- Associated Press - Wednesday, August 4, 2010

ABOARD THE MADDEN CRUISER (AP) - NFL commissioner Roger Goodell is a man with plenty on his mind, of course.

Leaning back with legs crossed while sitting in a green paisley bench aboard the 45-foot-long bus owned by John Madden, Goodell addressed a variety of the topics facing his league during an interview Wednesday with The Associated Press:

_ Negotiations for a new collective bargaining agreement (“We have a lot of work to do”).

_ An 18-game regular season (“Every day that you don’t have an agreement on a lot of those issues is one more day to prepare; it’s a lot of planning and a lot of preparation so it becomes more challenging”).

_ Persuading players to agree to blood testing for human growth hormone (“It is about the integrity of the game”).

_ Concussions and other on-field safety issues (“We want to make sure that everyone is aware of the risk. … Awareness is clearly at a high level”).

Rarely, though, was Goodell more animated during the 1-hour, 45-minute ride from Baltimore Ravens training camp in Westminster, Md., to Washington Redskins training camp in Ashburn, Va., than when one of the Madden Cruiser’s five televisions aired an update on the “will-he-retire-or-won’t-he?” Brett Favre saga.

“You see that report?” Goodell said, shifting forward and turning to Madden, who was seated across a diner-sized table cluttered with newspaper pages, black notebook binders and a coffee mug overflowing with pens.

Yes, Goodell is among the millions keeping tabs on the Minnesota Vikings quarterback.

“There is a lot of interest in whether he comes back,” Goodell said. “He’s a great player. People really admire the way he plays the game, so I understand” all the attention to the story.”

It’s the sort of thing Goodell insists fans are far more interested in than, say, the particulars of labor negotiations. He repeatedly refused to characterize the nature of those talks with the NFL Players Association. He declined to say whether he is optimistic or pessimistic that a deal can get done before the current contract expires in March.

Asked what he’d tell fans who want to know whether the NFL will have a full season in 2011, Goodell replied, “All I can tell anybody is we’re going to work our tail off to get something that works for everybody.”

He frequently travels to training camps, but this is the first time he got a lift around the country from Madden, the former NFL coach and TV analyst who last flew on an airplane in 1979 and has been using a personal bus since the mid-1980s. Sleeping in the not-quite-queen-sized bed in the back of the bus _ his gold-colored Hall of Fame jacket hanging in the bedroom closet in a black garment back with red lettering of a “Big & Tall” store _ Madden set out from his California home on a 52-hour drive across the U.S. to pick up Goodell in New York.

Their five-camp road trip began Tuesday at the Philadelphia Eagles, continues Thursday at the Pittsburgh Steelers _ where Goodell plans to meet with suspended quarterback Ben Roethlisberger _ and wraps up Friday at the Cleveland Browns.

At each stop, Goodell meets with the entire team, then also chats with smaller groups of players.

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