Shortly after ESPN premiered its drama series, Playmakers, last August, the phone rang in the office of Michael D. Eisner, CEO of ESPN parent Walt Disney (DIS ) Co. An irate Paul Tagliabue, commissioner of the National Football League, was calling to complain that the show portrayed players as thugs. The show stayed on the air, but Tagliabue's willingness to challenge the creative license of Disney says a lot about how jealously this 63-year-old lawyer guards his fiefdom.
In 15 years as the NFL's caretaker, he has helped turn it into a $5 billion-a-year business -- up from $970 million when he came in. Ratings were up this season, and the NFL launched its own TV channel. Tagliabue's attention to revenue sharing and a salary cap made the NFL the most competitive pro league. All of which qualifies the commish as an unsung MVP candidate.
-- Oversaw the launch of the NFL Network, a cable and satellite channel.
-- Welcomed Sirius Satellite Radio as NFL's official radio network in a $220 million, seven-year deal.