The MMQB presents NFL 95, a special project running through mid-July detailing 95 artifacts that tell the story of the NFL, as the league prepares to enter its 95th season. See the entire series here.
One of Bert Bell’s first ideas, soon after he co-founded the Philadelphia Eagles in 1933, was to level the league’s playing field by holding a draft. This was only the beginning of Bell’s influence on the sport. The former University of Pennsylvania quarterback went on to serve as a part-owner of the Steelers, and then NFL commissioner from 1946 until his death in 1959.
From this desk he did his most important work. Bell bridged the gap with the All-America Football Conference to bring the Cleveland Browns, San Francisco 49ers and Baltimore Colts into the NFL fold, and he took a stand to rid the game of gambling. Other firsts included recognizing the NFL Players Association—though that drew the ire of many owners—and instituting local television blackouts for home games to ensure gate revenues wouldn’t suffer.
Bell died as he lived, suffering a heart attack while watching the Eagles play the Steelers at Philadelphia’s Franklin Field. When the Pro Football Hall of Fame opened in 1963, Bell was a posthumous member of its charter class.
— Jenny Vrentas