One of Paul Tagliabue's credentials as a candidate for NFL commissioner was the insider's view he had at the job as one of Pete Rozelle's closest advisors.

Judging from his first public appearance as the NFL's seventh commissioner, his actions may not differ much from Rozelle's, at least not for a while.Tagliabue was elected Thursday morning, breaking an impasse that has existed since July 6 when a group of dissidents blocked the election of Jim Finks, the sole candidate proposed by the first of three committees that had a hand in the selection process.

Tagliabue became the candidate of those dissidents. But in reality he is a league insider, close to the so-called "old guard" that had backed Finks, the president of the New Orleans Saints.

"The truth of the matter is that the 48-year-old Tagliabue is as much `Old Guard' as anyone," said Cleveland Browns owner Art Modell, one of the members of the committee that first recommended Finks. Modell was one of the principal targets of the insurgents and one of the two Finks supporters - Wellington Mara of the New York Giants was the other - who switched their votes to come up with Tagliabue.

Tagliabue sounded a lot like Rozelle in his position on issues. That's not unusual - league officials say that Rozelle often asked when confronted with a major issue: "What does Paul think?"

Tagliabue reiterated, for example, that there can be no expansion without a new collective bargaining agreement, and there hasn't been one since 1987. That was also Rozelle's position.

And while he denied being the author of "Plan B," the modified plan of free agency that took effect last year, Tagliabue had a major role in formulating it. He has also been the league's chief lawyer in the lawsuit that stemmed from the NFL Players Association's 1987 strike.

The union reacted to Tagliabue's election with guarded optimism.

Tagliabue's election capped 50 hours of deliberation in seven separate sessions dating back to July 6, when Finks' election was blocked three votes short of the necessary 19. Tagliabue was elected on the 12th ballot.

Rozelle, by contrast, was chosen on the 23rd ballot as a compromise candidate after the then-12 NFL teams debated for 11 straight days on a successor to Bert Bell. At the time, Rozelle was the little-known, 33-year-old general manager of the Los Angeles Rams.