The 300: #4 Bert Bell

The 300 isn’t just about the players. The NFL is about more than the 92 players who suit up every game. Here we look at one of the early greats. 

NFL CAREER

Coach, Philadelphia Eagles (1935-1940)

Coach, Pittsburgh Steelers (1941)

Commissioner, NFL (1946-1959)

 

WHY IS HE IMPORTANT

Frankly, if we were just talking about the coaching career of De Benneville Bell – or Bert Bell, as everyone knew him – then he wouldn’t be anywhere near this list. With just 10 wins from 58 games, he has the second worst coaching record in NFL history. And as an owner he wasn’t exactly a favourite with most NFL fans, the notorious deal by which the Eagles and the Steelers flipped both owners and teams in 1940 being largely his doing.

However, as the second ever NFL commissioner, Bell was something of a revelation. He was not shy of disciplining players, marking his first Championship game by suspending the GiantsFrank Filchcock, who had been implicated in a bribery scandal. He then brokered the deal which saw reluctant owners allow the Cleveland Rams to move to LA, but tied into the deal a condition that the Rams had to sign one of the NFL’s first black players, Kenny Washington, which became a significant moment in de-segregation on the field of play.

Over the next few years Bell also settled the long-running dispute between the NFL and the rival AAFC (leading to the NFL being joined by the 49ers, Colts and Browns) and brought in the television black-out rule.

In fact, it is not unreasonable to say that, without Bell, the modern NFL would not exist as we know it. He was the first to properly exploit television rights and to market the Championship game. He introduced the Pro Bowl, to create one game where all of the best players could be seen playing with and against each other. He even, albeit reluctantly and under pressure, recognised and began to work with the NFLPA. Oh, and he’s the man responsible for TV timeouts.

Bell thought of himself as a man of the people, preferring to buy his own tickets and sit with the fans than accept the hospitality of any one club. And it was whilst seated with fans behind the end zone of an Eagles game on October 11 1959 that he suffered a massive heart attack and died.

Bert Bell was one of the inaugural enshrinees when the Hall of Fame was established, and his memory lingers on in the NFL as the trophy for each season’s Most Valuable Player is named after him.

Richard O’Hagan

 

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Richard O'Hagan
Writer on such diverse topics as sport, music, theatre, law and politics. Author of 'Eddie the Sheep'. Supporter of underachieving teams, including the Chicago Bears from before that brief, heady, period in the mid-1980s when they were actually any good. All I want for Christmas is a Jim McMahon away shirt.
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    The 300 isn’t just about the players. The NFL is about more than the 92 players who suit up every game. Here we look at one of the early greats.  NFL
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