NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. (Associated Press)
Last Modified: Friday, February 01, 2013 7:49 PM
NEW ORLEANS — Gosh, it was downright scary.
Run, commissioner, run for your life.
Roger Goodell had finally emerged from whatever NFL-fortified bunker in New Orleans has protected him all week and was facing the music Friday, none of it snap-happy jazz.
There was jostling, there was shoving, there were shouts and pointed questions and, despite tight security, inflammatory follow-ups. Even a few sneers and blatant eye-rolling. It was mob behavior at its worst.
Oh, the humanity.
But give him credit. Goodell, Public Enemy No. 1 in New Orleans, remained calm in the face of the adversity and, soon enough, the media horde on hand following his annual state of the NFL address, gave up the chase and the league’s commissioner found safe haven on the well-lit set of the NFL Network.
There was a nice diversionary tactic outside the Morial Convention Center’s media headquarters, too, where there was a timely appearance by Mitch Ross, the deer-antler spray guy who’s at the center of this week’s Ray Lewis PED controversy.
The news corps broke ranks, with several units dispatched to pin Ross to the convention center wall and point loaded television cameras at him.
The media’s flank thus exposed, Goodell had free reign for a carefree escape, from whence he walked briskly out onto the public streets of New Orleans, seemingly with little or no concern for his own safety.
He appeared tan and fit, even well-nourished for a visitor whose mug famously appears in many New Orleans’ restaurants with the strict, printed orders “Do Not Serve This Man.”
Perhaps the NFL sent along C rations.
Maybe he’s been wearing a Paul Tagliabue disguise all week.
If he wanted to take in the sights, maybe catch a real Mardi Gras parade, at least one float dissed him with a disparaging papier maché depiction that was risqué even by New Orleans’ traditionally loose standards.
But Goodell, the NFL’s all-powerful Oz, stood there — no, he wasn’t wearing an “I Freed Sean Payton” T-shirt — and said he couldn’t be happier to be in New Orleans this week.
Talk to the locals where those signs ban him from the premises, and they seemingly aren’t backing down from the notion that he sabotaged the beloved Saints’ season, mostly with, but certainly not limited to, the year-long suspension of the head coach, Payton, for his role in the pay-for-pain Bountygate.
Best I can tell, commuting Payton’s sentence by two weeks hasn’t been enough of a makeup gesture to appease them.
Yet, Goodell said (with a straight face) that the New Orleans hospitality has been downright invigorating.
“My picture is in every restaurant in the city,” Goodell explained, verily beaming. “I had a float in a Mardi Gras parade. We even got a voodoo doll. I’m serious. People here have been incredible.”
OK, he’s got a sense of humor.
Fans being fans, he said, even if it’s at his expense.
“I understand the fans’ loyalty to the team,” he said. “They had no part in (Bountygate). They were completely innocent in this.
“So I appreciate their passion. I saw that myself when I was down here during Katrina. And it’s clear that’s what they’re all about. So I support the fact that they are passionate.”
So Goodell, who spent most of his press conference vowing to make a collision sport injury-free, said he was thrilled to be in New Orleans and even happier that the Super Bowl is back in the city that he helped repair. But he still has no regrets about whatever part he may have played in making sure the gutted Saints didn’t really even threaten to become the first team to ever play the big game in their home stadium.
He perhaps offset any goodwill from Payton’s early release when he announced this week that he would not, as rumored, return to the Saints the second-round pick in this year’s draft that he had deducted as part of their Bountygate penance.
He may love nutty Saints fans, but the hanging judge is not backing down from the severe penalties he dished out — even the suspensions, later overturned, of players.
“There were clear violations of the bounty rule for three consecutive years,” he said. “That’s not going to be permitted in the NFL. The reason why we’re not returning any of the draft choices or any of the discipline because it occurred and it should not have occurred.
“There’s no question that there was a bounty program in place for three years. I think that is bad for the players of the game. I think the message is incredibly clear and I don’t believe bounties will be a part of football anymore going forward.
“I do think that that message has come through.”
Give him credit. He’s probably right on that one. Even if the Saints had to be the Example A for the new kinder, gentler NFL.
• • •Scooter Hobbs covers LSU athletics. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org