NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell speaks at a news conference in Indianapolis… (David J. Phillip / Associated…)
Come to find out, a heart beats somewhere inside those plush NFL offices in Manhattan.
Maybe they aren't, as we thought, too big to care. Or so big they would react only on their terms. Somewhere, somehow, blood had to run in the roomful of corporate robots.
Don't misunderstand. This is not to suggest that Commissioner Roger Goodell and his band of merry lawyers, upon watching the Seattle Seahawks be awarded the second immaculate reception in the league's history, gathered in a quiet room Wednesday to discuss the need to immediately right the wrongs.
Do not conjure up images of wealthy men in Armani suits, wiping away tears as they analyze how unfairly the fans were treated with this incorrect result. Or even how this had besmirched the very image of Vince Lombardi. Nobody was wailing that Titletown didn't deserve this.
This was business, not emotion. This was about getting off the front page, and back onto the sports pages, where the faithful followers can be brought back into line quickly and beer sales stay good. The longer your missteps and greed are at noise levels above the cheering for touchdowns and pass completions, the more quickly the image you seek of high-class, fan-friendly entertainment gets pushed aside for the reality that you are, first and foremost, the greediest kind of corporate America.
The game is a nice front.
The NFL needs its customers to think that it thinks of them that way, that they are customers. That it serves them. That its decision-making always factors them in. The NFL needs to make sure its customers never even ponder for one moment what they really are. ATM machines.
Certainly, this is no different than banks or cable TV companies or auto manufacturers. All are wired to make you think they are in business to provide you with a service and that any profit resulting from that was sort of a lucky coincidence. The only difference between the NFL and these other businesses is that the NFL is the best at it.
The beating hearts in those meeting rooms were coming from those with a sense for public relations. That certainly would have included Goodell, who didn't get to where he has gotten without being the smartest guy in the room. There certainly had to be some who wanted to remain tough, to be robots in the stance, to let the regular refs pound sand for a couple more weeks. But hearts beat for many reasons, and in this case, it was simple PR.
It had been well pointed out in the media that the NFL was losing nothing in the way of customers and fan base with this momentary kerfuffle. In fact, several columnists pointed out, and correctly so, that these blundering replacement refs just spiced up the action. It's the old everybody-wants-to-watch-a-train-wreck theory.
The NFL fears only two things: decreasing revenue and a bad image.
Because revenue will never be a problem, image was the one Achilles' heel that had to bring this situation to a head. Had not the in-over-their-heads replacement officials done their dumb thing at the end of a game that stole a victory from one of the storied franchises of the league, the regular officials might be sitting for another couple of weeks. They were to be taught a lesson, spanked good and hard so they wouldn't forget, before being allowed to come back outside and play.
But national embarrassment is clearly not part of the image tolerated by the Armani suits.
And the NFL replacement guys dropped the ball in the wrong game, to the wrong team. The Packers aren't a football team in Green Bay or Wisconsin — they are a deity, a way of life.
Somewhere up there, Lombardi was watching this all and smiling his gap-toothed smile, knowing that the big guys in the league had just messed with the wrong green and gold.
A group of Packers fans actually marched to the NFL offices in New York on Tuesday to indicate their indignation. A TV station spoofed the replacement officials with a replacement weatherman, who predicted the temperatures would soar into the high 300s.
Silly stuff, but embarrassing for NFL big shots, who like to think that only other people get dust on the bottom of their shoes when they walk on the sidewalk.
Give Goodell credit. He has one of the best, and hardest jobs in the world. He also responds.
The New Orleans Saints' bounty scandal needed a tough response, even if it turns out he overreacted. The Seahawks-Packers debacle needed an embarrassment-cooling response, and that's what we got.
So, the results are in, and they are full of pluses.
ESPN will now have to stop showing replays of the flash-point play every 36 seconds.
The Patriots' Bill Belichick, having admitted his wrongdoing, will not grab another referee in confrontation for at least seven or eight games.
And we the fan, the TV viewer, can feel good that the NFL, when push came to shove, fixed this because it was responding to us, its customers.
Hold the back of your hand over your mouth as you giggle.