing to get hung about.
"There might be some reaction from the players," Rozelle says. "But not from Al." On his way out the door he says, "The one thing I'm sure he won't say is that he's happy to win this one for the fans."
Then, cigarette in hand, he is gone.
Carrie watches it on TV. While the others crowd around the set inside the box, she sits facing the field, watching the monitor, listening through the headset.
She sees Pete graciously give the trophy.
She sees Davis graciously accept it.
And now, her Super Bowl Week done, Carrie Rozelle is alone with her thoughts and smiling.