Here’s how we’ll take you into the NFL Divisional playoffs this weekend: an interview with commissioner Roger Goodell. The son of a Senator who went from intern with the New York Jets to “The Most Powerful Man in Sports” was kind enough to carve 15 minutes out of his afternoon for his first chat with a blog. Among the topics covered: Plaxico, Mike Vick, changing the overtime format and excessive celebration flags.
Q: What’s an average day in the office like? Are you a creature of habit? Are you spending hours pouring over media clips? In meetings with players, surfing the web?
The only thing I do as a habit is work out in the morning. Almost every morning. I like to get started before 6 am – it’s the only time of the day you can control. And it really does get me ready for the day. I’m mostly doing cardio – I’m an elliptical guy.
The most exciting thing about my job – or one of the most – is the fact that I don’t know what I’m going to have to do on any given day. The big issue is not to isolate myself and sit in the office, but get out and talk to fans, owners, coaches, the media … you want to make sure you’re in touch with the various elements that touch our game. You just try to keep listening and responding to what’s going on, and stay aware of the issues and think creatively about the solutions to them.
Q: You recently took in the Packers-Bears game, and sat among the fans in frigid temperatures. What was that experience like? Was there cheering? Taunting?
Cold. My beer froze in about 15 minutes. The game was my wife’s suggestion – she grew up a Bears fan. We had a great time. I spoke with a few people about different things, and fans appreciated that I was in the stands. I enjoyed it mostly because you can see the game the way our fans see it. There were four guys with their shirts off and they did plenty of trash talking – but about the game, not to me. I usually try to sit in the stands once a year, if not more. I was at the San Diego-New England AFC Championship game last year, and this weekend I’ll be in Tennessee Saturday for the game, and then Pittsburgh Sunday.
Q: Speaking as a fan, who are some offensive and defensive players that have impressed you?
A couple of my idols are Johnny Unitas and Larry Brown. I just loved the way they played the game, and the passion they brought to the game and how so prepared they were. I admire a lot of players, but those two I admire greatly. But there are so many I could name … like Walter Payton … I could go on. I’ve often said that it’s not what the players do on the field, but off it as well.
Q: Each morning, we’ll usually check out Youtube to look for exciting dunks or game-winning homers. I’d like to do that for the NFL, but the league is sure to keep all video highlights off YouTube. Do you feel like it is a disservice to fans?
I don’t think there’s a better time to be an NFL fan. When I was a child, I had to wait until halftime of Monday Night Football to watch the highlights from the Sunday games. Now, there’s more content than ever out there, and fans can get those highlights through many devices.
Q: Changes have been made in the league to enhance offense – kickoffs, pass interference – and kickers have improved their accuracy over the last 30 years. We heard a stat that claimed in the last five years, 62 % of the teams that win the coin toss in overtime win the game. Do you feel the overtime format should be changed? And do you like the college overtime format?
We’ve looked at this repeatedly over the last 50 years. We believe that the integrity of the game should stay the same in regular and post season, but on the other hand, we have to determine a victor in the postseason. The reason I think there’s merit to what we have is that the object is to win the game in regulation. The fact that it is sudden death in postseason, and that a coin toss starts overtime, puts every incentive on teams to win the game in regulation. And I prefer our format to the college format.
Q: What’s an ideal number of preseason games? 2, 3, 4? And if you trim two games, do you then add two to the regular season?
We feel that the best quality of football is a 20-game season – and we have that now with four games in the preseason, and 16 in the regular season. But, we also think you don’t need four preseason games any longer. I hear this from football people and fans, and both agree that the quality of play in the preseason is not up to NFL standards. The proposal we’re talking about is modifying things to make two of those preseason games into regular season games. We’ve heard very positive feedback from fans about that.
Q: You were a high school athlete who scored many baskets and touchdowns, so you know the feeling of fans cheering for you and chanting your name. NFL players are having 50,000 people cheering for them when they get in the end zone, and they want to have fun. Do you care about the No Fun League moniker? Why are celebrations penalized? What about the one in Arizona after the safety last weekend?
It’s not that we don’t allow them to embrace the crowd and share the enthusiasm of the moment. We don’t want [referees] making determinations about what is a good celebration and what is a bad celebration. So we came up with standards that would allow the players to reflect the game and be respective of the game.
When you get into those kinds of premeditated acts – like the one in Arizona last weekend – they become unsportsmanlike. They become taunting. And it causes the other team to retaliate in a negative fashion. The celebration in Arizona wasn’t emotion, it was a premeditated act.
Q: Michael Vick will probably be released from prison in the not-too-distant future. Would he be welcome back in the NFL? Have you spoken with him since his incarceration?
I have not spoken with him. I said I’d make a decision when he was finished his legal requirements. And to a large extent, this is all dependent on Michael. He recognizes he paid a hefty price with his career halted and he lost a significant amount of money. But the general population has to know that he has remorse, and that he recognizes he made a mistake, and that he can be a positive influence going forward.
Q: Have you spoken to Plaxico Burress of the Giants?
I have not spoken to Plaxico.
Q: Have you ever googled yourself?
My nieces and nephews did that to me over Christmas to embarrass me. I didn’t pay much attention to it. But they were giggling a lot, let’s put it that way.
Q: Do you play fantasy football?
I don’t, but I do realize how much fans enjoy it.
Q: You’re a football fan, so point-blank: BCS or a Playoff?
[Laughs] I’m a huge football fan. But that’s for someone else to worry about.
Q: Big plans for your 50th birthday next month?
Ah man, why’d you bring that up? No big plans. I’ll probably be in Indianapolis for business reasons.
Q: Who is your favorite announcer in all of sports? Radio or TV?
[Ten seconds of silence] I loved listening to Pat Summerall and John Madden. I think they were a great team together.
Q: Growing up, what was your favorite team in the NFL?
I was a Colts fans through the 60s, when I grew up in Washington. Then I became a Redskins fan. I think a lot of it had to do with George Allen coming in and taking over the Redskins.
Q: Do you play Madden football on the xbox?
I don’t. But I did play with my nephew over Christmas. I wasn’t very good at it.
Q: What US city would you most like to see an NFL team in?
Los Angeles. We would love to be back there, but it has to work.