NFL’s Mount Rushmore: League’s all-time greatest influencers

Mount Rushmore was carved into the granite of the Black Hills to represent the birth, preservation, development, and growth of the United States of America. So, what four individuals represent those aspects on the NFL’s Mount Rushmore?

The NFL Mount Rushmore

Gutzon Borglum had it easy when he commissioned to design and sculpt the Black Hills into the four founding fathers we see up there today. There were only a handful of names with such an impact on the country to be in consideration. When thinking about it from the lens of what it’s meant to represent, the decision was easy.

George Washington represents the birth of our nation. As the first president and the army’s commander during the Revolutionary War (Great Britain lost a 13-colony lead). Thus, it’s difficult to argue against Washington as the birthing father.

Thomas Jefferson, who authored the Declaration of Independence, was also an easy choice for the growth of our young nation. He organized the Louisiana Purchase, helping frame the borders our country currently resides in.

Theodore Roosevelt signifies development. He led the United States through a great economic upturn at the turn of the 20th century. He oversaw the construction of the Panama Canal and fought to incorporate the eight-hour workday. Abraham Lincoln was the obvious choice for preservation.

George Halas – Birth

Halas is the National Football League. On September 17, 1920, in a Canton car dealership, what would become the NFL was formed. College football grossly overshadowed professional football at the time. The owners were losing money hand over fist due to the rising salary demands of players.

Halas and company drank cold beer and sat on car fenders as they hammered out the details of the new league, named the American Professional Football Association. In 1922, the APFA rebranded as the NFL. However, the league struggled to gain traction until November 22, 1925.

That’s when Halas signed Illinois phenom Red Grange to the Chicago Bears. Halas helped form the Bears when he began playing and coaching the Decatur Staleys. By 1922, he moved the team from Decatur to Chicago and renamed them the Bears.

The APFA’s average attendance was 4,241 in the early years. In Grange’s NFL debut in 1925, 40,000 packed into Wrigley Field to watch the Chicago Bears and the Chicago Cardinals duke it out in a 0-0 tie. That must have been riveting.

Halas spent 63 years as owner of the Bears organization and is the second-winningest coach of all time. He appears on the NFL Mount Rushmore for a CVS receipt of reasons.

His Chicago teams were the first to hold daily practices. Additionally, Halas was the first to have games broadcasted on the radio. He also shared television revenue with smaller organizations for the good of the league. Furthermore, he helped bring star power, structure, and dominance to the sport.

Pete Rozelle – Preservation

Without Rozelle, the NFL as we know it may not exist. He oversaw the AFL/NFL merger, which was probably the single greatest threat to the NFL. The AFL secured a television deal with NBC and signed star quarterback Joe Namath. In 1970, when the two leagues officially merged, Rozelle helped create the AFC and NFC conferences as we know them today.

In his time as commissioner, the league grew from 10 teams to 28. He oversaw the reconciliation of two separate NFL lockouts. Moreover, he led the NFL during a time where two competing leagues popped up. It was also Rozelle that convinced team owners to share television revenue equally. If that wasn’t enough, the NFL usurped the MLB in popularity during his time as commissioner.

Although Rozelle was skeptical of the NFL Draft‘s televised reach, he decided to use ESPN to cover the event in 1980. He is also the Super Bowl creator and widely regarded as the most powerful and best professional sports commissioner in American history.

Paul Brown – Development

Brown has a team named after him, and that team’s divisional rival named their stadium after him. Brown receives credit for founding both the Cleveland Browns and the Cincinnati Bengals. But his reach in the NFL goes far beyond just two teams.

He was the first to hire full-time staff that included position coaches. Brown invented the draw play and the facemask. He was also the first coach to win a college and NFL championship.

That’s not all. Brown was the first to implement a playbook, something he did at the high school level while coaching at Massillon. Additionally, he invented the helmet audio receiver and the practice squad. But that’s not all. Bill Walsh developed the “West Coast Offense” while he was his offensive coordinator in Cincinnati. Brown needed a passing attack that suited an accurate yet weak-armed quarterback.

Brown is the coach most responsible for modern football as we see it today. He’s a worthy addition to the NFL Mount Rushmore. Nobody has more professional championships than Brown.

Paul Tagliabue – Growth

The NFL exploded while Tagliabue was commissioner. Some of that may be to the credit of Rozelle’s foundation, but there are specific blocks Taglliabue himself built. Labor peace was a theme during his reign as NFL commissioner.

However, growth is the theme. The league expanded from a 28-team league to the 32 that still stands. In 1995, the NFL expanded with the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Carolina Panthers. Tagliabue helped ink insanely lucrative television deals.

The parity of the NFL is a big reason the league has exploded. Competitive balance allows teams to compete just a year after being basement dwellers. Part of that formula is the implementation of a salary cap, which began under Tagliabue.

He also led the expansion overseas with NFL Europe and helped secure over $25 billion in television deals throughout his 17-year career. Furthermore, the league built 20 new stadiums during his tenure. Tagliabue also started the Sunday Night Football tradition in 2006 and began airing some Thursday Night Football games on the NFL Network, which was created during his time as commissioner.

He fits the NFL Mount Rushmore criteria because of the league’s ridiculous popularity and monetary growth during his time at the helm.

Honorable Mentions

These men are staples of the NFL. However, they just missed out on the NFL Mount Rushmore.

Lamar Hunt

Without Lamar Hunt’s inability to purchase an NFL franchise, the league as we know it wouldn’t exist. He founded the AFL in 1960 and owned the Dallas Texans, who eventually moved to Kansas City and became the Chiefs.

Hunt accidentally coined the term “Super Bowl” in a letter to then-commissioner Peter Rozelle. He’s also the one that pressed the commissioner to name the trophy after the terminally ill Vince Lombardi.

Vince Lombardi

Lombardi might be on the NFL Mount Rushmore had he not fell ill. He won the first two Super Bowls with the Green Bay Packers and fought for desegregation in professional football. From a pop culture perspective, he deserves to be on the list, but he did not meet the criteria for this particular exercise.

Bert Bell

Bell is another well-deserving name that narrowly missed out. He’s responsible for forming the Philadelphia Eagles and created the NFL Draft, which spread to nearly every major sport. He also served as NFL commissioner from 1946-1959.

Bell was the first to have the NFL televised and promoted parity within the league, which is still the NFL’s calling card. He immediately made his mark when he suspended a player for gambling and permanently banned two others from the sport.

Judge David Doty

Doty was a name nominated for preservation, but ultimately Rozelle’s résumé reigned supreme. Doty is the one man that strikes fear in the hearts and wallets of NFL owners. It’s been that way for a long time now. He’s repeatedly come to the aid of the NFLPA, preventing billionaire greed from taking over.

Ed Sabol

Us football sickos know Sabol as the man who founded NFL Films. Sabol might have as good an argument for the growth of professional football as anybody. He revolutionized the way the game was shot. NFL Films framed the game more like a motion picture rather than the All-22 film we geeks love. If it weren’t for Sabol, it might have taken years for film crews to grab the game’s emotion from field level.


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