- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 4, 2008

The NFL relies on a computer to put together its schedule, but commissioner Roger Goodell intervenes when he sees fit.

That’s why “Monday Night Football” was outside the District the night before Tuesday’s presidential election. Taped interviews with Democrat Barack Obama and Republican John McCain aired during halftime of ESPN’s telecast of the Redskins‘ game against Pittsburgh.

“I think it’s great that we’re in Washington on the eve of the national election and the two candidates are coming on at halftime,” Goodell said in an interview with The Washington Times not long before kickoff. “This is a chance for our whole country to come together. We’re all going to vote [Tuesday]. This is what the NFL is all about.”

While the NFL has been less affected by the economic downturn than many businesses, Goodell said he remains concerned about the future.

“I think it’s time for our country to come together and unite behind whoever is elected [Tuesday] and start dealing with some of the very significant issues we have,” said Goodell, whose father, Charles, was a Republican senator and congressman from New York. “What’s happening in the economy we have now is that costs are rising and risks are greater than they’ve ever been. Credit is harder to get and more expensive.”

In May, the NFL’s owners voted to rework the extension of the collective bargaining agreement with the players union. The unexpected death of NFLPA executive director Gene Upshaw in August ensured that negotiations won’t begin until after a successor takes over, likely in March.

“Growth has become even more difficult because of the economy,” Goodell said. “That means revenues are affected. That makes it difficult to grow the game. We need to make sure that our economic model stays strong and we continue to invest in the game.”

While Tennessee remains unbeaten, there’s no sentiment around the league that the Titans are a dominant team along the lines of recent powerhouses New England, Indianapolis and St. Louis. That kind of parity sits just fine with Goodell.

“Its been great football so far - very competitive,” he said. “It’s hard to make any prediction about who’s going to win. We love that because it demonstrates how close these teams are.”

That’s especially true in the NFC East, where the Giants, Eagles, Cowboys and surprising Redskins all have winning records.

“It’s a great division,” Goodell said. “They play eight games against each other. They beat each other up a little, so that will affect who makes it into the playoffs.”

As for the Redskins’ 6-2 start, Goodell said team owner Dan Snyder should feel vindicated after his monthlong process of hiring a coach to replace Joe Gibbs. Snyder consulted with the commissioner during the search, which surprisingly yielded Jim Zorn.

“I’m really happy for Dan,” Goodell said. “I’m really happy for Coach Zorn. I’m really happy for the team. They’ve really tired to build a winner.”

Goodell said he is pleased that the four teams that hired coaches this offseason - Washington, Baltimore, Atlanta and Miami - are all at least .500.

“These teams are conducting such a professional, in-depth process to find the people that are most qualified for these jobs,” Goodell said.

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