NEW YORK — Shortly after NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell began his annual state-of-the-league address Friday at the Time Warner Center, fake white flakes started falling behind him on the Rose Theater stage.
“I told you we were going to embrace the weather,” Goodell said on cue. “Here we go.”
Talk about a snow job.
When Goodell gushed that late NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle would be proud of the league tempting fate in an outdoor game seconds after praising Rozelle’s vision in 1966 to declare that the Super Bowl should be played in ideal conditions, he contradicted himself. But then Goodell crediting anybody but Mother Nature for pulling this off would have sounded wrong.
The NFL simply got lucky, a fact ignored by Goodell’s self-congratulatory tone complimenting the innovation and cooperation necessary to play Super Bowl XLVIII outside in early February at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey. Sunday’s latest forecast mercifully calls for temperatures in the mid-40s with a slight chance of rain, details that received more national scrutiny this week than the Broncos’ game plan. The breakout star of Super Bowl week wasn’t Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman as much as ABC’s Ginger Zee, the indefatigable meteorologist who provided daily updates on ESPN.
For everyone in Chicago wondering how a successful New York/New Jersey Super Bowl affects the potential of having the big game at 61,000-seat Soldier Field, look outside your window. Or turn on the TV or radio and find the answer in the words “Winter Storm Warning.” Not even a mayor as powerful as Rahm Emanuel can take down Jack Frost. The Bears are closer to playing in a Super Bowl than Chicago is to being host to one, and they have a defense more passable than area roads.
Besides, the line for potential future cold-weather Super Bowl hosts likely starts behind Boston and Philadelphia — not that Goodell tipped his hand when the third question of his news conference asked about a northern city’s chances to win the next open bid for 2019. He should have just said no, never again. He merely acknowledged the interest from several communities and underscored the chosen city’s need to manage a complex urban infrastructure with at least 30,000 hotel rooms.
“Weather is a factor when you play in the United States in February,” Goodell said, forgetting about this thing called a dome. “(But) I believe we need to get to as many communities as possible so they can share not only in the emotional benefits but the economic benefits.”
Feeling empowered by its recent good fortune only will encourage the league to keep trying to fix something that isn’t broken.
The NFL is only begging for a blizzard by considering another cold-weather Super Bowl, yet the igloo door clearly remains wide open. Similarly baffling, the league remains more popular and lucrative than ever yet Goodell expressed confidence about expanding the playoffs from 12 to 14 teams — which would dilute the field and devalue the regular season — and putting a team in London. (Before Los Angeles? A jolly bad idea.) This after Goodell floated the idea of eliminating the extra point to increase excitement, another misguided measure.
The more Goodell entertains changes that could improve the bottom line more than the game, the more he looks like a guy driven mostly by his stated goal of tripling NFL revenues by 2027 to $25 billion.
On Wall Street nearby, they say greed is good but Goodell must be careful not to ignore more pressing issues threatening the NFL’s accessibility in his quest for the almighty dollar. The bigger the NFL becomes, the more it potentially prices out the average fan from the in-stadium experience — as illustrated when playoff games in Indianapolis, Green Bay and Cincinnati barely averted blackouts. The officiating requires an offseason jolt of legitimacy too, which revamping the replay-review process would begin to address. And the rulebook forbidding physical hits that once drew cheers instead of penalty flags needs to be re-evaluated to include common sense.
Yet, the progress evident from the NFL’s latest concussion data must continue to be a top priority: the number of concussions dropped 13 percent in 2013 and those caused by helmet-to-helmet contact decreased 23 percent the last two seasons.
This was more worthy of Goodell’s gloating than the lack of snow.
“We’ve made changes in the game. We’ve made changes to the rules. We’ve made changes to equipment,” Goodell said. “There have been changes in the way we deal with concussions when they do occur. It’s a reflection of the culture. There’s greater awareness. There is a more conservative approach over a long period of time. ... The game is safer, more exciting and more popular than ever.”
Yes, after a midwinter Super Bowl week in the Northeast, the league can celebrate a hot streak. But don’t push your luck, Commish.