Pete Rozelle began his 20th year as commissioner of the National Football League today by defending the bigness of the Super Bowl and a new "middle class" among the 28 clubs. But he avoided a navel engagement.
Asked his position regarding cheerleaders, he said, "Hands off! Dictated by my wife."
The resulting laughter trailed off before he was faced with a request for comment on a charge by Fran Tarkenton of the Minnesota Vikings in the magazine Sports Illustrated that "The Super Bowl is the most crass example of money ruining the purity of sport... we now have a manufactured megabucks extravaganza with lousy play.
"The quality of play is absurd; it never lives up to the play during the season."
Tarkenton was reported as saying television crews film anything that moves and even worse is the fact that the game is played at a neutral site. "The Packers and Cowboys had a great game in the snow in Green Bay because there were people in the stands who cared," he said.
Rozelle said, "That is kind of surprising coming from Francis," who reportedly earns $350,000 annually from football. He was the losing quarterback in three Super Bowls before the Vikings finished with an 8-7-1 record this season.
"Entertaining 100 million people on television can't be all bad," noted Rozelle.
The commissioner already had fielded a question about a northern city getting the Super Bowl in view of the Detroit Lions having a covered stadium and the Vikings and Chicago Bears talking about similar stadiums.
"The weather risk for the fans is obviously higher in the north," Rozelle said, noting snowstorm-paralyzed Chicago. "Some fans like to combine the trip to the Super Bowl game with a stay in a better climate." In 1967, the Packers defeated the Cowboys in an NFL championship game in Green Bay in 13-degrees-below-zero temperature and the league was widely criticized for permitting the game to be played in such conditions.
The commissioner was asked if the NFL was becoming mediocre.
"No," he replied, "I think we have created a middle class, because scouting and coaching are better. Seventeen clubs had.500 or better records. I like it. Position scheduling has been better; teams play 12 common opponents. The fourth-place teams finished better than they did last season."
Rozelle estimated that it will cost the NFL $1 million to put on this Super Bowl. He said all 28 clubs in the league "made money" this season.
Requested to confirm reports that attendance was down in 1978 as well as television ratings despite more games being telecast, the commissioner said that, taking into account that the regular season was expanded from 14 games to 16, there was a record average attendance of 57,000.
He said that taking the total package of games televised by the three networks, ratings may be down "4 or 5" percent from 1977. But, including the playoff games, the ratings may be "a little better" than in 1977.
The commissioner shot down a report that he would leave the NFL to conduct the Olympic Games in Los Angeles for 1984. Asked about another NFL team shifting to Los Angeles if and when the Rams move to Anaheim, he said, "There is still a court case (a suit filed by Los Angeles Coliseum authorities to block the move. I don't think any of the 28 teams can justify leaving their present sites. We've been proud of our stability.
Asked about the Coliseum authorities saying four NFL clubs have contacted them about shifting there, Rozelle said, "I know of no club definitely going to Los Angeles if the Rams move. It would take 21 votes." He said if the Rams do leave, Los Angeles and New York would be considered for franchises, if expansion comes, and remarked, "That is not in the foreseeable future." E7