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Discipline aside, Goodell has made his mark

August 12, 2007|Dave Goldberg | Associated Press

NEW YORK -- To most people, Roger Goodell's crackdown on misbehaving players is perceived as his main accomplishment in his first year as NFL commissioner.

In truth, the long-term promise for his administration is reflected in the raves from Dallas' Jerry Jones and Buffalo's Ralph Wilson, two owners at the opposite ends of the NFL's most crucial divide: revenue.

"It's been just a wonderful year. Roger has made all the right decisions, all the common sense things that make the NFL what it is," says the 88-year-old Wilson, who has been the most outspoken of the league's small-market owners. Wilson was less than enthusiastic about Goodell before he was selected Aug. 8, 2006, to succeed Paul Tagliabue.

"He gets an A-plus from me," says Jones, who agrees with Wilson on very little -- at least on the business side of the league.

The raves from two sides of the NFL's deep financial divide are about Goodell's handling of issues more far-reaching for the NFL's future than his discipline of Adam "Pacman" Jones, Tank Johnson, Chris Henry and Michael Vick. Such items as revenue sharing, labor, pensions, television, and competitive and economic balance are crucial to the future, not how he deals with a star quarterback accused of dogfighting.

So much so that Goodell seems alternately amused and annoyed that his first year in office have left him perceived as the Crackdown Commissioner.

"It's not as if my entire time -- or even most of it -- has been devoted to that," he said recently after visiting with the Tennessee Titans (Pacman's team) in Nashville. "Basically, we're talking about four players. I deal with everything that comes across my desk and, frankly, discipline is just a small part of it."

Still, the perception of Goodell as a strict disciplinarian runs deep among players as well as in the media, although as Goodell notes: "The players support it because they know these are isolated cases. And they know that it reflects negatively on NFL players, something we don't want."

But not all the Titans supported Goodell -- until they saw and heard him in person.

"With him coming in and dropping the hammer on so many people you get this bad impression about him," safety Chris Hope said after the meeting.

"So you probably feel like he's this disciplinary guy who wants it all his way, and it's not about the players. Once listening to him and once hearing his opinions on issues, you learn he's all about the players. He's continuing to try to keep our league with a positive image."

Goodell has also made a point of soliciting the players' point of view -- "valuable feedback," as he puts it -- through their union and a council of veteran players.

"It's not just for show," says Indianapolis center Jeff Saturday, a member of the players' advisory council. "I've never had the impression in talking to the commissioner that he's doing anything but listening to what we have to say. He's a great listener, and his decisions seem to reflect what we've told him."

Despite the publicity over the discipline, the endorsements by owners from both ends of the spectrum are more telling.

Jerry Jones, who had more than his share of run-ins with Tagliabue over individual marketing and revenue sharing, thinks Goodell's 20 years working for Pete Rozelle and Tagliabue make him perfect for a complex job.

An outsider, he points out, would have needed to learn how to be a CEO dealing with 32 other CEOs with conflicting interests and very different personalities.

"What he had was a very good working relationship with individuals and clubs before he became commissioner," Jones says of Goodell.

"He's utilized those and taken advantage of the fact of his history and his knowledge of how things get done in the NFL. He's more than I expected because he used that knowledge bank. He didn't have that learning curve. If you walk in cold, almost assuredly you're going to burn some bridges and make some mistakes. He hasn't."

Wilson thinks Goodell's strength is his practicality. He cites the decision to get rid of NFL Europe after years of losing money, and to be less aggressive about expansion to Los Angeles until that city can build a stadium and settle on one ownership group. That, again came from experience. As chief operating officer under Tagliabue, Goodell was the NFL's point man on the Los Angeles talks.

"It was common sense," Wilson says of dumping the European league. "It was losing millions every year and we weren't getting many players at all out of it. Yes, there's a Kurt Warner or Brian Moorman, our punter. But you don't see many players who got a second chance there and developed."

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