For NFL owners, finding a successor to Pete Rozelle is like a boxing fan trying to determine who will succeed Mike Tyson as heavyweight champion. There just don't seem to be any leading candidates.

"We have to turn over every stone," said Edward DeBartolo Jr., owner of the San Francisco 49ers, after Rozelle's shocking announcement Wednesday that he is retiring three years before his contract expires."This guy isn't coming into any day at the beach. This man will be succeeding a legend."

The first and most obvious name that surfaced was Jack Kemp, the former NFL quarterback, congressman and now Secretary of Housing.

But there are others who might fit the description set forth by Tex Schramm, president of the Dallas Cowdoys, and seconded by other owners: a man in his 40s or early 50s, knowledgeable about the NFL and communications.

Among them:

- Paul Tagliabue, a former Georgetown basketball player who is now a lawyer with Covington and Burling, the prestigious Washington law firm. Tagliabue has represented the NFL before Congress and has been deeply involved in two major lawsuits - the antitrust suit filed against the league by the USFL and the current antitrust suit filed by the players union at the end of the 1987 strike.

- Neal Pilson, the president of CBS Sports, who has worked closely with the league for a decade. Several owners were impressed with Pilson's testimony during the USFL trial.

- Joe Bailey, Dallas' vice president for administration. Bailey is a former North Carolina quarterback and Cowboys ballboy who is considered to have Schramm's knowledge of football without the abrasiveness that has antagonized some owners toward the Cowboys president.

Other, more speculative candidates, might include former Dallas running back Calvin Hill, a Yale graduate and member of the Baltimore Orioles' board of directors; Bob Wallace, general counsel to the Phoenix Cardinals and a former Yale running back; and Bill Walsh, who stepped down as San Francisco coach after winning his third Super Bowl in January.

Hill and Wallace are black - earlier this week Rozelle strongly urged the owners to hire more minority employees.

When Kemp was asked about the job today in Chicago, he said, "I love what I'm doing."

He said he is committed to the Bush adminstration.

Schramm, whose role with the Cowboys is likely to be diminished with the sale of the team to Arkansas oil man Jimmy Jones, said he wasn't interested. But Schramm hedged when asked if he might be interested in taking the job on an interim basis.

"I'm older than Pete," the 68-year-old Schramm said of the 63-year-old Rozelle. "But the league is No. 1 with me. If there is anything I could do to help, I would."

Less likely are two who were hot candidates half-a-dozen years ago but whose luster has dimmed because of their involvement in the NFL's recent legal and labor troubles: Michael McCaskey, president of the Chicago Bears and nephew of George Halas, one of the league's founders, and Jack Donlan, executive director of the NFL Management Council.

The new commissioner will be picked by a committee headed by Wellington Mara of the New York Giants and Lamar Hunt of the Kansas City Chiefs, president of the NFC and AFC, respectively. Three more members will be named today.

Several owners, led by Art Modell of the Cleveland Browns, suggested a two-headed job - a commissioner to handle marketing, television and other public aspects, and a president to handle the football operations and perhaps legal matters.

In any case, it will take 19 of the 28 owners to elect the new commissioner - two-thirds of the teams. That's not always easy. Most other policy matters need three-quarters, or 21.

In 1960, when Rozelle was elected, it took 11 days and 23 ballots to decide on the then little-known general manager of the Los Angeles Rams.

It was the two thirds requirement that got Rozelle his job in 1960, when the owners were choosing a successor to the late Bert Bell in Miami Beach.

Paul Brown, then owner of the Cleveland Browns was probably the leading candidate to succeed Bell but he turned it down. The post was then given to Rozelle.