NORTHBROOK, Ill. — Roger Goodell, long considered the NFL's commissioner-in-waiting, got his expected promotion Tuesday.
The league's 32 team owners elected him to succeed Paul Tagliabue as commissioner, with Tagliabue retiring after a highly prosperous reign of nearly 17 years. Goodell will be the fourth commissioner since 1946.
Goodell, the NFL's 47-year-old chief operating officer who had been Tagliabue's top lieutenant, was chosen from among five finalists on the second day of what was supposed to be a three-day selection meeting of owners in this Chicago suburb.
"What carried the day was the realization that we had a guy in the league office with 20 or 25 years of a tremendous track record operating business units," said John Mara, New York Giants co-owner.
"He was known to all of us."
Several owners said they chose Goodell over attorney Gregg Levy, the league's chief outside counsel, on their fifth ballot. The vote, according to sources, was 23 to 8 (with Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis abstaining), giving Goodell one more vote than the required two-thirds majority. The owners, by acclamation, later made the vote unanimous.
"It was real close between Roger and Gregg," Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay said.
NFL commissioner-elect will succeed Paul Tagliabue.
Career: Started as an intern in the NFL office in 1982 and joined the New York Jets as a public-relations intern the next year. Was appointed NFL chief operating officer in 2001.
Most recent job: Executive vice president and chief operating officer of the NFL. Has been commissioner Tagliabue's top assistant.
The Associated Press
Goodell seemingly is the ultimate company man, having joined the NFL office 24 years ago as an intern. Now he becomes perhaps the most powerful man in sports, overseeing a popular league with long-standing labor peace and handsome television contracts. Goodell agreed to a five-year contract and likely will take over around Sept. 1, one league official said.
"I think it's a great challenge," Goodell said. "I'm very fortunate, and I know that. I've spent my life following my passion."
Goodell is the son of former U.S. Sen. Charles Goodell of New York.
The other finalists were Cleveland attorney Frederick Nance; Robert Reynolds, the vice chairman and COO of Fidelity Investments; and Mayo Shattuck III, the chairman, president and chief executive officer of Constellation Energy in Baltimore. They were eliminated after three ballots, owners said.
Goodell had been viewed as the heavy favorite to get the job from the moment Tagliabue announced in March that he planned to retire this summer.
A search firm screened 185 candidates, and an eight-owner search committee appointed by Tagliabue narrowed the field to five last week.
The owners convened here Monday vowing to elect a new commissioner by today, and Tagliabue was eager to get out of office and avoid a repeat of the seven-month stalemate that preceded his election in 1989. It took 12 ballots for Tagliabue to be elected, after 23 ballots were required for Pete Rozelle to be elected in 1960.
Bert Bell served as commissioner from 1946 until his death in 1959.
Goodell and the other finalists made presentations to the owners Monday, and participated in question-and-answer sessions with smaller groups of owners Tuesday morning. The owners began the voting process Tuesday afternoon and reached a resolution about three hours later.
"It's an endorsement of Paul and a recognition of his tenure," Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said. "Roger is very qualified. His skill set is not the same as Paul's is, but this is a recognition that we need his experience and knowledge. ... He was involved in the labor negotiation. He did much of the heavy lifting in our last TV negotiation.
"He has an appreciation of what we're doing at the club level. He understands the clubs' issues and problems. I think it's a credit to him that the high-revenue clubs were worried about him, and the low-revenue clubs were worried about him. You spend 25 years in the league and have that, and you're pretty crafty."
Houston Texans owner Robert McNair said, "We wanted some continuity."
Pittsburgh Steelers owner Dan Rooney, a co-chairman of the search committee, went upstairs and knocked on the door to Goodell's room to give him the news he had been elected.
"I was doing some work, trying to be distracted," Goodell said. "Fortunately, I'd just put my pants on."
Goodell received a standing ovation from the owners when he stood in front of them for the first time after his election.
"I was looking for the best person to be commissioner and I had no doubt in my mind that was Roger Goodell," Rooney said. "He knows labor. He knows TV. He knows the people. He knows the fans."
Of Goodell, Tagliabue said, "My advice to most people is just to be yourself and continue to be thoughtful. As he said, you need to focus on the game and focus on the players.
"He'll do fine."