Describing the 1982 season as a "distasteful year for . . . everyone associated with the NFL," Commissioner Pete Rozelle said today he believes the league has recovered from its 57-day midseason strike and "should be able to start the '83 season on an up note and come back the way we were."
Rozelle spoke to a gathering of 300 reporters at his annual state of the NFL press conference. He spent a good portion of the 70-minute session criticizing a recent Public Broadcasting System program that dealt with allegations of game-fixing by gamblers and business dealings between some club owners and underworld figures.
He described the show as "lacking in journalistic credibility" and also indicated the league was weighing the possibility of taking legal action. At the same time, he also admitted that it was getting increasingly more difficult to enforce the league's longstanding rules concerning associations with people who "could bring discredit to themselves, the clubs or the league.
"But frankly, in today's climate, you damned well better have evidence. If you're going to court and you say, 'You were seen with this individual so we're suspending you,' whether it's an owner or a player, that would be a pretty shallow piece of evidence that you people (the media) would contest on the basis of due process.
"We have a policy in the league that we handle it most of the time informally and confidentially. We'll talk to the player or the owner and in many cases they don't know the true name of the individual that they've been seen with. He operated under an alias. In many cases they'll say, 'I didn't know this guy did that,' and they'll say, 'I'll just stop seeing him.'"
Rozelle did say that he will speak with Philadelphia owner Leonard Tose about reports that Tose lost substantial sums of money gambling in Atlantic City. "I intend to talk to him just because people will make something of it," Rozelle said. "Although he has the money and this is legalized gambling, the money he acknowledged gambling was heavy.
"On the other hand . . . I'd be a hell of a lot more concerned if I learned that (Eagle quarterback Ron) Jaworski had bet legally and lost $200,000. He could control the outcome of a game. One owner doesn't affect the outcome of a game."
Rozelle also indicated that the league's security arm had uncovered no evidence that former Redskin safety Jake Scott had purposely missed tackles, as the PBS show alleged, because of his associations with known gamblers. "The underlying implication of that was very unfair," Rozelle said. "One player said the other day that that wasn't anything new, Jake missed a lot of tackles in his career."
On other NFL-related subjects, Rozelle said:
* He had warned league owners at a meeting in Dallas after the strike about being careful with Super Bowl tickets to avoid a repeat of past allegations of scalping by several owners that have never been proved.
* He is concerned about the new United States Football League that begins its season in March and he is certain the league will sign other potentially high NFL draft choices and, "We're not going to like it."
* The drug problem in the NFL is a major concern, but, "I don't think football players are any different than a number of professions where you have people of roughly the same age, roughly the same income, a hundred thousand or more."
That the climate for expansion of the 28-team league "is not very good at this time" and that the league will continue to lobby Congress for an exemption to the antitrust laws.
* That the Miami Dolphins will be required to have a tarpaulin installed at the Orange Bowl to avoid a repeat of Sunday's Mud Bowl in the AFC championship game. He also indicated the league probably will return to an extra week off betweeen the conference championships and the Super Bowl next year.
Rozelle was also asked about the effect of what he described as a roller-coaster season on his own future as commissioner.
"I've been in this job 23 years this week," he said. "When I participate in the TV negotiations, I walk on water. When something goes wrong, I will be criticized. That's the nature of the job . . . There is no burnout. I feel great. I intend from my standpoint to finish my working carreer with the NFL."