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Paul Tagliabue: Labor peace biggest key to boom

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Former NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue, quite possibly one of the most important figures in modern league history, saw a lot over his 17 years in charge.

During his reign, the league expanded both physically and in terms of audience participation. By the time current commissioner Roger Goodell took over, the league was well on its way to becoming the most popular sport in America. But how?

"I think the biggest thing about the evolution and the boom was getting labor peace," Tagliabue said Thursday on Good Morning Football following his selection as a contributor finalist this week to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

"I was involved outside as a consultant and attorney for (former NFL commissioner) Pete Rozelle in the 1980s where seven games were cancelled and the replacement games. That was beginning to have an impact on the appetite networks had for NFL football. The fans were not happy when you had to play games during a strike or lockout, but I think the big first step to what you're calling a boom was working with (National Football League Players' Association executive director) Gene Upshaw, (Giants owner) Wellington Mara, people like that, to bring out labor peace.

"Of course, when there was labor peace, there was free agency in the system which has been working right up through the present day. After that, it was step by step. People like (media mogul) Rupert Murdoch became important because FOX created FOX Sports, DirecTV came around, ESPN continued to grow ... it literally takes hundreds of people. At the end of the day it was a boom, but along the way it was hundreds of little boom-lettes."

Tagliabue's administration helped set the table for the massive international expansion currently taking place. On Thursday, he shared his thoughts on overseas growth.

"From my perspective it boils down to one thing," he said. "Try to take the game to places where they play football, the kids play the sport and there are coaches who are local people -- places where they will play the game and the sport is a big part of the local culture."

Certainly, the heightened interest in London is a tribute to the Tagliabue era. The league's return to Mexico and expansion into Germany and China will also be a nod to the groundwork laid in the early 2000s. Plenty can be said about Tagliabue, but no one can dispute the speed at which the NFL expanded during his tenure -- something that the current commissioner values tremendously.

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