madam ram

words: joshua neuman
artwork: billy kheel


The diver was running out of air. With renewed fear, he began tearing at the mask of the frogman. Bubbles spewed madly from the diver’s mouth like exhaust from a burning engine ... The frogman hung suspended in the water above the convulsing man as he sank, an eerie apparition dispassionately observing a painful death.


The murder described above is taken from Tim Green’s 1998 mystery novel, Red Zone, the story of the owner of a fictional pro football team who is killed in Florida’s coastal waters by an assailant in scuba gear. Among the most obvious suspects is his younger, beautiful wife who stands to inherit his team.


A student of pro football history likely will recognize the contours of this narrative: While swimming in Golden Beach, Florida, in 1979, 72-year-old Los Angeles Rams owner Carroll Rosenbloom was caught in a particularly vicious riptide, and during his struggle for safety, suffered a heart attack and drowned. One might also recognize the allusion to Carroll’s younger, beautiful wife Georgia who would inherit his team.


The death of Carroll Rosenbloom, or “CR” as his friends knew him, was as shocking as it was mysterious. Many pointed out that he had once owned a home in Golden Beach and knew its waters well. Others harped on the excellent shape he was in for a man his age, or, that his body was found with marks on his legs, indicating that someone had held him underwater. Carroll’s 35-year-old son Steve (whose mother Velma was CR’s first wife) only stoked the mystery, publicly claiming that his father never went swimming alone and would never have gone into the ocean by himself on a day with such an obviously strong undertow. “I don’t believe that his death was accidental,” Steve claimed.


Word spread that the Mafia might have been involved. It had long been alleged that Carroll had links to gambling and underworld figures. Though an NFL investigation in 1963 had exonerated him of any wrongdoing, rumors persisted about his ties to organized crime. One even claimed that notorious gangster Meyer Lansky had introduced him to Georgia. Perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising that she too would come under scrutiny.


After Carroll’s body was cremated, a small, makeshift funeral was thrown together in Hollywood, Florida. Wanting to celebrate her husband’s life more publicly, Georgia scheduled a memorial service to be held the following Monday in the backyard of the Rosenblooms’ Bel-Air mansion. Between 600 and 900 guests attended, including an eclectic mix of CR’s celebrity friends and NFL owners.


The ceremony got off on the wrong foot when Georgia was an hour late. Sandy Scully, CR’s former executive assistant, remembers Georgia’s grand, if tardy, entrance: “Everybody was very uncomfortable. We were all waiting there and didn’t know what was going on with her.”


When the memorial service finally did start, comedian Jonathan Winters, one of Carroll’s close friends, acted as master of ceremonies. Two vocalists sang Carroll’s favorite songs. NFL commentator Howard Cosell, star of Fantasy Island Ricardo Montalbán, and Hawaii Five-O regular Ross Martin were among those who delivered eulogies. Don Rickles performed his trademark off-color shtick. Some thought it was the perfect celebration of Carroll’s raucous spirit.


“I remember it as a thoughtful celebration of his life,” says Jon Hookstratten, whose father Ed became a close friend and attorney for the Rosenblooms after CR took over the Rams in 1972.


Others found the memorial too festive. NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle was asked to speak, but according to an NFL source, “shied away from the circus atmosphere.” Georgia’s stepson Steve, who worked alongside Carroll in the Rams organization, left early and was lessdiplomatic: “Georgia’s funeral for my father could have played Vegas for eight weeks.”


For some, the affair seemed less aimed at mourning CR’s departure than at announcing Georgia’s arrival




Though little was known about her at the time, details about Georgia’s life would soon become common knowledge. She was born Violet Frances Irwin in St. Louis, Missouri, on November 21, 1927, but her mother changed her name to Georgia Lee a few days later. By all accounts she had a happy childhood despite having parents who seemed comically ill-suited for one another: Reginald Irwin, a hard-of-hearing businessman, and Lucia Pamela, an eccentric instrumentalist who led The Musical Pirates (often cited as the swing era’s first “all-girl” orchestra) and whose 1969 album and accompanying coloring book inspired a 1994 song called “International Colouring Contest” by French-English avant-pop band Stereolab. By age 10, Georgia and her younger brother Ken were performing with their mother at St. Louis ballrooms and fairgrounds as The Pamela Trio. When Ken’s voice changed, he was dropped from the band and they became The Pamela Sisters. Georgia’s dream was to become an opera star. She even traveled to Milan as a young girl to train with the Milan Opera.


Music would increasingly drive a wedge between Georgia’s parents. Bothered by how late Lucia would come home after gigs, Reginald claimed his wife was neglecting her responsibilities as a homemaker. Lucia ended up filing for divorce in 1943 and taking Georgia and Ken with her to Fresno where Georgia would continue to perform with her mother, sing lead roles in local theater productions, and occasionally work as a model. In 1955, she started working as a chorus girl, first with the Sacramento Music Circus and then in Las Vegas at the Silver Slipper casino. Though the period of her life lasted only a few years and the details are murky if not contested, she would from that point forward regularly be described as a “former chorus girl.” In the first half of the twentieth century, the term “chorus girl” signified not just a line of work, but a sexually charged archetype sought out by powerful men—sort of like today’s “IG model.”


In her late ’20s, Georgia landed in Miami, where she became a TV personality and lounge singer. Despite the rumors of a Meyer Lansky connection, the way Georgia would tell the story, she first met Carroll in 1957 at a party in Palm Beach hosted by Joseph P. Kennedy, father of John F. Kennedy. Despite both of them already being married, there was immediate and undeniable chemistry. “I think they were very much in love,” recalls Juli Hutner, who became one of Georgia’s best friends when the Rosenblooms arrived in Los Angeles in 1972. “She was crazy about him from the time they met and Carroll was very, very good to her, and wanted her to be happy in whatever it was she wanted to do.”




Not long after the Bel-Air memorial, the terms of Carroll’s will emerged. Carroll had left his son Steve with “managerial and operational” responsibilities of the Rams and evenly distributed 30 percent ownership of the team among Steve and his two siblings, Daniel and Suzanne, and half-siblings, Chip and Lucia. But CR left the remaining 70 percent to Georgia. “Dad told me he was taking advantage of the widow’s tax exemption,” Steve told reporters. “He wanted Georgia to have the income and status but he wanted me to run the team.” But elsewhere in the will it stipulated that Steve would only maintain his managerial and operational position “as long as the successor trustee, in his discretion shall determine.” While Steve was put in charge of the day-to-day, Georgia retained ultimate control. The question was: would she choose to exercise it?


At the time, only two women had owned NFL franchises. When Charlie Bidwell, owner of the Chicago Cardinals, died in 1947, his widow Violet became the team president. But Violet let Walter Wolfner, whom she married in 1949, run it. There were also Jo and Jane Morabito, widows of San Francisco 49ers owners and brothers Tony and Vic Morabito, who in 1964 combined the shares they inherited to take majority ownership of the team as a pair, but refrained from asserting control.


What drove Georgia to take active control of the Rams is not a simple question. At the time she claimed that she wanted to get out of the house, needed to stay busy during her period of grief, and believed that doing so was what Carroll wanted. Though at the time she claimed not to see her actions in the context of the women’s liberation movement, it’s hard not to think about her against that backdrop. She would take on her groundbreaking role as team president just months after the 1979 deadline for ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment to the US Constitution, which outlawed discrimination based on sex. But even if Georgia did not initially think about her rise to power in this context, the slow but steady backlash she faced would force her to do so.


In May of 1979, Georgia first stepped onto the field at Rams mini-camp at Cal State Fullerton in her new capacity as majority owner and team president. She air-kissed hello with tobacco-chewing head coach Ray Malavasi and played catch with quarterback Pat Haden. The New York Times joked that she “took Haden’s spirals on the edge of her fingertips in a way indicating that she happened to be a woman who’d been catching passes all her life.” The political significance of her act was mentioned less than her outfit, a powder blue jogging suit. “A rather shapely blonde” was how The Baltimore Sun described her. The Orlando Sentinel was even more lurid, calling her “a bosomy blonde who jiggles.”


Though much was later made of how quickly Georgia named herself president of the Rams following her husband’s death, few pointed out how quickly her stepson Steve stripped power from his father’s right-hand-man, Don Klosterman, whom CR had considered “the best general manager in football.” That month, Steve sent out a telex informing the league that any trade discussions with the team would no longer be addressed to Klosterman, but to Dick Steinberg, the Rams’ new director of player personnel.


Georgia was stunned by the move and in July of 1979, she returned to Cal State Fullerton where the Rams were holding training camp to smooth over rumors of front office discord. After spending a few minutes playfully kicking footballs off a tee (which one Baltimore Sun writer characterized as “posing for publicity shots with her well-shaped legs”), she extended an olive branch to her stepson, claiming Klosterman would now serve as “chief advisor,” explaining that he would no longer have to bother with office work. But a month later, Klosterman received a memo from Steve to the effect that he had been fired. Georgia acted quickly, inviting Steve to her Bel-Air home, where she fired him that same day.


A press conference was held the following week in Fullerton, attended by more than 20 reporters as well as crews from the three television networks. Not surprisingly, Georgia was late. One reporter speculated that she was “out shopping.” When she finally did arrive, she gave a brief statement. She called the firing of her stepson “the toughest decision of her life” but also claimed that Carroll himself had come to terms with the fact that Steve’s days with the team might be numbered. “We’ve had difficult decisions to make that we all knew were coming. Carroll had prepared things that way because of it,” she said.


One of the first questions came from a reporter wondering whether she would ever consider selling the team. Another wondered why she, “as a woman,” wanted to be part of “the vile and violent world of football.”


Georgia didn’t dignify the questions, but towards the end of the press conference she waxed, “There are two kinds of people: human beings and women. As soon as a woman tries to be a human being, people think she’s trying to be a man.”


Despite being a gross mischaracterization, the notion that a woman was “trying to be a man” when she entered heretofore male spaces was perhaps the most pointed accusation hurled at feminists of the day. Since the very beginning of the women’s liberation movement, feminists had fought the widespread belief that men and women were inherently different in the ways that they behaved, thought, and interacted with the world. These ideas not only were untrue, they argued, but also contributed to female oppression. But Phyllis Schlafly and many anti-ERA activists responded by claiming that in wanting women to be treated like men, feminists were jeopardizing many of the important protections that women enjoyed in a patriarchal society. This charge resonated for many Americans—especially in 1979, when surging oil prices plunged the economy into a recession, leaving many American women particularly vulnerable.


Claiming that she wasn’t “trying to be a man” while asserting power in the world of pro football was no small gesture in 1979. While most advertising and marketing executives and television producers and networks of the day had come to accept the fact that their consumers were more “liberated” and changed their strategies as a result, pro sports executives, still catering to male audiences, had not. At the time, women were included in pro football to the extent that they re-affirmed its power structure: Chet Forte’s “honey shots” on ABC’s Monday Night Football, Phyllis George and Jayne Kennedy’s puff pieces for The NFL Today, or the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders and their imitators. In exerting power in a male space, challenging its unspoken rules, and then describing it in frank and public ways, Georgia was a potent counter-narrative on behalf of women’s liberation. And so, it was not surprising when she was interpreted as such. As New York Daily News columnist Mike Lupica wrote: “The board of directors of women’s liberation ought to keep an eye on sweet Georgia… If she continues to run the Rams pretty soon it is going to be back into the kitchen for every woman.”


Because Georgia had been a performer, it was presumed at the time that she enjoyed all of the national attention she was receiving. In truth, it was not the case. “I’m used to being a private person,” she told the Chicago Sun-Times. “I’ve become a monster to some of my sportswriting friends.” And so, in the fall of 1979 she kept to herself, hoping that the furor surrounding her would quiet down. She didn’t make any public statements, denied all PR requests, and made herself scarce before and after team practices. When the regular season began, she said she was ill and stayed in LA instead of accompanying the Rams on a road trip, sending a box of chocolates to the team plane for the players in her stead.


But Georgia’s efforts to keep a low profile were dashed in October when the Los Angeles Times published a front-page story about her, penned by investigative reporters Alan Greenberg and Mike Goodman. In addition to dissecting her “flowery” bio in the 1979 Rams media guide, her chronic tardiness, and her aversion to “household duties,” it sought to establish a definitive chronology of each of her then-six marriages, set the record straight on her real age (51, not 42!), and demonstrate that she gave birth to both of her children with Carroll before they were legally married. Though the authors claimed to have conducted over 60 interviews, the story relied heavily on quotes from stepson Steve, Steve’s wife Renee, “unnamed friends,” and two of Georgia’s ex-husbands. Defending the underwhelming nature of their exposé, Greenberg explained that due to legal concerns, only a small portion of the story’s findings could be published. Though he didn’t specify the nature of the unpublished findings, it was alleged that the two journalists had been asking Georgia’s friends if they knew where she had been at the time of CR’s death.


Perhaps in defiance of the LA Times piece or out of frustration after humiliating losses the Rams had suffered to the Cowboys and Chargers, Georgia headed to Rams’ new Anaheim facility on October 24, 1979 with newfound resolve. She pulled in behind the wheel of a shiny, new Pontiac Firebird, which she parked in a special space reserved for “Mrs. Rosenbloom,” and joined Klosterman in a golf cart in the middle of the practice field. She then held an impromptu press conference in which she charged the media with sexism, vowed she would never sell the team, and boldly predicted that despite the Rams 4-4 start, her team would make the playoffs. Behind closed doors, Georgia also addressed her players. According to quarterback Pat Haden, she proclaimed her faith in the team and promised that she “wasn’t going to chop heads.” Kicker Frank Coral remembers it as a turning point in the season.


The Rams’ 1979 run is generally attributed to the midseason insertion of Vince Ferragamo at quarterback, but Georgia’s steadying presence should not to be overlooked. Following a loss to the New York Giants during which LA fans loudly booed her players, Georgia was resilient and optimistic: “I’m starting to think of next week. I’m also thinking about the good things I saw today.” The Rams won eight of their next 10 games en route to their first Super Bowl appearance ever and their first NFL championship game since 1955. NFL Films called 1979, “a tale of two seasons.” As Georgia put it: “I died, but I came back to life.”




There she was, in the end zone of the Rose Bowl in Pasadena in front of approximately 100,000 fans, opposite Art Rooney, whose vaunted Pittsburgh Steelers, were 10½ point favorites over her LA Rams. It was a jarring image: the league’s ultimate outsider, in a stylish blue turtleneck, plaid skirt, maroon boots and blue jacket, her platinum bouffant glistening under the California sun versus its quintessential insider, the schlumpy, octogenarian, in an ill-fitting charcoal, pinstriped suit and Coke-bottle glasses that emphasized the droopiness of his face. Just the night before, Georgia had danced the night away at the glamorous Chasen’s in West Hollywood with legendary actor and choreographer Gene Kelly, Bobby Kennedy’s widow Ethel, and fabled Hollywood dealmaker Swifty Lazar. Rooney, meanwhile, had retired early to his suite at the Newport Beach Marriott and departed for the Rose Bowl that morning on the team bus.


The press couldn’t get enough of the contrast of owners in the lead-up to the game. Shelby Strother wrote in Florida Today that Georgia “is a flirt by her own admission and a veteran of six marriages” while Rooney “still lives in the same house he bought in the ’30s. He’s kept the same wife for 52 years” and is unmatched in “his remarkable career of dignity … a Pennsylvania version of the Good Samaritan.” Baltimore Sun columnist Susan Reimer wrote, “The Ram owner is a former vaudeville performer and Las Vegas chorus girl” and “lives in a Bel Air mansion” where she “plays tennis with her players.” Rooney, meanwhile, is a family man who “lets his sons run his sports operations” and thanks his lucky stars that his wife barely knows the difference between a basketball and a baseball. “That’s the greatest break I ever got,” Rooney said. “How would you like some woman gabbing her head off about something that she doesn’t know anything about?”


After pecking Rooney on the cheek, Georgia left the field as actress Cheryl Ladd made her way onto it. A little over two years earlier, Ladd had replaced megastar Farrah Fawcett on ABC’s Charlie’s Angels, the flagship property of network executive Fred Silverman’s “jiggle television” strategy, which showcased women in ways that emphasized the movement of their breasts and buttocks. Stretching out during pre-game warmup, the Steelers’ Lynn Swann leaned over to fellow receiver John Stallworth. “John, watch this,” Swann said, before calling out to the actress, “Hey Cheryl, how you doing, sweetheart? Everything going okay?” Ladd, preparing to dedicate her rendition of the National Anthem to the American hostages being held in Iran, didn’t reply.


CBS had 31 cameras at the Rose Bowl, but Georgia never appeared during the Super Bowl telecast, nor was her name even uttered by its announcers. As time wound down in the fourth quarter, color commentator Tom Brookshier waxed wistfully, “I’m just sorry Carroll Rosenbloom isn’t here today.” Play-by-play man Pat Sumerall agreed, adding, “He’s the one who put together the [Rams] organization as it stands.” The Rams fought valiantly, but lost the game, 31-19.




Despite having led her team to the Super Bowl, newspapers gleefully mocked Georgia. She was ridiculed for daring to stand on the sidelines with her players during games and her penchant for giving them hugs, kisses, and pats on the butt was carefully chronicled. Stories of her musings on football strategy, however apocryphal, became a source of amusement—that safety Nolan Cromwell should become the team’s wish-bone quarterback or that quarterback Pat Haden should learn karate so that he could fend off defensive linemen by giving them little chops. She was pilloried for her now-common sense suggestion that her players take up yoga and for apparently ordering that the official team photo be re-shot because she didn’t like how she looked in it. It was reported that she wouldn’t write checks when Mercury was in retrograde; that twice a day, for periods of two to four minutes, she hung upside-down from a bar in her bedroom; and that she believed in astrology, numerology, levitation, and the healing powers of crystals. Bumper stickers emerged in Southern California, “Honk if you’ve been married to Georgia.” When Vince Ferragamo held out in 1980, Johnny Carson said of Georgia’s negotiating posture on The Tonight Show, “She has refused to give quarterback Vince Ferragamo a raise, but instead, she will marry him.” Everybody seemed to be having a blast.


Around that time, it also became known that there was a new man in Georgia’s life: 48-year old Dominic Frontiere, an award-winning Hollywood composer who Georgia had asked to oversee the music for CR’s memorial. Dominic started accompanying Georgia to Rams games during the 1979 season and would become her seventh husband in July of 1980. She would later claim that her fellow owners encouraged her to marry Dominic, hoping that it would mean a man running the team. But Dominic’s presence in Georgia’s life hardly improved her public standing.


“Dominic Frontiere was connected,” claims Dick Crane, Head of the Organized Crime Strike Force for the US Department of Justice during the 1960s and ’70s. “Absolutely connected. We knew that. He had an open file at all times.”


Georgia was soon dragged into a ticket scalping scandal when the IRS charged that Dominic failed to report hundreds of thousands of dollars in profits from sales of tickets to Super Bowl XIV. It was further alleged that reputed Mafia figure Jack M. Catain, an acquaintance of Dominic’s, had warned a former Rams employee against talking to investigators about the ticket controversy. Georgia conceded that the tickets had at one point been kept in her Bel Air bedroom, but testified that she believed her husband had been giving them away. When invited to implicate his wife on the witness stand, Dominic invoked spousal privilege, but had nonetheless further tainted Georgia’s public persona.




If fortune seemed to conspire against her, so too did pop culture. In the 1978 comedy Heaven Can Wait, Warren Beatty played Leo Farnsworth, a fictionalized owner of the Los Angeles Rams whose scheming and power-hungry wife conspires to have him murdered during the team’s march to the Super Bowl. The film was a certified hit and was nominated for nine Oscars, including Best Actor for Beatty and Best Supporting Actress for Dyan Cannon, who played Farnsworth’s wife, Julia. Things got darker from there.


In January of 1983, PBS’s Frontline aired “An Unauthorized History of the NFL,” which explored the connections between organized crime and pro football. Its most incendiary segment picked up on the NFL’s 1963 investigation, claiming that Carroll Rosenbloom gambled heavily with Mafia-connected bookies and speculating that he was somehow murdered as a result. The “evidence” largely consisted of underworld gossip that a frogman held Rosenbloom underwater until he drowned and an interview in which the man who tried to rescue Rosenbloom contended that he saw a “black object going in the opposite direction of the waves.” The climax of the segment was a shot of Rosenbloom’s corpse, his face locked in a gruesome gaze. Just seconds later, the documentary cut to his widow Georgia gleefully waving to spectators at Super Bowl XIV.


The New York Times and Sports Illustrated both printed scathing critiques of the expose: Frontline failed to mention the severe ocean conditions of the day of the drowning; that the Dade County coroner had declared that there was “not one scintilla of reason to believe” that the incident was anything other than an “unfortunate accident;” that Rosenbloom had had a double-bypass in November of 1975 and was vulnerable to heart attack; and that that the marks on his legs were not proof that someone had pulled him underwater, but scars from blood vessels that were removed and grafted onto his heart during his bypass surgery. But the image of Carroll’s dead body juxtaposed with Georgia’s cheerful countenance had a greater impact than any media critique could elicit. That month, Los Angeles County Supervisor Kenneth Hahn asked US Attorney General William French Smith to look into the drowning and the possible relationship between organized crime and pro football, including the charges of ticket scalping at the 1980 Super Bowl that were then being leveled against Dominic.


While Dyan Cannon’s Julia Farnsworth foreshadowed Georgia’s rise to notoriety, other characters soon emerged who riffed on the mythology surrounding Georgia. There was HBO’s 1st & Ten comedy series (1984-91), originally starring Delta Burke as a LA-based football owner who in her first season in charge gets mixed up in a Mafia-orchestrated ticket scalping scandal while leading her team to the league championship. There was also 1989’s Major League, in which Margaret Whitton played Rachel Phelps, a former showgirl with a penchant for tardiness who inherits baseball’s Cleveland Indians when her husband dies under mysterious circumstances. In addition to the aforementioned Red Zone, in which former exotic dancer and unfaithful wife Vivien Chase ends up a prime suspect in her football team owner husband’s murder, there was Any Given Sunday (1999), in which Cameron Diaz played ruthless and power-hungry pro football owner Christina Pagniacci, who conceals life-threatening medical information from the team’s star linebacker so he will continue to play. Most recently, there was Katie Holmes in season three of Showtime’s Ray Donovan (2015), who played the daughter of a Hollywood mogul from Bel-Air named Paige Finney who manages, through a mixture of foresight and cruelty, to bring an NFL team back to Los Angeles.



Dominic served nine months in prison. Eight months after he was released in 1988, Georgia divorced him. The Rams struggled to stay financially competitive after NFL free agency expanded in 1989, and when Georgia and John Shaw (who had been named General Manager in 1985) began exploring re-location opportunities, Rams fans began letting her have it from the stands. “Once the fans knew the team was moving, there were a lot of boos and she stopped coming down to the sidelines,” remembers her bodyguard, John Cave. “I think she was really hurt.”


Georgia gave up her title as team president, but continued to be active in the day-to-day business of the Rams. In 1995, she agreed to move the team to St. Louis, opposing a faction of owners pushing for her to sell the team and keep it in LA. According to Shaw, moving the Rams to St. Louis cost Georgia at least $44 million more than she would have had to pay were she a man. “They said she didn’t meet their guidelines to move,” Shaw claimed.


In St. Louis, she received standing ovations at restaurants and was widely praised for her activism and philanthropy in the St. Louis community. Rick Smith, Director of Public Relations for the Rams during the team’s last three seasons in Los Angeles and first eight in St. Louis, witnessed a complete metamorphosis in Georgia’s public reception. “She was welcomed with open arms in St. Louis. It was almost as if Los Angeles hadn’t happened,” he says.


But it wasn’t just a different city—it was also a different time. In the 1990s, a new generation of feminists increasingly waged war against workplace harassment and “girl power” infused the culture with confident images of powerful women embracing their “feminine” sides. And so, in the same year that Charlie’s Angels was rebooted with three kick-ass women more self-consciously owning their femininity, Georgia stepped back onto the football field, “working the sidelines in stilettos, offering hugs, words of encouragement, pecks on the cheek, even victory poems,” in the words of sportswriter Lisa Olson.


“I liked when she was on the sideline with the team,” says Dick Vermeil, who Georgia convinced to come out of retirement to become the Rams head coach in 1997. “I thought it was good for the players to see that she was not only monetarily involved but she was emotionally involved. And in her way, she was their leader.”


After two dismal seasons with the Rams, Vermeil met with Georgia prior to the Rams training camp in 1999. “I thought we’d be a playoff team. I didn’t think we’d be a world championship team,” Vermeil remembers. “And she showed me these astrology charts and explained to me that this is going to be our year.”


The odds of the Rams winning the Super Bowl that season were 300 to 1, but the team ended up making it all the way to the title game held in Atlanta at, of course, the Georgia Dome. Though it all seemed fated by the stars, ABC executives were less than enthused with the matchup against the Tennessee Titans, wondering how they were going to drum up interest in two teams that spent the entire season playing in the obscurity of regional coverage. John Filippelli, Vice President of Production for ABC Sports, said that “we can’t take for granted that everyone watching is totally familiar with these two teams. It’s incumbent upon on us to find the right balance between letting people know the players and doing what’s emotional.”


Looking back on the game, “what’s emotional” largely meant focusing on the stories of women. It started in the pre-game show, which featured the four female hosts of ABC’s then-2½ year old morning show, The View. In an awkward, albeit light-hearted attempt to address the female viewer, Barbara Walters challenged the panel to explain what the Super Bowl was all about. “It’s all about the butt,” claimed Meredith Vieira, who said that she had been appreciating the tight pants worn by the players ever since she was 10 years old.


ABC’s telecast of the game itself would feature its own version of The View. Its cameras intercut between four different female protagonists, the first three providing typical images of wives supporting their husbands: Juli Fisher, wife of Tennessee Titans Head Coach Jeff Fisher, described as a former “Rose Parade Princess;” the elegantly-dressed Mechelle McNair, wife of Titans quarterback Steve McNair; and Brenda Warner, the evangelical, ex-Marine married to Rams quarterback Kurt Warner. The fourth woman, Georgia, standing on the sidelines and watching the game from the perspective of her players, was a much less familiar image within the world of pro football.


In a thoughtful cover story with Jill Lieber of USA Today during the lead-up to the big game, Georgia addressed her harrowing first year in the league, her demonization by the media, and the lack of progress that the league had made when it came to its treatment of women. Perhaps it was because she was a more polished speaker, or perhaps it was because the times had finally caught up to her, but Georgia seemed more poised than ever before. For the first time, she also answered the question she had never addressed publicly—namely, what it was like to constantly be accused of murdering your husband. “It’s the height of cruelty,” she said.



The Rams jumped out to a 16-0 lead, but as the Titans made their way back into the game, the cameras increasingly trained their lens upon Georgia pacing the Rams sideline. At one point, play-by-play commentator Al Michaels directed his attention away from the field, observing that “Georgia Frontiere is on the field, the Rams owner. Fifteen years ago her name was ‘Fronti-e-r.’ Eight years ago she changed it to ‘Fron-ti-ére.’ She told me the other night it’s now ‘Fron-teer’ as in ‘last frontier.’”


When the Titans finally tied the game with 2:12 left, the camera showed Georgia nervously taking a sip from a cup of Gatorade, as if the TV viewer were watching the game through her eyes. And when the Rams retook the lead on a 73-yard touchdown pass from Warner to Isaac Bruce, the shot was of Georgia celebrating on the sideline. The Titans had one more chance to tie the game, but Rams linebacker Mike Jones stopped the Titans’ Kevin Dyson one yard short of the end zone as time expired. Georgia rushed onto the field, mouthing the words “thank god” as referee Bob McElwee announced over the public address system, “The game is over.”


When NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue handed Georgia Frontiere the Lombardi Trophy on January 30, 2000, there were 118 professional sports teams in America, but only was owned by a woman. It’s unclear whether the public ever really got to know that woman. The Los Angeles media cast her as dumb blonde, popular culture as a femme fatale. To Steve Rosenbloom she was a wicked stepmother. To the city of St. Louis she was a fairy godmother. Casting her as a trailblazer for women’s liberation doesn’t nearly capture her unique blend of tenacity, eccentricity, magnanimity—and yes, tardiness. It also doesn’t capture that for the final eight years of her life, she was a champion.