Roger Goodell says New Orleans has made him feel welcome despite all of the… (Erik Lesser / EPA )
NEW ORLEANS — Despite anecdotal evidence to the contrary — including New Orleans bars and eating establishments that say they wouldn't serve Roger Goodell were he a customer — the NFL commissioner said he's gotten good treatment in this Super Bowl city, even though he understands the frustration that Saints fans have about the Bountygate punishments.
Goodell, in his annual pre-Super Bowl news conference Friday, even joked about the reception he's gotten.
"I couldn't feel more welcome here," he said. "My picture is in every restaurant, I had a float in the Mardi Gras parade. We got a voodoo doll."
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After some laughter, he said: "I'm serious. The last couple nights I've been out with a lot of the people that I worked very closely with following the [Hurricane] Katrina tragedy. And we celebrated the work that we did then. … And they couldn't be nicer. They couldn't be more welcoming. And the same thing is true with fans."
Goodell said he understands that fans' loyalty is to the team.
"They had no part in this," he said of Saints fans. "They were completely innocent in this. So I appreciate the passion ... and it's clear that's what they're all about."
Goodell said the league is considering creating a "strike zone" — not too high, not too low — in order to take head shots out of the game and protect the knees of players.
"It's important for us to find, is there a better way of doing what we're doing?" he said. "We are focused on that with the competition committee. … There's no question that we're trying to get back to the fundamentals of tackling. The No. 1 issue is, take the head out of the game.
"I think we've seen in the last several decades that players are using their head more than they have in the past. The helmets are better, and they feel safer using their heads. The facemasks. But the reality is, we have to get back to that tackling. Using the shoulders, using the arms properly. And there is a strike zone."
Modell up for vote
Baltimore Ravens General Manager Ozzie Newsome, legendary tight end for the Cleveland Browns, said this week he believes late team owner Art Modell should join him in the Hall of Fame.
On Saturday, Hall of Fame voters will consider a group of finalists that includes Modell, still widely loathed in Cleveland for moving the Browns to Baltimore. He is a longshot to reach Canton.
"What [voters] have to do, like in any decisions you have to make, you have to look at the positives and the negatives," Newsome said. "With him, I think the positives outweigh the negatives — the negative of the move. That's how I go about making decisions and that's how I hope the voters do it."
Newsome said Modell "was a pioneer in just about everything that this game is about right now. It's unfortunate that he won't be alive when he gets the chance to go into the Hall of Fame. That's a shame."