Roger Goodell is heading into the Lions’ den, not Ford Field, New Orleans, Louisiana.
Super Bowl week begins on January 28 and the people of the city are prepared to give Goodell a welcome that would rival how the Ravens’ defense plans to welcome 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick on Super Bowl Sunday.
Pictures of Goodell are displayed all over restaurants and bars throughout the city with the words “Don’t Feed the Commissioner” or “Do Not Serve This Man” on them.
The anger of Saints fans at Goodell is understandable on one level.
Goodell overstepped his bounds in the way detrimental conduct is handled in the present day. When Joe Carr was elected league president in 1921 he ruled over issues concerning both players and owners. His rulings set the standards for player’s rights when under contract to a team.
He also briefly forced the Green Bay Packers from the NFL after ruling that they had committed a breach of public trust for using college players under assumed names in league games.
As the power of players associations in all sports have increased, the role of commissioner has evolved to being seen as the public face of ownership in relationships with the players and public.
While Goodell technically has the powers to take the actions he did under the current, and previous, collective bargaining agreement, he could have headed off a major portion of his public relations headaches by working closer with the NFLPA and not acting as the sole arbiter of the verdict and punishments to be handed down.
The investigation had been taking place since 2010 and the announcement by the NFL of the allegations took place on March 2. The rush to judgment and punishments handed down by Goodell on May 2 was unnecessary and uncalled for. There was plenty of time prior to the opening of training camps for him to bring the NFLPA in to assess evidence and concur on punishments to be assessed.
Any disagreements could have gone to arbitration in a much less public way than they eventually had to be resolved. Goodell stuck to his guns way too long about the player punishments and took egg on his face when they were vacated.
What has been forgotten by many with all the bad blood that has been created over the past year is that without Paul Tagliabue as commissioner and Roger Goodell operating as his point man there wouldn’t have been a team in New Orleans for fans to get riled up about.
Owner Tom Benson had already began talks with San Antonio officials about a possible move. With the Saints set to practice full time in San Antonio and play the majority of their home games at the Alamodome those talks intensified.
The Saints organization had taken steps to try and break their lease with the state to play in the Superdome and had gone as far as advising players to begin looking at property in San Antonio and surrounding areas.
Tagliabue stepped in to make sure that all involved understood that gathering support of three-quarters of NFL owners to approve a move would be an impossible task and that the team would be returning to New Orleans.
Goodell helped clear the bureaucratic roadblocks within the federal government to gain funding and push forward the rebuilding of the Superdome.
There were many in the federal government and across the country that either turned their back on, or gave up on New Orleans during those times.
Roger Goodell was not one of those people.
Going back even further, after 9/11 when the NFL suspended play for a week and pushed back the league schedule a conflict was created that threatened New Orleans’ ability to host the Super Bowl XXXVIII.
The Superdome was scheduled to host the National Automobile Dealers Association convention the week after that Super Bowl was originally scheduled to be played.
Both events had the city’s hotels booked solid for two weeks. Goodell worked through the scheduling conflicts so the game could stay in New Orleans.
While the main focus of the bounty dispute has been with the involvement and culpability of the players, they were exonerated and the suspensions vacated.
At no point in the war of words and legal proceedings between Goodell and the NFLPA has owner Tom Benson, general manager Mickey Loomis or head coach Sean Payton denied that the bounty program existed.
It’s not in dispute that these types of programs are a regular occurrence in locker rooms throughout the NFL to reward players for big plays and good, hard hits that are delivered.
No one is trying to outlaw contact in the NFL but programs that reward intent to injure and deliver the biggest payments for hits resulting in players being carted off the field cross the line.
There’s no argument that the Saints’ 2012 season was torpedoed from the loss of Payton for the season and Vitt for six games, plus the year-long turmoil surrounding the player punishments but both sides share responsibility for the season’s outcome.
Goodell has offered an olive branch to Saints fans by reinstating head coach Sean Payton early, which will allow him to scout the Senior Bowl and attend the Super Bowl on February 3.
It’s time for the New Orleans and Saints fans everywhere to reply in kind. It’s not necessary to appear at Goodell’s hotel bearing coffee and beignets. Just take the pictures down and remember the times when you were both pulling together to triumph over adversity.
Follow me on Twitter @tjpollin and also “Like” my Facebook page, Football From Adderly to Zimmerman (A to Z) to read more of my articles, leave comments, discuss football and read other writers who cover the NFL.