By then she had already spent a decade around the team. Listening to his father during boot camp conducting negotiations over the phone in his dorm at Wilmington College, mesmerized by the numbers on his negotiation boards. Spending summers in high school working the Bengals box office before heading to Dartmouth College at 16. Then summers in law school to help with the numbers.
“That’s it,” Blackburn said. “Here’s my signature.”
Thirty years later, his signature, like that of his grandfather, goes down in history. Last offseason, Elizabeth Blackburn made Paul Brown’s autograph a piece of the team’s new uniforms and branding. Now this offseason, her mother is making a signing statement at the annual NFL owners’ meeting that begins Sunday in Palm Beach, Fla., the first where a woman has served on the league’s powerful competition committee.
“She’s spent her whole life proving that she’s a footballer. I don’t see her as a man or a woman. She’s a footballer. That’s the biggest compliment I can give her,” said Colorado-based heavyweight Peter Schaffer. agent who has made numerous 15-round decisions with Blackburn, from extending Rudi Johnson in 2005 to singing fast La’el Collins last weekend.
“What’s impressive is the kind of reverence she has around the league. When you talk to general managers or other owners and people listen at owner meetings, competition committee meetings , all that, when she talks, people listen. It comes from respect. It’s not how much you talk, it’s what you say.”
Blackburn has said enough for Troy Vincent, the Pro Bowl cornerback turned executive vice president of NFL football operations, to feel a new voice emerging from the corridors of league power.
“I like people who fought their way to the top, worked their way to the top,” said Vincent, the seventh pick in that 1992 draft.
“You have an appreciation for Katie and all of the work. Sometimes with the legacy, the family, you don’t have to go that route. But she worked and earned it and, frankly, the committee of competition is the National Football League Committee.You reach that level and you run the game and she has earned that right.
Larry Ferazani, the NFL’s assistant general labor counsel, cut his teeth in the league a decade and a half ago on player fines and grievances and even then he was struck by how badly he It was rare for an owner like Blackburn to spend time on perhaps the most obscure and tedious part of the business. Now he agrees she is part of the blue ribbon commission of the game known as the competition committee
“From the next generation of owners who are starting to take leadership in this league,” Ferazani says, “she has a truly unprecedented base.”
Blackburn has no time for history, although she clearly does. Carried by her daughters alongside her in key business areas and a talented young team less than 39 seconds from the Super Bowl championship, she has the Bengals on a roll. It’s one of the most engaged teams in the NFL on social media and another string of free agent signings has pundits raving about the potential for back-to-back AFC North titles and a another deep race.
“There are a lot of people here doing the work,” Blackburn says. “I like to check everything, but we really work together and everything is connected.”