Bert Bell Philadelphia Eagles & Pittsburgh Steelers & National Football League

"All I ever wanted to be was a football man.”

It wasn't long after Bert Bell was elected the National Football League's commissioner in January 1946, that he demonstrated he would be a fearless, tireless leader who would guide the league to new heights of popularity.

Bell's first order of business was to prepare his league for a costly struggle with the new rival league, the All-America Football Conference. Steadfastly rejecting any settlement that would leave the AAFC intact, Bert finally presided over a "merger" after the 1949 season that brought three AAFC teams – Baltimore Colts, Cleveland Browns, and San Francisco 49ers – into the NFL.

In Bell's first year as commissioner, he also took a strong anti-gambling stance that marked the start of tough conduct codes in the NFL. Another far-sighted action was Bell's handling of the-then young television industry. Realizing that televising home games would hurt stadium attendance and much-needed team revenues, Bell formulated the policy to permit only road games to be televised back to home cities, thus protecting gate revenues while making previously unavailable away games accessible to fans.

Bell exhibited a rare fortitude when he first recognized the NFL Players' Association. Confronted by angry owners, he simply referred to the league's constitution, which permitted him to act on any matter "in the best interests of pro football." Bell began his pro football life as the founder-owner of the Philadelphia Eagles in 1933 and struggled with overwhelming financial adversity for the rest of the decade. A unique franchise shift in 1940 found Bell moving to Pittsburgh as part owner of the Steelers, a status he maintained until he was selected as commissioner. On October 11, 1959, while watching his "two teams," the Eagles and Steelers, play at Philadelphia's Franklin Field; Bert suffered a fatal heart attack. The fact he died at an NFL game seemed appropriate for a man who had made pro football his entire life.