The temptation is to call Carroll Rosenbloom the largest paradox who ever changed the face of sport. And he probably would not object, given his distaste for even being tied for first.
If his Baltimore Colts did not create the "family" concept now so widely misused, they were the first to make it work. Of all the "manias", every town suddenly in love with a suddenly successful team, Coltmania in the late '50s was the earliest. And yet Rosenbloom tied to strong-arm Baltimoreans into buying preseason tickets in order to renew regular season tickets.
Rosenbloom was lavish with his players, regularly assuring their orderly transition from football to business either with loans, gifts or credit. For years, his players enjoyed a unique NFL treat-a daily buffet lunch. And yet his Colts spawned the most active NFL union leaders, Ordell Braase, John Mackey and Bill Curry.
He was enormously shrewd and enormously sentimental, a man who swapped franchises, even up, his Colts for the Los Angeles Rams in 1972, but who instead of firing a non-productive but loyal aide would find him a job somewhere else, often for more money or more authority.
Ernie Accorsi, the Colt assistant general manager, recalled Rosenbloom's obsession with living, his beginning to jog in his 70s. During a recent conversation, he said to Rosenbloom's son, Steve, 34: "There's no question. You'll be leaving the Rams to Carroll."
Which made Rosenbloom's death Monday, at age 72, all the more sad.
If Rosenbloom made a fortune outside the NFL, he knew the league as well as any owner. He was a second generation owner, not present at the creation but there during the early '50s when his $13,000 investment in the Colts has as good a chance of bringing unimagined debt as unimagined wealth.
He was present in Yankee Stadium Dec. 28, 1958, the gray day his Clots beat the Giants in overtime and gave the NFL the momentum it used to overtake baseball and become the dominant American sport of the '60s.
Ironically, the game is legendary in gambling circles for John Unitas' decision to pass for the yards that set up a short touchdown run rather than kick a near-certain field goal during sudden death. A field goal would not have beaten the point spread-and whispers suggest a huge Rosenbloom bet influenced the Unitas call.
Five years later the NFL cleared Rosenbloom of charges, stemming from a non-sports lawsuit, that he participated in a $55,000 bet against his Colts in 1953.
Unlike popular wisdom at the time, Rosenbloom's hiring George Allen as the Rams' coach last year was not much of a gamble, a friend insists. At the time, he recalls thinking: "Carroll can't lose. Either he'll win the Supper Bowl with George or have the great satisfaction of firing him."
It had long been assumed those two could not coexist, Rosenbloom being a player's owner and Allen being a player's coach-and both needing to control a team to make it successful. Also, Allen's Rams of the '60s and Rosenbloom's Colts had as fierce a rivalry as any in the NFL.
And Allen was forever at odds with Rosenbloom's close friend, the Rams' former owner, Dan Reeves.
After two exhibition losses-and perhaps with a smile in his heart-Rosenbloom fired Allen, saying: "It is my feeling that I have made a serious error in judgement in believing George Allen could work within our framework."
Rosenbloom had a fan's heart, but a businessman's mind and will to overrule it when that seemed necessary. He was execptionally gifted at selecting personnel.
It is well-known that he elevated obscure assistants Don Shula, Don McCafferty and Weeb Ewbank to head coaches who won a total of four Super Bowls. It is now well-known that in 1971 his Colts had four men, Don Klosterman, Upton Bell, Dick Szymanski and George Young, who were or became NFL general managers. And a fifth in Accorsi had he not declined an offer from the 49ers.
Rosenbloom enjoyed a public fight, wheter it was against Shula for skipping to the Dolphins, moving the Rams to Anaheim or suing to use Memorial Stadium for the second Monday nigh football game in history. Part of that suit involved the contention by the Orioles that it took up to 36 hours to reconstruct a pitcher's mound.
After an exhibition game in Kansas City, Rosenbloom was walking past the Chiefs' nonpareil groundskeeper, George Toma, who was rebuilding the mound for the Royals. He asked Toma how long the project would take.
"Oh, two or three hours," Toma said.
"Get me my lawyer," Rosenbloom snapped.
The Colts won the suit.
When Rosenbloom moved west after his franchise swap, the Super Bowl trophy the Colts had won disappeared-and Accorsi raised a fuss. Both Rosenblooms denied Accrosi's charge that they had taken it to Los Angeles.
"He was a man you couldn't stay angry at long," Accrosi said. And what happened a year or so after their spat illustrates the essence of both men.
By chance, Accrosi happened by Rosenbloom's house-and during a tour noted that very Super Bowl trophy prominently displayed in the den.
"Oh, no," said Rosenbloom, anticipating capture.
"I see you made a duplicate," Accorsi quickly replied.
"Very sharp," said Rosenbloom.