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Bert Bell
Head Coach
Personal information
Date of birth: February 25, 1895(1895-02-25)
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Date of death: October 11, 1959 (aged 64)
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Career information
College: Pennsylvania
Debuted in 1933 for the Philadelphia Eagles
Last played in 1959 for the National Football League
Career history
 As coach:
 As administrator:
Career highlights and awards
Pro Football Hall of Fame

De Benneville "Bert" Bell (February 25, 1895 – October 11, 1959) was co-founder of the Philadelphia Eagles, co-owner and coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers and commissioner of the National Football League from 1946 until his death.


Early life

Bell grew up in a prominent Philadelphia, Pennsylvania family, the son of John Cromwell Bell, Pennsylvania's attorney general. Once commenting on his son's plans for college, the elder Bell said, "Bert will go to Penn (the University of Pennsylvania) or he will go to hell." While there, Bell played quarterback for the Quakers' football team, a stretch that was interrupted by World War I service at the Mobile Hospital Unit in France.

After graduating, Bell served as backfield coach at his alma mater from 1920 to 1928, then held the same position for two years at Temple University in 1930 and 1931.

Philadelphia Eagles founder, co-owner, coach, owner

In 1933, with three other former college teammates (including Lud Wray, first head coach), he became co-owner of the Eagles for $2,500.

Taking the approach of making the overall league stronger, Bell was credited with establishing the NFL draft in 1935. He served as Eagles head coach from 1936 to 1940. By 1937, the Eagles had lost $90,000 and were put up for public auction. Bell became sole owner with a winning bid of $4,500, but after continuing financial struggles, he became co-owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers with his friend Art Rooney in a bizarre transaction in which Rooney sold the Steelers to Philadelphia businessman Alex Thompson, who then traded franchises with Bell. By 1943, a wartime manpower shortage led the Steelers and Eagles to temporarily merge into the "Steagles." The following year, the Steelers merged with the Chicago Cardinals.

In 1937, Bell founded the Maxwell Football Club, which awards the Maxwell Award to the top college football player and the Bert Bell Award to the top professional.

NFL commissioner

On January 11, 1946, Bell was selected to replace Elmer Layden as NFL commissioner and subsequently sold his ownership in the Steelers after being given a three-year contract at $25,000 per year. A year later, the contract was changed to a five-year pact at the same salary, a move that was followed in 1949 by a ten-year agreement that boosted his annual pay to $30,000.

Among his accomplishments as commissioner, Bell merged the league with the All-America Football Conference, and did battle with the Canadian Football League over scheduling and player rights. He also coined the phrase, "On any given Sunday, any team can beat any other team."

One of his first major acts dealt with a gambling scandal that marred the 1946 NFL Championship game. In response, he was able to create laws in virtually every state that made it a crime for an athlete not to report a bribe attempt.

In addition to all these duties, he also single-handedly plotted out league schedules each season on his dining-room table by using a giant checkerboard. He created the revenue-sharing system that enables the small-market teams to make larger profits and remain competitive.

He also embraced the idea of television blackouts for home teams, especially after watching the Los Angeles Rams lose money after they televised all of their 1950 season games. However, he was seen as being a little too strict when he refused to lift a blackout for Detroit viewers to watch the sold out 1957 NFL Championship between the Lions and the Cleveland Browns, claiming it would be considered "dishonest" to the paying customers.

Death and legacy

Bell died of a heart attack on October 11, 1959 at Philadelphia's Franklin Field, while watching a game between the team he co-founded, the Eagles, and the Steelers, which he had co-owned from 1941 to 1946. The Eagles actually scored the game-winning touchdown the moment Bell died, as fans were paying more attention to Bell than the game. He had been under a doctor's care for two years and had recovered from a heart attack the previous February. Few knew that at the time, Bell was planning to retire as commissioner in order to regain ownership of the Eagles before the next season.

The Bert Bell Benefit Bowl, informally referred to as the Playoff Bowl and first played in 1960 (the year after his death), was named for him.

Bell was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1963 as a charter member.

Personal life

Bell married Broadway actress Frances Upton in January 1934. They had three children, sons Bert, Jr. and Upton, and daughter Jane.

Bell's older brother, John C. Bell, Jr., served as Lieutenant Governor and briefly as Governor of Pennsylvania.

External links

Sporting positions
Preceded by
Elmer Layden
Commissioner of the National Football League
Succeeded by
Austin Gunsel (interim)
Preceded by
Walt Kiesling
Pittsburgh Steelers Head Coach
Succeeded by
Aldo Donelli
Preceded by
Lud Wray
Philadelphia Eagles Head Coach
Succeeded by
Greasy Neale

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