NORTHBROOK, Ill. — Twenty years ago, Roger Goodell volunteered to chauffeur Pete Rozelle around at the Super Bowl in New Orleans when the NFL commissioner's regular driver couldn't make it.
In a few weeks, Goodell may well be sitting in the back of the limo.
One of Paul Tagliabue's top aides and advisers, Goodell will be the favorite to succeed him as NFL commissioner when the 32 owners begin meeting Monday at a suburban hotel to make their choice from a list of five finalists.
In truth, the 47-year-old Goodell, son of a former U.S. senator from New York, has been the favorite for a half-dozen years, or ever since he was designated the NFL's chief operating officer.
He's been the point man on expansion and stadium construction; he's been deeply involved in labor negotiations and he knows almost every aspect of the league's operation — starting as a public relations intern and (for a week) as a chauffeur.
He also knows players. One of his early tasks as a public relations aide in the league office was helping the NFL recruit college stars who were considering signing with the USFL when it was trying to compete from 1983-85.
Still, his election is not a certainty — most of the 32 NFL owners who will vote for the new commissioner are silent about their preferences and the eight members of the committee who picked the five finalists are saying nothing at all.
The final five were identified last Sunday: Goodell; Gregg Levy, the NFL's outside counsel; Fred Nance, a Cleveland attorney deeply involved in the Browns' return to the city; and two top financial executives: Robert L. Reynolds, chief operating officer of Fidelity investments and Mayo A. Shattuck III, president and CEO of Constellation Energy. Reynolds is a former college football referee and Shattuck's wife is a Baltimore Ravens cheerleader at age 39.