Present at the Creation: My Life in the NFL and the Rise of America's Game

Present at the Creation: My Life in the NFL and the Rise of America's Game

Present at the Creation: My Life in the NFL and the Rise of America's Game

Present at the Creation: My Life in the NFL and the Rise of America's Game


To understand how the NFL became the sports phenomenon it is today, you can study its history or you can live its history as an active participant. Upton Bell grew up at the knee of the NFL's first great commissioner, his father, the legendary Bert Bell, who not only saved the game from financial ruin after World War II but was one of its greatest innovators. Coining the phrase "On any given Sunday," Bert invented the pro football draft and proposed sudden death rules.

Present at the Creation details Bell's firsthand experiences, which started as he watched his father draw up the league schedule each year at the kitchen table using dominoes. There he learned the importance of parity, which is a hallmark of the league's success, and also how to create it. Over the past fifty-three years, Bell has been an owner, a general manager, a personnel executive, a scouting director for two Super Bowl teams, a television commentator and analyst, and a talk-radio host. He has seen the NFL from the inside and has experienced many of the most important moments in NFL history.

Bell was player personnel director for the Baltimore Colts when the team played in three championship games and appeared in two Super Bowls (1968 and 1970). At thirty-three, he became the youngest general manager in NFL history when he joined the Patriots in that role in 1971. He left the NFL in 1974 to compete against it, joining the upstart World Football League as owner of the Charlotte Hornets, which lasted just two years. In 1976 Bell began his forty‑year career as a radio and TV talk-show host, yet he remains a football guy who was in the middle of the game's most significant moments and knows that half the story has never been told, until now.


To the best of my knowledge my father never knew Black Elk, the Holy Man of the Oglala Sioux who died on South Dakota’s infamous Pine Ridge Reservation in 1950 at the age of eighty-seven, nor did Black Elk know him. Yet if anyone ever put my father’s life in perfect symmetry, it was Black Elk, who once said, “The life of a man is a circle from childhood to childhood, and so it is in everything where power moves.”

So it was with Bert Bell, the man who made the modern National Football League, and so it was with his son, who helped build the Baltimore Colts’ Super Bowl teams and made his father’s dream of returning to pro football ownership his own twenty-year quest. I should know. I’m that son.

My father was once the most powerful man in the nfl. He was the coNFLuence of where power moved in pro football from 1946 to 1959, a visionary who in the words of Don Shula “saved the game” during his thirteen years as nfl commissioner. How did he do that?

He invented the nfl draft and made it in inverse order of the standings in an effort to create what has become known as parity. He did the same with the waiver wire.

He recognized the nfl Players Association, the players union, over the protest of many of the owners.

He organized the first player pension plan, which was eventually named the Bert Bell Pension Plan.

He negotiated the merger of the nfl with the All-America Football Conference in December 1949, admitting three aafc teams:

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