(Joe Browne photo courtesy of the NFL)
Talk of Fame Network
The Hall-of-Fame's contributor committee two weeks ago proposed two candidates for the Class of 2017. One was expected. That was Dallas owner Jerry Jones. The other was not. That was former NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue.
Though he was a modern-era finalist three times (2007-09), Tagliabue failed to make the cut from 15 to 10 his last two tries and has not made the final 15 the past seven years. Nevertheless, Paul Tagliabue will be a topic of discussion when the Hall's board of selectors meets in February, and, according to someone close to him, should cross the threshold this time.
That someone would be former league executive Joe Browne, who served as the right-hand man for Tagliabue and Pete Rozelle, and who earlier this month was awarded the Hall-of-Fame's Ralph Hay Pioneer Award for his 50 years in the league office – the longest tenure of anyone at that address.
(Paul Tagliabue photo courtesy of Talk of Fame Network)
Browne won't make a presentation to Hall-of-Fame voters, but, if he could, we asked him on the latest Talk of Fame Network broadcast what three accomplishments he would single out as reasons for inducting Paul Tagliabue into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
"I think labor peace," he said. "That’s the foundation for everything that’s positive. It gave us stability in the '90s and into the 2000s. We lived through the '80s with two work stoppages, replacement games and, as you guys remember, the dissolution of the union. But starting with the new CBA in 1993 we had expansion, we had sponsorship, we had new stadiums and so on. So labor peace certainly was one.
"Then I think Paul started to change the culture of the league toward safer and cleaner play rather than allowing the coaches and players, especially on the defensive side, to run wild on the field. And then, off the field, he got tough with performance enhancing drugs, including steroids.
"And then, thirdly, I'd say with some club owners reluctant to share league-wide revenues 32 ways instead of just the 28, he convinced them that we would increase the scope and popularity of the sport by expansion in the case of at least Cleveland and Houston and making those big cities whole again. I would say those three would be at or near the top."
The knock on the former commissioner, of course, is that he lost L.A. and did little about to investigate the long-term effects of concussions – a subject that is front and center today in the league. But Browne doesn’t agree.
"There's no perfect candidate," he said. "But you go back to Frank Gifford being knocked out the entire season in 1961, and Roger Stabuach retiring early perhaps in part because of the fear of concussions. Paul was the one who appointed the first MTBI (Mild Traumatic Brain Injury) concussion committee back in '94.
"I know he's been criticized that Dr. (Elliott) Pellman was the chairman … that Dr. Pellman was the coordinator … that Dr. Pellman was the administrator for the committee. But it also included a neurologist and a neurosurgeon, Dr. (Andrew M.) Tucker, the team doctor in Baltimore. Paul was the one who went after the concussion (issue), and, as I said earlier, realized that the culture of the league had to change. And it was not an easy thing.
"In terms of L.A. we did everything except give Al Davis extra footballs to try to get him to stay in Hollywood Park. He wanted to go back to Oakland."