As several major sports figures were stepping down in 1960, others were just getting started. Ted Williams played in his final Major League Baseball game in 1960, while Juan Marichal pitched in his first. The NFL Championship, played on December 26, 1960, saw the Philadelphia Eagles defeat the Green Bay Packers 17-13. Both the winning quarterback, Norm Van Brocklin, and coach, Buck Shaw, retired after the game. The losing coach, Vince Lombardi, went on to become the most celebrated NFL head coach of all time. But two men, who would define their professions for many years to come, were virtually unknown on January 1, 1960.
One of the most significant moments in pro-football history happened nowhere near a field. On January 26, 1960, all 12 NFL franchise owners met to select a new commissioner. After 23 ballots, Pete Rozelle, an executive with the Los Angeles Rams organization, was chosen as a compromise candidate. Before long Rozelle would be among the most powerful men in all of sports, as he negotiated record TV contracts, established the model for the revenue sharing and helped engineer a merger with the rival American Football League. Rozelle remained commissioner for nearly 30 years.
The 1960 Rome Summer Olympics were a grand showcase for several great American athletes, including woman’s sprinter Wilma Rudolph and decathlon star Rafer Johnson. But it was a light-heavyweight boxer named Cassius Clay who demanded much of the attention, as his skill for talking seemed to match anything he could do in the ring. Winning the gold medal on September 5, 1960, Clay then turned pro, and became heavyweight champion of the world in February of 1964. By then, he had changed his name to Muhammad Ali, and the 1950’s seemed light years away.