6 Things I Miss About the Paul Tagliabue-Run NFL
Simply put, I miss Paul Tagliabue.
He wasn't perfect, but in comparison to Roger Goodell, he is a saint. Ever since Goodell's reign of terror began in 2006, when Tagliabue stepped down from his post, a number of things I cherish about the NFL have vanished, seemingly for good.
Here are six of them, in no particular order:
When Fans Could See the Super Bowl for Which They Actually Purchased Tickets
If Roger Goodell were virtually anybody else in this world (short of, say, Barack Obama), he would be in jail for what he did to approximately 1,250 fans at last year's Super Bowl in Dallas.
The commissioner essentially sold a product that didn't exist to fans who were left out in the cold (literally, as temperatures dipped in Dallas) when the new Cowboys Stadium was revealed to have seats that weren't structurally sound. Those ticket-holders were either relocated to temporary seats or prevented from seeing the game live altogether.
About a third of those 1,250 fans got a nice view of the backs of people's heads and TV screens.
False advertising is one thing, but false sales are another. Yes, Jerry Jones deserves much of the blame here, as does the Texas Stadium Authority, but the ultimate burden falls on the man who wanted a Super Bowl so big—so Texas-sized, if you will—that he would stop at nothing to make sure it happened on his watch for a feather in his cap.
A refund or an offer to watch a future Super Bowl is peanuts for these fans, many of whom actually were there to see their teams (the Packers and the Steelers) play. The fact that this year's Super Bowl featured two of those teams' chief rivals didn't help matters.
It was an ugly scenario that an organization like the NFL should never endure, and the person at the top needs to be the one held accountable.
Saturday Afternoon Football
Perhaps these were always more cherished memories for me because I got to enjoy them in the sunny confines of Florida over winter break, but there was something special and unique about Saturday afternoon games in December.
Tagliabue would stagger a few games on the schedule and put them on Saturdays on CBS and Fox, and occasionally ESPN, to broaden our weekends.
On a Saturday in 2005, Tiki Barber and Larry Johnson unleashed a fantasy football war between playoff-hopefuls New York and Kansas City. Marquez Pope was involved in one of the most bizarre defensive plays ever seen in football in 2000, when the Raiders defensive back’s rain-soaked momentum carried him into the end zone while recovering a football for a critical safety in a game against Seattle.
With the advent of the NFL Network and, more significantly, Thursday Night Football and Saturday Night Football, Goodell wanted to make sure these games are the only ones in town outside of Sunday. For those out west who can’t get the NFL Network on Time Warner, this is nothing short of a crying shame.
Bowl games have also expanded somewhat, meaning fewer Saturdays are now available anyway. In the past, Tagliabue had more open dates to work with on the schedule.
Non-Divisional-Centered Week 17
This one really gets my goat.
Some of the most legendary Week 17 finishes have come from non-divisional games. The idea of unknown Cardinals wide receiver Nathan Poole being given the key to the city of Green Bay in 2003 is remarkable. His ridiculous game-winning touchdown catch that knocked Minnesota out of the playoffs and allowed the Packers in was nothing short of electrifying.
I know because I happened to be watching with a Packers fan.
2006 had a wild and wacky finish, thanks to the 49ers finishing off the Broncos in overtime. This allowed the Chiefs—who had won a scintillating, virtual play-in game with Jacksonville earlier in the day—to reach the postseason. New England and Tennessee also staged a harrowing duel that had playoff implications.
What really stings the most about this is, once again, the politician in Goodell wouldn’t admit the real reason he made this change. It was done to create more meaningful late-season games, but the reality is he lost a lot of ratings when the Colts eschewed their pursuit of 16-0 in 2009 against the Jets so that they could keep Peyton Manning off the snowy Buffalo field in Week 17. No perfection means lower ratings, and that is the bottom line for the NFL’s egomaniacal commissioner.
What the Colts did was not inexcusable; it was within their right as the league’s premier team to prioritize health over records. They reached the Super Bowl that season, coming up one win short of the ultimate prize, but Goodell only cared that the league could not potentially sell “Perfect Season” shirts after the 2009 regular season.
Once again, the fans suffer.
ESPN's "NFL PrimeTime"
There is no question that losing the best show on television hurts the most.
Now, you might be asking, how could the commissioner possibly have been involved in this one?
NFL PrimeTime was called such because it was the prelude to ESPN’s Sunday Night Football, which always played second-fiddle to ABC’s Monday Night Football. Understandable, because tradition had always been that Monday Night Football was a massive event and the game’s biggest regular-season stage.
But as the TV contract changed—which, of course, is the biggest revenue-generator for the league—so, too, did the landscape of great football scheduling as we know it. NBC took over Sunday Night Football, meaning ESPN could not do its traditional highlight show, which had run 19 seasons on the genius of Chris Berman and Tom Jackson’s brilliant chemistry.
That chemistry, instead, went to NBC and the NFL Network, and a cheap, imitation version entitled The Blitz put 19 years of wonderful television to shame. Now, most viewers shudder as they listen to the overly sarcastic tandem of Dan Patrick and Keith Olbermann do highlights with some snarky analysis mixed in by Rodney Harrison.
Mondays are now reserved to watch snooze-fests like San Diego-Jacksonville or St. Louis-Seattle, while NBC now has the right to be flexible late in the year and force-feed America an overdose of the Giants, Cowboys, Patriots and Steelers.
And there is no great highlight show to temper any of this angst.
When the Pro Bowl Was Played after the Super Bowl
The only logic I can somewhat agree on with Goodell is that the Super Bowl, being the ultimate game, should be just that—the ultimate game.
Save the best for last, sure.
In theory, it sounds nice, but what it does is further jeopardize a game that was already deemed meaningless by fans and players alike.
Believe it or not, there have been some enjoyable Pro Bowls in recent years. The players who were selected actually treated the experience like one that they may not have the joy of being a part of again.
Nowadays, playing it the week before the Super Bowl—during the wretched “Dark Week” created so the media can over-hype the Big Game—makes it so that fans don't get to see arguably the best players, the ones participating on Super Bowl Sunday, in Honolulu.
Speaking of Honolulu, what a joke it was the one year the Pro Bowl was moved to the mainland U.S.
I know because I was there, sitting in the rain in Miami as fans had no idea who or what to cheer for. Something just didn't feel right. I remember leaving early in the third period and seeing a Chargers player who had the same idea—linebacker Brandon Siler did not want to subject his friends and family to this mockery of a display of football.
Additionally, with the Pro Bowl now moved up two weeks, you get far fewer stars who want to participate because they have been left less recuperation time from the regular season or playoffs. You also rob the Conference Championship game-losing coaches of a consolation prize for coming so close, as now the game is coached by the divisional round loser with the best record (so, essentially, the coach whose team pulled the biggest choke gets the free trip to Hawaii).
If you want to have any chance to see this game get any attention again, Roger, I suggest you put it back after the Super Bowl, perhaps pay the players more money to participate (I'm not saying they need it, I'm just being a realist that money talks), and allow all players (not just ones that didn't reach the Super Bowl) to be a part of the festivities.
It may not improve things, but it certainly can't make them any worse.
The Unique Super Bowl Logos
This is really a small issue I have with the league.
One of the coolest things about the Super Bowl, especially when your team isn’t playing in it, is the logo and the memorabilia available with each individual game. I always thought each Super Bowl had its own personality, and the logos reflected the originality of every year’s game being a little different in its own right.
More importantly, it gave each city a little bit of status to design something that reflects its connection to the game. It was also neat to see it painted on the field to give viewers a little bit of colorfulness, and it was also kind of cool seeing the small patches on the players’ jerseys and helmets.
What has replaced this is a grisly, unoriginal, and, frankly, phallic symbol that says exactly what Goodell is thinking: this game, and this league, are larger than life and everybody knows it.
The giant Lombardi Trophy protruding from a large globe-shaped design of the stadium where the game is being played makes it look more like it belongs on the cover an X-rated film than on football’s biggest stage.
I can’t wait until the 2015 season, when the Roman numerals are condensed to one letter: “L.”
That is fitting, because the NFL is the biggest loser in making this switch.
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