The National Football League's chief executives tore up commissioner Pete Rozelle's contract with three years remaining and gave him a new 10-year pact with a raise today.
Gene Klein, owner of the San Diego Chargers and members of a three-man committee that unanimously recommended that the contract be offered, called it "an overwhelming vote of confidence in the commissioner and his staff."
The contract offer came out of a recent challenge to Rozelle's leadership by Carroll Rosenbloom, owner of the Los Angeles Rams, and Al Davis, general managing partner of the Oakland Raiders. They had been unhappy about the league's lack of a labor contract, and the involvement in several court cases, and the authority granted Rozelle in his old contract.
Rosenbloom made peace recently with Rozelle.
Today's meeting lasted a couple hours longer than scheduled and reportedly there was shouting while the commissioner was out of the meeting room and the owners were debating a new contract.
Under questioning, Klein said the vote for the new contract was 27 to 1.
The Washington Post learned that the Raiders voted against the contract.
Klein also said of the commissioner, "We feel strongly that he is the most important and powerful commissioner in sports. He has brought pro football to its present peak and popularity."
It also was learned that Rozelle soon will begin negotiating a new television contract with the three networks for the period beginning with the 1978 season.
He already has proposed a new playoff device that would add a game for television. It would match two wild-card teams in each conference. The wild-card teams would play each other and the winners would-join the division champions in the old playoff format.
Also to be considered for the 1978 season is a more attractive scheduling for nondivision games, to produce more competitive opportunity.
The owners already knew that the Pro Bowl was going to have its first sellout tonight because the Seattle Seahawks tied in the sale of tickets for the game with their regular season tickets.
It already has been arranged for Tampa Bay to do the same for next year's games.
Rozelle reportedly was paid between $200,000 and $250,000 annually under his old contract. Asked if his new one would match quarterback Joe Namath's ($450,000) Klein declined comment.
Klein did concede as a gag that "it is a no-cut, no-trade, contract" and added he hoped that Rozelle would be getting another after 10 years.
Other members of the contract committee were Herman Sarkowsky, managing general partner of the Seahawks, and owner Leonard Tose of the Philadelphia Eagles, who was unable to attend the meetings.