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Friday, July 10, 2020

How the Detroit Lions were a secretaries draw away from being in a different division

Each week on Monday, Peter King releases his Football Morning in America piece on Pro Football Talk (NBC Sports).

In his latest edition, King, who is on vacation, had a special guest by the name of Joe Browne.

Browne, who is the all-time longest-serving employee in NFL office history, looked back at the AFL-NFL merger, which took place 50 years ago.

In the article, Browne touched on how then NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle, who was getting frustrated because the NFC owners could not agree to how the divisions would be aligned, ended up writing five options on a chalkboard and then had his secretary pull the winning option out of a flower vase if a there was no consensus, which there was not.

Here were the five options that Rozelle came up with.

As you can see, there were some interesting options available that really could have altered the history of the league. For example, Plan 2 had the Lions in the NFC West with the Rams, 49ers, Bears, and Packers. Or, what about Plan 5 which had our Lions in the NFC East with the Giants, Redskins, Eagles, and Vikings?

After the owners could not agree to one of those five options, Rozelle’s secretary, Thelma Elkjer entered the room, put five pieces of paper in a flower vase, and pulled out the winner, which was Plan No. 3.

From Pro Football Talk:

Quietly, as was his style,  Pete was ending the months-long drama. After I rolled the chalk board into the room—who did you think did it? George Halas?—I lingered in the back for this historic moment. The commissioner told me to ask Thelma Elkjer, his secretary, to enter the room. She was known to many of the owners since she had worked with Rozelle when both were employed by the Rams in the ‘50s. She moved East when Pete was named commissioner in 1960. She would be the one to break the deadlock by blindly picking one of the slips of paper. The owners trusted her.

Finally, the big moment arrived. Thelma entered the room, but quickly left to get an empty flower vase to hold the five pieces of paper. Pete had shown the numbered slips to a couple of the owners to confirm that there were five different numbers which corresponded to those on the board. He didn’t want an upset owner to subsequently accuse him of having the five slips all contain the identical number which would reflect Pete’s own preferred alignment of teams. (That’s a trick they don’t teach you at Harvard Business School!) At this juncture, the only two Americans the owners trusted were President Richard Nixon (pre-Watergate)  and Thelma.

Without even a drumroll, Thelma reached in, pulled out a slip and announced that the winning plan was number 3.  Owners squinted at the chalkboard to see where their teams were in Plan 3.

Tex Schramm let out a little cheer and smiled at Cowboys owner Clint Murchison who was beside him. Plan 3 was the ONLY combination that had the Cowboys in the same division as the Giants, Redskins and Eagles. Schramm, the former public relations and television executive, knew the added exposure his team received by playing teams in those three large markets twice a year. The Cowboys since their inception had played most seasons (but not all) with those three teams in their division. They made it clear they did not want to lose those rivalries. Despite the odds stacked against them, they got their way at the end. (Did I mention that Thelma worked alongside Tex when both were with the Rams in the 50s?  Strictly coincidental, Cowboys Haters.)

A couple of the NFC Central teams mumbled their discontent because the combination of Chicago, Detroit, Green Bay and Minnesota meant they would not get that much-desired, warm weather break toward the season’s end. Little did they know that half of those teams would be playing in cozy domes just a few years down the road and that expansion Tampa Bay would join their division later that decade. However, everyone in the room was relieved that pro football’s long nightmare was over! They adopted the plan and rushed to the exits.

Nation, which of these divisions would you have preferred the Lions be in? Which option would you have wanted?

 

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