Jeff Pash

As the No. 2 exec of the sport that produces TV’s highest-rated programming, Jeff Pash doesn’t get the accolades—or the scorn—heaped upon his boss, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. But as the league’s lead negotiator in labor talks with the players’ union for a new collective bargaining agreement, Pash is the quarterback of a potentially ugly process that will determine whether there is a full NFL season or not this fall. At risk: about $3 billion in ad revenue for the league’s four major TV networks.

Before joining the NFL in 1997, Pash served four years as senior VP/general counsel of the National Hockey League, where he played a key role in resolving a contentious labor dispute in 1995. That standoff dragged on for four months and threatened to cancel the entire NHL season; by the time the sides finally stopped brawling, almost half of the season was gone—and some say the sport never recovered.

So whose uniform will Pash pull on to quarterback the most important labor talks affecting television this year? Will he be Brett Favre—indecisive, polarizing, reckless under pressure? Or will he be Aaron Rodgers, devising an ingenious two-minute-drill of labor negotiation play-calling that solves a two-year-old stalemate in time for the network upfronts in May, preserves the NFL’s $9 billion in revenue, and saves 100 million American football fans from total despair?