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Tagliabue blazed new NFL trails

June 04, 2007|by BOB PARASILITI

SAINT JAMES - Legacies are like sending a finished roll of film away to be processed.

Both take time to develop before the whole picture can be seen.

Paul Tagliabue has that feeling about his recently concluded tenure as National Football League commissioner. Time will tell what his total impact was on the sport while most major indicators are all positive.

But yet, he took a stab at summing up his time as the head of the most powerful and popular sports league in 10 words or less.

"I always believed that 'If it ain't broke, fix it anyway,'" he said Sunday before giving the commencement speech to 41 graduating seniors at St. James School.

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When Tagliabue was named to the NFL's top position, the league was just getting out of the gates to becoming the giant it is today. He accepted the reins of the job in 1989 from Pete Rozelle, who put professional football on the map by brokering a landmark television deal.

Under Tagliabue's leadership, the NFL overtook baseball as the national pastime and strengthened the hold by taking risks to promote that popularity.

"You don't want to stay in the past," he said. "No matter how great something is, you can always make it better."

Tagliabue is a lawyer with a vast range of interests which came into play as he spearheaded the NFL's evolution. He was introduced to the league as an attorney who was part of the NFL's outside counsel and represented the league in the USFL antitrust case.

He follows international affairs and globalization and is an avid reader. He studies business management, sports history and current affairs, all of which came into play during his tenure as commissioner.

Tagliabue is credited with:

· NFL expanding from 28 to 32 teams, which included the Cleveland move to Baltimore and a new franchise being founded to replace the Browns.

· The construction of 20 new NFL stadiums.

· A collective bargaining agreement that prevented any player strikes.

· Revenue sharing, salary caps and free agency to help teams rebuild in other ways other than the draft.

· Retaining promotion and television rights on the league level, instead of the team level to keep finances equal for small-market teams.

· NFL involvement with youth, high school and college football programs to keep a constant stream of interest in the sport. He also worked to draw interest from women and Hispanics.

He also promoted a strict substance-abuse policy and international expansion with NFL Europa and exhibition games played in foreign countries.

"We don't want to stay in the past," Tagliabue said. "We were on TV but we moved to the Internet with our own site and started our own television network."

Tagliabue elected to step down from his office and turned over the commissioner position to Roger Goodell. He now approaches his NFL experiences from a distance.

"I really feel that when you make a break, it has to be clean," Tagliabue said. "(Goodell) was ready to take the baton for new leadership ... but we still talk from time to time."

In time, there will be a clearer picture of Tagliabue's legacy.

"I think my legacy 20 years from now is that I made everyone realize that things can be better," he said. "Change is important to everybody. Sports is just a microcosm of it all. Before World War II, we were the main country. Now we are only part of a global world."

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