Val Pinchbeck was as instrumental
in the growth of the National Football League as any commissioner. As
the NFL’s vice president of broadcasting, Pinchbeck spent four decades
smoothing relationships between the increasingly powerful NFL and its
growing number of broadcast partners, while quietly solving the league’s
scheduling puzzle with expertise unmatched by man or machine.
“Part of the secret to the
success of the National Football League has been its partnership with
its broadcasters,” explains Dennis Lewin, Pinchbeck’s successor.
“At the end of the day, the man who was responsible for that relationship
with those broadcasters for the longest period of time, and especially
in its growth years, was Val Pinchbeck.”
Pinchbeck began his football-centric
career as sports information director at Syracuse University before
joining the AFL in 1966. After the AFL-NFL merger, he worked his way
up to director of broadcasting before Commissioner Paul Tagliabue elevated
him to vice president of broadcasting and production in 1990.
Pinchbeck’s main role was
to serve as liaison between the broadcasters and the league, but, more
than that, he managed their relationship. “Val would always deal with
the partners in such a way that everybody understood Val was working
for the good of the whole,” says Lewin.
With an easy-going persona
and a reasonable approach, Pinchbeck believed in dialogue, working to
achieve consensus among broadcasters.
“Val had the perfect personality
for that part of the job,” says Don Ohlmeyer, former producer for
ABC and NBC Sports. “He was able to stick-handle his way through the
vipers that all wanted the same thing.”
Pinchbeck attended as many
NFL games as he could, staying close enough to the fan to keep abreast
of what they thought of his precious product.
“He really felt that it was
a huge failure if he and his people were not out there every weekend
watching what’s going on in the stadiums and with the networks,”
“He pretty much lived for
his job,” says son Val Pinchbeck III. “His work was one of his biggest
Pinchbeck is best known for
his prowess at manually crafting the NFL playing schedule. Working on
a pegboard with the weeks of the season down the left side and the teams
across the top
numbers that both changed during his tenure
Pinchbeck spent months solving each
season’s 256-game jigsaw puzzle. No schedule was complete until Pinchbeck
had ensured that each matchup was good in his mind, good for the teams,
and good for television.
“To do the schedule, Val
would literally work seven days a week, 10 to 12 hours a day, from mid
February until the middle of May,” Lewin says. “And he was a genius
Instinctively taking into consideration
such factors as shared stadium usage, the possibility of an NFL city’s
baseball team playing in the World Series, and the need to avoid home
games in heavily Jewish areas on Yom Kippur, Pinchbeck’s thought process
was not an easy one to automate.
“When we went to NASA to
describe the computer we wanted to build, we said we wanted to build
it like Val’s brain,” Lewin says. “In computer language, they
call them algorithms, so we told them we wanted to create a Valgorithm.”
Just as a computer has yet
to fully duplicate Pinchbeck’s scheduling sorcery, since his death
in 2004, no one has replaced his dedication, passion, and commitment
to the National Football League.—