Monday, March 29, 2010
A member of the North Texas Super Bowl committee has football in her blood
As the daughter of legendary NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle, Anne Marie Bratton has quite a story to tell.
Almost no one knows that Pete Rozelle’s daughter is a member of the North Texas Super Bowl XLV Host Committee.
Anne Marie Bratton has attended several Committee meetings and functions over the past year, and as she puts it, “I’m not going to wear a sign. Just no one knows it.
“I don’t even think Jerry Jones knew because at the Super Bowl last month I was talking to him at the Friday night party. I said, ‘Hello, I’m Anne Marie Bratton, I’m Pete Rozelle’s daughter and I live in Fort Worth,’ and he said, ‘Oh, wow! You should be on the Host Committee.’ And I said, ‘I already am.’”
Hers is a remarkable story. Anne Marie was not only the child of a single parent who happened to be perhaps the most powerful man in American sports, but she also was a child of the NFL. She grew up as the League grew up. And she remains incredibly devoted to both the man and the League.
When Rozelle died of brain cancer in 1996 at his home in Rancho Sante Fe, Calif., Anne Marie slept on the floor by his bed. Although she had never spoken publicly, it was she that Rozelle asked to deliver two eulogies, one in California and one in New York, not because his ego required two but because he wanted to spare old friends the hassles of cross-country travel.
Rozelle had won custody of Anne Marie when she was a baby, in an era when it was almost unheard of for any father to gain custody, let alone one who traveled so frequently.
"He was mother, he was father, he was everything, he was amazing," Anne Marie says. "That’s the part nobody knew about him. They always thought of him as the Commissioner but didn’t realize he had a full-time job as well, raising me."
And just as Rozelle was King of the NFL Empire during the League’s most formative decades, Anne Marie was undoubtedly its secret princess. Al Ward, retired now and living in Austin, was the AFC Assistant to the Commissioner. He remembers a shy “Little Annie” occasionally popping into the NFL offices in New York and frequently making road trips with her dad.
“Since it was just he and I, he took me to every owners’ meeting, every Super Bowl, every game he went to,” Anne Marie says. “Our whole life revolved around the NFL ... I’m about as pro-NFL and pro-football as anyone can be.”
Rozelle and former Cowboys President/GM Tex Schramm were close friends and fishing buddies who grew up together in the League. While General Manager of the Los Angeles Rams in the 1950s, Schramm gave Rozelle his first NFL job as the team’s public relations director. Rozelle was Commissioner of the League and Schramm ran the Cowboys during the same 30-year stretch, from January 1960 to late 1989.
More important to Anne Marie, her dad hired away, or “poached” as she puts it, Schramm’s top assistant, Thelma Elkjer.
“Thelma was sort of a mother to me, which was fantastic,” Anne Marie says. “Believe me, everyone in the NFL knows Thelma. She was kind of the watchdog of everything. She actually even followed my dad out to California when he retired, learned how to drive when she was in her 80s and took care of him.”
Anne Marie was born in California during the Rams years, moved to Philadelphia briefly when the NFL headquarters were there, and settled in New York City at age two when the NFL moved its offices to Manhattan. Her father’s office was so large that she loved playing hide-and-seek with the NFL staff or making paperclip jewelry with Thelma.
"I would say the NFL is as close to a family as anything I had," she says. "I feel like NFL royalty, someone who grew up in it. Every time I go to the Super Bowl, it’s special to be able to see Joe Browne, who has been doing public relations for the NFL forever and ever and ever. And the Commissioner now, Roger Goodell, is my age and I feel like I grew up with him in the NFL. He is absolutely one of my favorite people ever. I was thrilled beyond belief that he got the job, and I know that Dad was smiling up there in heaven, thinking, 'This is perfect.'"
In his first season as Commissioner, Goodell invited Anne Marie, her husband Doug, and two children to share his suite for Super Bowl XLI in Miami. These days, she roots for teams not so much as a typical fan would but based on the strong feelings she still has for such owners as Wellington Mara’s family with the Giants, the George Halas family in Chicago, and the Rooneys in Pittsburgh.
“All those years my father was Commissioner, I was never allowed to show any partiality,” Anne Marie says. “All the owners’ wives were always trying to drape me in a colored scarf of their team, and my father would always hand it back because we just weren’t allowed to show any preferences.
“Even to this day, I try to go for the underdog. But I just can’t help it, if it’s a team that has owners that I’ve known forever and ever, like the Maras or the Rooneys or the Halases, I have to sway that way.”
Almost incredibly, considering the media blitz that has come with Super Bowls for years, Rozelle’s child flew under the radar. She was with him constantly it seems, but seldom noticed.
She says, “It was sort of funny because I obviously didn’t have a mother, and no one came with us. And in that day and age, it was just assumed that when there was a meeting somehow the owners’ wives would take care of me – even though no one was actually assigned to do it. It just sort of worked; it was a village somehow sort of taking care of me. And it was great fun. It was a great way to grow up. It was a different way to grow up.”
From the age of three on up into her 20s long after she left home, Anne Marie attended NFL championships and Super Bowls alongside her father. That ritual never ceased. She has only missed a couple, and very few people — male or female — can make that claim.
“It was very exciting being a part of Super Bowls with him,” she says. “I felt like he was like James Bond; just everything was magical.
“He would have this itinerary set with — and I’m not exaggerating — maybe 30 parties in one night. They were all called ‘walk-throughs’. You would walk through the front door and the rules were that you never grabbed a drink, you never grabbed food, and you never stopped walking. You’re very friendly with everyone you see on the way, but you walk in one door, you walk out the back door, there’s a car there and it takes you to the next party. He would reserve the very last party for the one he most wanted to stay at, where some good friends would be. At 11:30 at night, you could finally sit down, have something to drink, have something to eat and rest your feet.”
She was 15 when her father remarried and moved them to Westchester County outside New York. But as she grew older, she always found ways to live in Manhattan, including a stint at NBC Sports and then eight years in advertising and publicity for Ralph Lauren.
Now she is as Texan as her family. She and Doug moved to Fort Worth from the East 18 years ago, when she was nine months pregnant with their first child, Miles. Her daughter, Alexandra, was born three years later.
“The people in Fort Worth are so incredible,” she says. “I love New York and think about what it would be like to move back. But I start thinking what would I miss if I did, and you come up with a pretty long list.”
She dabbles in art these days but confesses it’s an up-and-down world and that she does it more for fun, as a hobby. Fort Worth friends Dana and David Porter know Bill Lively, the Host Committee’s President & CEO, and asked him to consider making Anne Marie a member of the Host Committee. She jumped at the chance when Lively offered.
“This is going to give me bragging rights,” she says. “It’s going to be great to have everyone in New York and everywhere I go for Super Bowls actually coming here. The one thing I can say about the Host Committee, unquestioningly the amount of effort and time and basically T.L.C. that this whole Super Bowl is going to get is going to be phenomenal because I think everyone really wants to have this opportunity again.
“When Texans do something, they really do it right. They pull out all the stops, and that unbelievable welcoming feeling that you get when you move here or visit will be extended, I’m sure, 10 times over at this next Super Bowl. It’s going to be one of the most memorable, best Super Bowls there could be.”
Little Annie would know.
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