He's the hero the NFL deserves, but not the one it needs right now.
Go figure, of course, that of all the possible permutations of pigskin debate—Maurice Jones-Drew's contract status with the Jacksonville Jaguars, Santonio Holmes' remarks about Mark Sanchez and Tim Tebow and the Detroit Lions' earnest attempts to re-enact everyone's favorite scene from The Replacements—the most interesting NFL debate all week asked nothing of roster battles, handcuffs or controversial quotes, and everything of the resemblance of a certain caped crusader's chronicles to America's game.
In other words: If the NFL were Gotham City, who would represent its more notable inhabitants?
It's a debate, of course, that coincides with the theatrical release of The Dark Knight Rises, which of course is a little independent flick by Christopher Nolan that you've probably never heard of.
The first, and most important, facet of this conversation, of course, would be unmasking the NFL's version of Batman.
@cmccollo i thought Batman=Goodell. Not the hero we deserve but the one the need?
— Andrew Garda (@Andrew_Garda) July 19, 2012
The comparison makes sense. While the populace may vilify, fear, mistrust or (unfairly) label Goodell, he ultimately has the good of the league at heart, and he's continually advocating for player safety.
He's the hero the NFL deserves, continuing to change the game for the better. But not the one it accepts at the current moment.
Or at least, not one many will accept as long as he keeps giving those press conferences in the gravely, strained monotone of Tom Waits' chain-smoking, black-lunged lovechild.
Tracing the Nolan trilogy, then, that puts Goodell's first villain as Scarecrow—a man intent on spreading fear through the NFL and gaining ultimate authoritarian control, accessing everyone's inner-most thoughts and secrets.
Gee, who could that be?
Think about it—Bill Belichick is the ultimate Scarecrow. He knows your every secret, courtesy of an army of hidden camera-carrying minions. And he'll turn them against you, one predicted play call at a time.
Of course, Goodell put an end to his plan before it ever really had a chance to terrorize the rest of the NFL, and quietly let him go about his way. Consequentially, the NFL was very nearly threatened again by his rise to power.
Very nearly, anyway.
Next up in the Bat-villain list, of course, is the man made famous by Heath Ledger's Academy Award-winning performance: Joker.
So who is the NFL's true agent of chaos?
No matter how many experts want to label Tebow, the task is impossible. He's a fullback playing quarterback playing running back. He's throwing to his X receiver when the Z is wide open. He's making appearances on highlights, lowlights and everything in between.
And somehow, he's throwing game-winning passes to Demaryius Thomas in the NFL playoffs just for the hell of it.
No one can plan for Tebow. Not even his agent, or his own team.
Because some men just want to watch the world burn.
If Tebow is Joker, then who is the NFL's white knight? The man who we were led to believe was a true leader, a face the NFL would be proud to put on billboards...until his image was turned on its head.
Did you seriously think the answer would be anything other than suspended New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton?
Payton was a NFL darling, the face of the Saints' emergence from NFC doormat to Super Bowl champions. After New Orleans picked Peyton Manning's pocket and walked away from Super Bowl XLIV with a 31-17 victory, you would have been hard-pressed to find a NFL commercial or ad campaign that didn't feature the Saints' young, promising leader.
Payton, of course, was suspended for one year for his role in the scandal that rocked the NFL's world. His fall from grace was sudden and dramatic.
Let's be honest—this scandal could have played out a lot uglier than it did. Goodell was willing to play the role of bad guy, or enforcer, and dole out a controversial punishment that alienated a healthy percentage of fans, even turned them against the commissioner.
As such, in many eyes, Payton plays the role of victim, of the fallen hero, and Goodell is subsequently labeled the bully. Which would make sense if he spent his days in some secret lair stroking a plump tabby cat and counting the ways in which he could conspire to torture denizens of New Orleans any worse than native son Richard Simmons already has.
This leaves only one more villain, one more chapter to be completed.
Bane. And Goodell's rise from the crime-fighting ashes.
But who could be so maniacal as to draw comparisons to Bane? Which NFL personality could possibly be so hell-bent on destruction, on inflicting pain, that he would dare invite such similarities?
Probably the man who put Goodell in such an awkward position to begin with.
OK, so the timeline may be a bit problematic here. Bane's rise should theoretically follow Harvey Dent's fall, and clearly Gregg Williams' disregard for rules (or fellow man) was what led to Payton's (at least temporary) downfall.
But still, it's hard to argue anyone who more perfectly fits the bill. Ruthless. Evil. Vicious. Always a candidate to break the bat, so to speak.
And would you really put it beyond Williams to rig Heinz Field with explosives and detonate them at the first hint of the Pittsburgh Steelers glimpsing the end zone? Hell, why settle for "affect the head" when you can "implode an entire football stadium upon the opposition who dare to strut around with their ACLs and vertebrae intact"?
Williams is (or was, rather) one of the biggest threats to the league in recorded history. His action directly endangered countless men and perpetuated a system designed at inflicting as much pain and bodily damage as possible.
Of course he's the leading candidate to wear the inverted bat mask.
A few other suggestions were made as far as casting Gotham's NFL counterparts. Bleacher Report featured columnist Jon Dove suggested that New York Jets fullback John Conner should draw comparisons to Bane.
@cmccollo bane= John Connor
— Jon Dove (@Jon_Dove42) July 19, 2012
Personally, I'm just not seeing this one.
Is Conner a tank of a man? Of course. Could he beat up 15 fifth-graders? He could beat up 500 fifth-graders! Maybe even 506, but that's assuming this kid isn't in the crowd.
Does Conner have enough acts of terror in his name to claim Bane fame, though?
No. Or to put a more clever rhyme to that answer, as exhibited in the sentence above: hell no.
Sticking with the Jets theme, but venturing outside of Nolan territory and into the schlocky Joel Schumaker camp that gave unto to the world the magic of bat-nipples, Bleacher Report featured columnist Matt Stein suggested that Jenn Sterger is the NFL's version of Poison Ivy.
@cmccollo Jenn Sterger could be Poison Ivy— Matthew Stein (@MatthewJStein) July 19, 2012
Poison Ivy, of course, is known for her lethally seductive powers in the Batman universe. But is it fair to suggest Sterger mirrors this behavior?
Many will point to the controversy between Sterger and Brett Favre, in which the ex-Jets quarterback allegedly sent a cell phone picture of his I-formation to the former Jets television personality.
It would be difficult to argue, in that case, that Sterger seduced Favre. After all, she received the dirty photo. She didn't ask for it, or sign up for the newsletter on BrettFavre's-surprise-anatomy-lesson-dot-com.
In that light, you would have to reject the comparison. Also, it's probably best for everyone that both Chris O'Donnell's acting career and Favre's disturbing thumbnail-sized sext are completely erased from memory anyway.
(Unless you have a particular penchant for things that are short and recently shriveled up.)
No matter what parallels are drawn, though, you have to believe Goodell is crusading for the greater good, and has the NFL's best interests at heart.
At least until the next scandal threatens to break him.