Paul Tagliabue finally heads to the Hall of Fame, and opens up on criticism of his tenure

Paul Tagliabue finally heads to the Hall of Fame, and opens up on criticism of his tenure

If not for some well-timed home painting chores, former NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue could be readying himself for induction into the Hall of Soaps and Detergents, instead of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, where he’ll be enshrined next week. 

Now, there isn’t really such a Hall, but cleaning products, not pigskin, might have been his area of mastery if not for a quirk of fate. In 1969, the Georgetown grad, fresh off three years of government service, accepted a post with the law firm Covington. Scheduled to start in early June, he found painting the bedrooms of his new Washington, D.C., home a more time-consuming task than envisioned; so he asked to commence a few weeks later.

As the saying goes, timing is everything.

“If I had started in early June, I would have been assigned to become expert on the complexities of soaps and detergents because one of Covington’s clients was Procter & Gamble, whose acquisition of Clorox bleach prompted an antitrust case that stayed on a treadmill in the courts for most of a decade,” Tagliabue wrote in his autobiography, “Jersey City to America’s Game,” which he self-published with 500 copies just for the induction. “Instead, arriving in the last week of June, I was quickly assigned to a rush project for the NFL, a long-time client.”

That rush job was the NFL beseeching Joe Namath to cede ownership of a nightclub with alleged ties to gamblers (after much harrumphing and threats to retire, Broadway Joe gave up the club). Thus began a career for Tagliabue — who went to Georgetown on a basketball scholarship — as the league’s trusted outside counsel, and then from 1989 to 2006, as commissioner.

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