“Just as the Saints had carried the people through their terrible, difficult times, the fans now turned out to carry the Saints. For forty years, through good times and bad, New Orleans had always stuck by its team. Tonight would be no exception. They came together and rallied around these all-too-human beings, their beloved Saints, just when they needed it most.”
Those words were written by Alan Donnes at the end of his 2007 book, Patron Saints. They describe the sentiments of New Orleans Saints’ fans following the team’s heartbreaking loss in the 2007 NFC Championship Game, just a year and a half after Hurricane Katrina destroyed the city.
The final chapter has now been written.
Let’s hope NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell reads the book or gets the picture or whatever it takes to realize just how good he has it and just how much stands to change if the 2011 season is lost due to a lockout.
Goodell got everything he could ask for last night on the world’s largest stage. For once, sports turned out to be everything they’re supposed to be. Even though the 14 point difference was the widest of any Super Bowl since 2003, the game appeared headed for overtime –and a huge controversy— deep into the fourth quarter. In the end, Drew Brees and the Saints proved to be the best Super Bowl story since Joe Namath led another underdog to a championship 43 years ago.
Isn’t it strange to think that such an exciting game had very little buzz over the past two weeks? For awhile, it looked as though this might be the Super Bowl remembered more for a commercial featuring a college quarterback who might never get a chance to play in the big game or for Michael Irvin and Warren Sapp, the two former stars who allegedly can’t keep their hands off women.
But what everyone failed to take into account was just how popular football is. Focus on the Family can’t ruin the Super Bowl. A couple of clowns who still want to live the athlete’s life can’t either.
The only thing that can ruin the Super Bowl is if the game doesn’t get played at all.
And that’s what we’re looking at as we head into an uncapped year. Next season will be fine. But if we’re to believe NFL Player’s Association Executive Director DeMaurice Smith, the following season is seriously in doubt. Asked what the likelihood of a lockout last week, Smith didn’t hesitate to express his concern.
“On a scale of 1 to 10, it's a 14," he said. "I keep coming back to an economic model in America that is unparalleled -- and that makes it incredibly difficult to then come to players and say, on average, each of you needs to take a $340,000 pay cut to save the National Football League. Tough sell. Tough sell."
Indeed it is.
And guess what? Unlike what happened in baseball in 1994, the fans are going to side with the players.
This won’t be a case of greedy athletes just trying to grab every penny they can. Not when you have a leader like Smith, who is willing to tell the world about the demands from both sides. Smith said the league’s owners want players to take an 18 percent pay cut and they want players to accept only 41 percent of applied revenues, down from the current 59 percent.
At a time when everyone is finally starting to open their eyes and realize how dangerous the game of football is, the owners think the player’s deserve less. And they know that even if there is a lockout, they will still make $5 billion from the league’s television contracts.
Goodell can’t allow this to get any uglier. On almost all other fronts, he has been the model commissioner. But if 2011 winds up a year filled with replacement players or –dare I say—no football at all, everything will change.
All he has to do is keep this thing running.
Or he risks becoming Bud Selig.