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NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. (Associated Press)<br>

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. (Associated Press)

Hobbs: Goodell still worthy of goodwill

Last Modified: Friday, January 25, 2013 1:56 PM

By Scooter Hobbs / American Press

The latest fad among a handful of New Orleans restaurants and other “hospitality” businesses is to place a sign in their establishments, preferably hand-lettered, ordering the waitstaff not to serve “this man.”

Meaning, of course, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, whose mug accompanies most of the directives.

Yeah. Now THAT ought to teach him a lesson.

Presumably Goodell will find somewhere to eat and a suitable place to rest his head when the NFL descends upon New Orleans for the Super Bowl next week.

Too bad he can’t stick around for Mardi Gras.

Already, elaborate parade floats are popping up in graphic paper maché detail, their themes full of suggestions for what Goodell can do with his Bountygate sanctions and, mostly, the one-year suspension of Saints head coach Sean Payton.

Yeah, see if he ever messes with the Who Dats again.

Yet you’d expect nothing less from New Orleans — wonderfully creative, if a little on the tasteless side — especially during the Carnival season.

This, after all, is a city whose most famous post-NFC championship celebration featured a bewigged Bobby Hebert leading a parade of hairy-legged, beer-gutted crossdressers belly-flopping down Poydras Street, some wearing formal gowns complete with sequins.

New Orleans at its best.

Payton is a free man now, paroled by Goodell two weeks ahead of schedule, presumably for his own good behavior and not Goodell’s safety.

Or maybe it was the “Free Sean Payton” T-shirts that finally made Goodell see the light.

Good job, loonies.

At any rate, it was an obvious olive branch Goodell threw to the Saints fans before coming to their town for the NFL’s biggest show.

Is it enough to atone for a 7-9 season that any good Saints fan will tell you was all Goodell’s fault.

Probably not.

Any sports fan’s biggest glee comes when he can point the finger at some outside agency for the home team’s shortcomings.

So, if Saints’ fans want to blame their woeful defense on Goodell, that makes every bit as much sense as all the other wacky stuff those fans do.

And they should not let him off the hook easily. They should not let it be suggested that they can be bought off with a gratuitous two-week early release for Payton.

New Orleans is better than that.

Mostly, New Orleans is far funkier than that and way more blindly in love with the wronged Saints than that.

Let New Orleans be New Orleans.

Of course — and this is important — that means walking that always fine line between crazy, zany, nutty and usually hungover versus being rude, crude and downright frighteningly dangerous.

There is a dark side of New Orleans, even in the glow of the post-Katrina revival.

It doesn’t need to be part of the Super Bowl week, even in the caterwauling about Goodell sinking the Saints.

No need to forgive just yet, Louisiana, but keep it light and refreshingly comical.

On the other hand, even Payton seems to have forgiven Goodell, and not only because the forced hiatus indirectly made him the NFL’s highest-paid head coach.

There’s an upside to everything. And if Payton’s suspension was the only thing keeping the Saints out of the playoffs, then they’ll surely be back next season.

Then, after some harmless fun, Goodell can get on with rehabilitating his image in the Crescent City.

It can be done.

Saints owner Tom Benson is living proof of that.

In fact, if it wasn’t for the NFL — with Goodell playing a major role — it’s doubtful the Saints would even be in New Orleans today.

There’s not much question that Benson was up to his ruthless best while plotting to take his team to San Antonio for good after Katrina.

Then-NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue was having none of it. Not on his watch was the NFL going to abandon an iconic city aching for good news.

I will still never forget Tagliabue at the single-most impressive news conference performance I ever attended.

It was at Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge just before the displaced Saints were to play the first of their games on the LSU campus (instead of San Antonio) due to the destruction of the Superdome.

Tagliabue had spent the morning at the governor’s mansion meeting with Benson and state officials.

At the time, there was a lot of doom and gloom and — maybe Benson’s posturing was right — almost a resigned assumption that post-Katrina New Orleans just wasn’t to be able to sustain or keep the Saints.

Tagliabue strode to the podium and didn’t mince many words. He said, flatly, that the Saints unequivocally weren’t going anywhere and that the NFL would put its money, effort and influence where its mouth was.

Noticeably absent from that NFL show of New Orleans support was … Benson.

That was Tagliabue in control. But it was Goodell, his right-hand man at the time, who was dispatched to do a lot of the heavy lifting to make sure the Saints and, more problematic, the Superdome were ready for the following season to make good on the NFL’s promise.

Psychologically at least, the NFL was far more effective than FEMA in getting New Orleans back in working order.

You can almost trace the moment the city came back to life to the Saints’ memorable return to the dome to whip the Falcons.

And Benson feels secure enough these days to twirl his umbrella again after victories.

So go ahead and taunt Goodell if you must. But do it with a Louisiana smile.

Bet him you can tell him where he bought those shoes.

• • •

Scooter Hobbs covers LSU athletics. Email him at shobbs@americanpress.com

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