- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 10, 2006

It would have been fun to tell people, “I graduated from college with the future commissioner of the NFL. We took the same Poli Sci class one semester, if memory serves. He was a pretty good tennis and squash player.”

Alas, Mayo Shattuck, Williams College ‘76 (and currently CEO of Baltimore’s Constellation Energy), didn’t get the job. Roger Goodell, Washington and Jefferson ‘81, did.

Maybe the NFL wasn’t ready for Mayo, a fellow whose youthful wife, Molly, is a cheerleader for the Ravens. Then again, Bert Bell’s bride, Frances Upton, was a former Ziegfeld Follies girl, and his reign as commissioner was a great success. (Thanks in part to Frances, who wouldn’t say “I do” unless he quit drinking.)

Goodell, though, sounds amply qualified. In fact, he sounds like somebody recommended to the NFL by a computer dating service. He has the broad shoulders of a former player — predecessor Paul Tagliabue is a lanky basketballer — and, beginning with an internship in 1982, has practically grown up in the league office.

His late father was a United States senator, so he’s familiar with the art of compromise. He also happens to be married to Jane Skinner, the Fox News anchor — and daughter of Sam Skinner, President George H.W. Bush’s Secretary of Transportation and Chief of Staff.

(Like that’s a shock. Like the NFL’s fat cat owners would ever elect a guy who was married to Cokie Roberts.)

The perfect match of pro football and television has taken the NFL to the top of the sports heap, so it’s only fitting the league finally has a commissioner who’s wedded to an Electronic Media Type. And talk about a coincidence: This year, for the first time, regular-season games will be shown on the NFL Network. By the end of Goodell’s reign — who knows? — all games might be aired on the NFL Network.

The league certainly seems to be moving in that direction, toward total control of its product. Teams are using their Web sites to get out their own rose-colored message, bypassing the mainstream media. The relationship between the NFL and TV, meanwhile, has never been cozier. Witness the joint hyping of “Monday Night Football” and “Desperate Housewives” in that scandalous Terrell Owens/Nicollette Sheridan promo a few seasons back.

Don’t be surprised if, in our lifetimes, we see a game broadcast by John Madden and Suzy Kolber — featuring only Ace Hardware commercials (starring Madden) and Chevy Tahoe ads (starring Kolber).

What can you say? One man’s synergy is another man’s sin.

Fortunately, there were indications in Goodell’s initial pronouncements that he “gets it,” understands what makes the NFL special. “The game of football is the most important thing,” he said, “and we can’t lose focus on that.”

No, Roger, you can’t. You can’t let the business side, in pursuit of the ideal demographic, turn Super Bowl XXXVIII into Wardrobe Malfunction I. You can’t let pro football become more sizzle than steak. Because you’re right, the game’s the thing. Part of your fan base might want to watch the Buccaneers cheerleading tryouts on the NFL Network, but a much bigger part would rather just watch the Buccaneers.

Some other free advice:

• The game day experience has become too much of an assault on the senses — P.A. systems constantly blaring music, giant video screens alternately pushing products and exhorting fans to root, root, root for the home team. Try to get owners to dial down on the volume. Sell them on the idea that less can be more. And if that fails, well, you can always stock concession stands with earplugs in team colors.

• Breathe some life into the trade market by moving back the deadline (it falls too early in the season) and making it easier, salary cap-wise, for clubs to deal players. How about Thanksgiving Week as a cutoff point — and how about deferring all cap hits until the next year? In a game of attrition like football, this seems like a no-brainer, and yet the league has always resisted the notion.

• Wouldn’t it be cool if every NFL city could be a host for the Super Bowl … just once? Perhaps somebody could design a temporary roof for open-air stadiums (that the league could truck around the country — like it does the NFL Experience). If any league could afford to do this, the NFL could.

• Televise each game on multiple channels — with multiple sets of announcers. Imagine the ratings you’d get if viewers could choose the pairing they prefer (e.g. Joe Buck and Troy Aikman, Kid Rock and Pamela Anderson or Barney and Elmo).

• Finally, as a politician’s kid, you can probably appreciate the need for term limits for NFL commissioners. Tagliabue served 17 years, Rozelle 29, Bell 13 and Joe Carr 18. That’s way too long. Heck, you’re such a pup (47) you could turn into the next Strom Thurmond.

Best of luck, Rog — truly. It isn’t easy spending so much time within arm’s reach of a shrimp bowl. And remember: be humble. You weren’t selected until the fifth ballot.

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