Reporting from Irving, Texas -- NFL owners, historically resistant to change, bundled up Tuesday and took a step into the great wide open.
At the annual May meetings, they voted to award a Super Bowl to the New York area, sending the February 2014 game there and turning back bids by Tampa and South Florida. It was a historic moment because there has never been an outdoor Super Bowl in a cold-weather city. The game will be played at the soon-to-open, $1.6-billion home of the Giants and Jets in East Rutherford, N.J.
"We wished for it, we got it, and now we've got to do the work," said Giants co-owner Steve Tisch, after waiting nervously through four ballots, with the New York-New Jersey bid finally edging Tampa by a simple majority. South Florida, which just played host to the Super Bowl, was eliminated after the second round.
In a larger sense, the league's willingness to try something new — a risk not everyone agrees with — is reflective of Commissioner Roger Goodell's push to be innovative in an increasingly competitive marketplace.
Consider some of the changes that have taken place since Goodell took over for Paul Tagliabue in 2006. The Pro Bowl was rescheduled for the Sunday before the Super Bowl to give that all-star game more exposure. Overtime has been changed for the postseason, increasing the likelihood that both teams will have a possession in the extra period. There's a very realistic possibility that two meaningless exhibition games will be replaced by regular-season games. Division rivalries have been pushed to the end of the season to give teams incentive to play hard all the way through their schedules.
The draft has been moved to prime time and is now stretched over three days. The scouting combine has become a made-for-TV event. International games are a staple of the regular season. The league has put a renewed emphasis on player conduct and concussion studies. The umpire has been moved from the defensive to offensive side of the ball to protect him. Hand-held devices soon will be commonplace in stadiums to keep fans apprised of games around the league.
Goodell is not directly responsible for all of these things — he didn't have a vote on the rules changes or location of the Super Bowl, for instance — but league insiders say he is relentless when it comes to pushing the envelope to best position the league and maximize revenue streams. That's vital for a game that's going to have an increasingly difficult time coaxing fans off their couches and into stadiums.
"I feel very strongly that we cannot be complacent in what we do," Goodell said. "We have to continue to find ways to grow the game, to reach new fans, to continue to provide quality. That's what the NFL represents.
"So innovation is a big part of our initiative, whether it's the Super Bowl in New York, the changes we've made to the draft, or changes we've made to the Pro Bowl, we're going to try to find new ways to reach our fans and to make sure we're bringing them the highest quality entertainment."
Tisch called that one of the "signatures" of Goodell's young tenure as commissioner.
"There are a lot of people who are going to be fighting for that dollar that's going to be spent on sports and entertainment," Tisch said. "You've got to take some chances. The public wants to see something new."
OT rule tabled
Owners tabled the discussion of expanding the new postseason overtime rules to the regular season. There was strong momentum among many people in the NFL to do that in March, when the playoff rules were put in place, but for the moment that has dwindled. There will be no such changes to regular-season games this fall.
Goodell said he will issue a decision "within the next week or so" about when Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger can rejoin the Steelers. The quarterback has been suspended for the first six games of the season for violating the league's personal-conduct policy, and the commissioner hasn't allowed him to participate in team activities, pending evaluations.
L.A. stadium talk
Although it's very preliminary, the concept of a stadium in downtown Los Angeles next to Staples Center gets a thumbs up from Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones. He called the plan's backers, businessmen Casey Wasserman and Tim Leiweke, "so credible and so substantive" and said the idea "makes a lot of sense for downtown Los Angeles." That said, the City of Industry stadium proposal is at least a year ahead of that and has the significant advantage of all the necessary land entitlements.