It hardly seems fair that Carroll Rosenbloom should hold an NFL monopoly.
Among pro football owners, the Los Angeles Rams' boss has the market cornered on panache.
Perhaps the least stylish, most boring group of millionaires on earth are the owners of pro sports teams. In this Fuddy-duddy fraternity Rosenbloom is a maverick, sometines an outcast.
No one ever will deny the 71-years-old Ram mogul the distinction of a marvelously eccentric and flamboyant touch that is fierecely his own.
What other owner would sign Georgen Allen to a three-year contract, then fire him after just two exhibition gaems, says, " Boy, did I make a big mistake!"?
Other owners have traded players and even coaches. But Rosenbloom traded himself. For another owner. Even up. And finessed the IRS out of $4 million in the bargain.
On the subject of "class," the jury is still out on Rosenbloom.That appellation -- one that he would love t have -- may escape him.
He holds a grudge with the best, nurses them for years. In moments of fury, he has called Commissioner Pete Rozelle "insensitive, arrogant and stupid." Coach Don Shula is, for Rosenbloom, "a man without honor." Of a fellow NFL owner, he says, "I always call him before 10:30 a.m. By 11 a.m. he's drunk and useless for the rest of the day."
Rosenbloom's business morals are, well, business morals. Nothing pleases his gamblerhs heart more than a loophole or a fast shuffle.
And a little jet-setting ostentation in the interests of having a good time always has appealed to him. A $2 million "summer cottage" in the same Trancas Beach ghetto as Jack Lemmon, Dinah Shore nd Steve McQueen is right in his line.
Amusingly, Rosenbloom often has been slurred in the sporting press as a social climber who wants Bel Air for his oyster.
If Rosenbloom isn't one of the beautiful people, then there's nobody but us uglies left. He always has wanted to live, achieve, spend, love and loathe on the grand Gatsbyesque level.
Now white-haired, the former Ivy league halfback from Penn is still at his old playing weight of 179. Fashionable in the Johny Carson sense, Rosenbloom has oil wells and a glamorous second wifr; he has the largest shareholding interest in Warner Communcations and a mean backhand, too.
Yes, Rosenbllom has a coliseum full of style.
However, he also has an edearing, down-to-earth charm that those who oppose him never see.
When Rosenbloom shows up at the Rams' pratice every Thursday, he leaves a wake of smiles behind him. "He's just an old dear," said a young team secretary. "Everybody loves C.R."
C.R., the old dear, stands by the Ram practice field in Long Beach with his lunch of sandwiches in a bag in his hand. A white bag. That is the Rosenbloom style -- he'll brown-bag it, like everybody else, except his bag must be white.
Of all the NFL bosses, Rosenbloom, who owned his hometown Baltimre Colts from 1953 to 1972 when he pulled his famous "owners's swap" with the Rams, is one of the most personally involved.
"I'm just as excited, tense, full of butterflies as when I played," said Rosenbloom, sitting in his Ram Office. "Around about Thursday my food stops tasting so good. When the game doesn't excite you, when you don't get that young man's feeling from it anymore, then iths time to get out." All Rosenbloom's othr business responsibilities are now basically in oter hands on a day-to-day basis. He had heart surgery four years ago.
Football, however, remains his passion, just as it has been for 26 years.
"It remains my great pleasure o be here in the middle of this," he said. "If you don't get involved in the details, then you can't appreciate and enjoy the big things.
"My other businesses are a bore compared to this... It's a hard truth that in almost any business you can cure any ill with money. In football, you can't buy the championship. You can't buy this ring," he said tapping his 1970 Colt Super Bowl ring.
"Anything in life that you can buy limits its value. The things you end up wanting most are always the things without a price.
"We can't go out and buy Earl Campbell. You have to build a championship within a leagure structure that is reasonably equal for everyone. That's where baseball is in danger of ruining itself with the Yankees outspending everyone.
"That takes the heart out of the game. The players, everyone involved, has to be doing all this for somthing in addition to the money, or else the game is hardly worth watching."
Obviously, an owner who sees profits as the smaller half of his concerns is going to get into hot water. It is the mark of Rosenbloom that he ruffles more feathers as he gets older.
This year's firing of Allen was Rosenbloom's coup de grace, surpassing all his other grandstand plays, strokes of brilliance and personal feuds.
Signing the washed-up Joe Namath as a longshot in '77? No, that was small potatores by comparison. Paying John Hadl $400,000 under the table to agree to a trade. Being investigated by the NFL for charges of betting against his own Colts? Calling Otto Graham an "unmitigated preveraicator?" Or carrying on a five-year name-calling assault on Don Shula after the coach defected from Baltimore?
All that, even his 1972 swap of the Colts for the Rams, was mere preliminary to firing on of the game's most successful coaches, and best backroom strategist, after two exhibition games.
Actually, Rosenbloom laid his cards on the table from the start. Even if Allen may not have. "George was the last man I ever thought about for coaching this team," said the owner, soon after hiring Allen. "I didn't think he'd ever work, the way I run franchises. But he told us all he wanted to do was coach and teach. Nothing else."
Rosenbloom greeted Allen not with open arms but with open jaws.
"I'm not winning any popularity contests by picking George,' said rosenbloom. "All he has to do to make me happy is take us to the Super Bowel. All the material is here, he just has to direct it.
No grandiose rebuilding, no trading of draft choices for Allen's againg standbys, no buying team happiness with pay raises.
"Geogre Allen has been signed to a multiryear contract with hourly options," wrote one L.A. newspaper. And Rosenbloom never denied kit. Allen accustomed to bing brought in as a savior for a sick franchise, was welcomed with a gun to his head.
"The Rams are not here for one game or one season," explained Rosenbloom. "I have sons (oldest 33, youngest 13) and I want this organization put in their hands intact. An owner is the caretaker of a franchise -- a caretaker can't mortgage the future."
Allen always the head honcho, found himself No. 4 man, at best, in the Rams' hierarchy -- far behind Rosenbloom, his son, Steven (Ram assistant president) and General Manager Don Klosterman.
"I can't blame George. I have to blame myself," said Rosenbloom. "There is no way George could fourish under our system. And Our system wasn't going to change for him. I believed George when he told me that he could do it our way -- just coach and leave personnel decisions alone. I believe that he actually believed it himself."
But that bubble burst immediately. "I was hearing that he was involved in correcting things that were none of his business," said Rosenbloom. "He wanted every guy who was cut in Washington. We made one trade for him. We had to keep him quiet. We got Eddie Brown and we gave too much for him.
"Firing George was not a good decision. It was an absolutely necessary decision. I kndow that I hurt him and I regret it."
Allen mainmtains that he was fired primarily because of complaints by "spoiled" players that his practices were too long and hard.
"George Allen," said Rosenbloom, when he heard that explanation, "can be a rather devious man."
That was Rosenbloom's sharpest comment about Allen.
Shula's case was different. Rosenbloom has never stopped feeling that Shula wronged him girevously by not fulfilling his contract obligations.
"A coach is of no value when he wants to be someplace else. You have no choice but to let him go," said Rosenbloom. We're seeing that illustrated all over again now with Chuck Fairbanks.
"But it's an entirely one-sided street. Coaches don't have to honor (our) owners' contracts, bu we have to honor theirs. I'm still paying Allen."
Although Rosenbloom feels he subtly aggrieved Allen by not giving him a longer trial priod, he clams he had no sensible alternative.
"Someone else might have lived with the situation for yars and years. It happens all the time," he said. "But I decided it was unfair to everybody involved, even Allen, I said we gotta do this' and I did it."
Rosenbloom needed no further reasons, but he had them.
"The atmosphere around here was changing, getting tense and uptight," said one Ram front office worker.
"Bad chemistry and instant tension." was the way Ram quarterback Pat Haden phrased it.
Allen's bomb-sheltre ementality -- blocking out that annoying distraction called life in he name of a game -- was antithetical to the Rosenbloom tradition of airy, friendly work atmosphere.
The Ram's practice field is smack in the middle of a flat, humble municipal golf course that is a ringer for Washington' East Potomac Plark. The Rams' offices are in the renovated second floor of that coursehs less-than-Gothic clubhouse.
That setting suits Rosenbloom's style. He is a born kidder, a fast man with quip who remembers everyone's first name. A salesman all his life since the time in the '30s when he thought of attaching rabbit's feet to blue jeans to sell them to girls, Rosenbloom prides himself, with justification, on having the common touch.
If the lowest member of the Rams' suicide squad walks past the owner without saying hello, Rosenbloom gives a mock growl and says, "Oh, so you're not speaking to the old man anymore, eh, Jack?" Then he offers the kid one of his sandwiches.
Rosenbloom is one of those men forged on the anvil of the Depression, who would be insulted to be called complex. He likes clean and simple goals; he looks for direct, comprehensible motives.
"I believe you should come out and say what the hell's on your mind. When you disagree with a man, don't just sit there and eat those differences. The kids today have a much better life just because they don't have so many restraints. I feel comfortable with young people because I can deal with anyone who will talk straight."
Rosenbloom's friends and enemies -- two groups that often have inter-changeable memberships -- are largely the same type of people.
No man his lambasted Rozelle more harshly than Rosenbloom when he charged that the Rams had been scheduled to play to Yom Kippur in Miami as a direct insult to Rosenbloom, who is Jewish.
Yet Rosenbloom says, "Rozelle and I are friends who often disagree. We are friends because he is a big man and an honest man."
Rosenbloom is that reassuring sight -- a man who knws exactely what his values are and live by them. A big man, an honset man -- he will settle for that as a standard, both in himself and in his friends. And even in his enemies, It is only the small and the devious who do not merit his notice.
So, as usual, Rosenbloom is stating hismotives and making his hsare of new enemies these day. He is, and has been giving Los Angeles fiar warning that he will move the Rams to Anaheim if they don't clear up a lot of problems with theold Coliseum.
He sees the O'Malley family of baseball making great mounds of money at their privately owned Dodger Stadium and he says, "Thats exactly the sort of setup I want. And they'll give it to me in Anaheim."
When Rosenbloom left Baltimore amid similar stadium complaints, it was said that Rosenbloom's tactical retreat from the Chesapeake "made Napoleon look like a bum." Before Rosenbloom moves down the freeway to the land of Disney and dollar bills, he has one other ovrriding wish.
"Since I've been ehre, we've won five straight divisional titles," he said, "and that makes me sick. Thaths not enough. I'm not in this to make a few more bucks or win a few more games.
"We're going to the Super Bowl this year, dammit."