BERT BELL AND THE NFL
The body of Sir Christopher Wren, the Architect of St. Paul's in London, is buried on the grounds. Near that famous edifice, inscribed on his tombstone, is this simple but powerful statement, "If you would see his monument, look around."
To millions of Americans who will witness professional football in years to come, the same epitaph could be applied to the late Bert Bell, for each and every phase of the pro game has felt the guiding influence of the man who made football his life.
The most important ingredient of any sport is the proficiency of the players. Realising this, Bell laboured to make football a honourable, high-paying profession that would appeal to the finest young athletes. As Commissioner, he constantly fought for improvements for the players. During his thirteen-year tenure, the average salary in the League almost doubled.
In addition, experience in the pro league became an important stepping stone into the business world. One of Bell's last official League moves was the approval of a Player Pension Plan that will provide additional security for the athlete when his playing days are over.
As a representative to the Press, the Commissioner had no equal. A man of one syllable words, where possible, he was appreciated for straightforward replies and honest information. Anyone wanting to get in touch with Bell had only to call the League office or his home. No special contacts were needed to acquire information.
When the pro game floundered, as a result of the imbalance of power in the League, it was Bell, who, as an owner, made the drastic proposal for a player selection system.
Before this present season, the Commissioner recommended no changes be made in the League rules. This was obviously a man who would consider any legislation for the betterment of the game and yet one who knew when to maintain the status quo.
It could well be that Bell's greatest accomplishment as Commissioner was to unite the owners. When he took the job, the League was split into cliques and factions. As a former owner, Bell knew the problems of club management. His decisions in disputes were equitable and completely binding. Owners came to the realisation that the welfare of the League was of primary importance and individual success a natural outgrowth of that welfare.
In recent years, the Commissioner had a full-proof solution for any stalemates that arose among the owners. Bell made his decision and then simply threatened retirement if his recommendation was not accepted. The results of his efforts for League strength and unity was gratifying.
In the last 10 years, attendance has more than doubled. In Detroit, season ticket sales have risen from 8,685 in 1950 to 42,154 in 1958. In Baltimore this year, 53,460 season tickets were sold against 16,000 in 1950. Last year, only two clubs failed to make money.
It is true, that ethnic and social factors have contributed to make professional football the most popular game in America today. But the game will always remain a monument to Bell for without him, pro ball might never have survived its own growing pains.
Article and photo taken from December 13th programme 1959.
Editor's note: The Steelers won both the 1959 encounters with the Browns.
First, 17-7 at home and then 21-20 in Cleveland. The Steelers finished with a 6-5-1 record.
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