After hapless officiating at a playoff game between the New Orleans Saints and Los Angeles Rams on Jan. 20 quite possibly cost the Saints a spot in this weekend’s Super Bowl, local fans wondered how league officials could have been so oblivious in not calling penalties against Rams cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman for pass interference and helmet-to-helmet contact with Saints receiver Tommylee Lewis.
But it turns out that being oblivious isn’t just an occupational hazard among NFL referees. It apparently goes all the way to the top, as evidenced by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell’s comments Wednesday during his annual pre-Super Bowl news conference.
“There’s never been a better time to be a part of the NFL,” Goodell told journalists gathered in Atlanta for this Sunday’s game between the Rams and the New England Patriots. That was just the start of Goodell’s nationally televised exercise in alternative facts. “I don’t think the game has ever been healthier,” Goodell said of the enterprise he oversees, an athletic juggernaut where the outcomes can now seem about as credible as a Venezuelan election.
ATLANTA — For New Orleans Saints fans, Super Bowl week more or less came to an end Wednesday.
“I think they’re doing an excellent job,” the commissioner gushed at one point about his officiating staff. “Ultimately,” Goodell added in another rhetorical pat on the back, “I think people respect and admire the things we do.”
Goodell’s high marks for NFL management aren’t widely endorsed in WhoDat Nation these days, and the press corps at Wednesday’s news conference didn’t seem to be buying the commissioner’s happy talk, either.
Pressed on his response to the Saints-Rams fiasco, Goodell conceded that Robey-Coleman’s interaction with Lewis “was a play that should be called.”
Goodell also acknowledged the anguish of Saints supporters who won’t be seeing their favorite team vying for the Lombardi Trophy this year: “We understand the frustration of the fans ... we understand the frustration they feel right now.”
But if Goodell truly grasped the consequences of the blown call on Jan. 20, why did he wait 10 days to publicly comment on it, offering his first high-profile statement on the controversy only when journalists at the news conference essentially forced him to speak out?
Goodell promised he’d look at possible rules changes that would make it easier to remedy lapses like the no-calls in the Saints-Rams game. But he dodged any real commitment to reform, passing the buck to a league committee.
Goodell has strong support among franchise owners, many say, because he’s helped the league make a lot of dough. But how long will the viewers — and money — sustain the NFL when fans can’t trust that the best teams are in the Super Bowl?
The blown call in the Jan. 20 Debacle in the Dome was heartbreaking for Saints fans. If anything, Goodell’s tardy and tone-deaf response on Wednesday made things worse.