If any city in America knows how to prepare for a storm it's New Orleans. This time, though, it's not the city that is making preparations, it's one singular person. A man who for the last ten months has had to prepare for a storm that will hit him, and him alone, with a ferocity that no commissioner has ever had to face.
Bud Selig is mostly seen as an out of touch dope, David Stern a sarcastic bully, Gary Bettman a clueless buffoon. But Roger Goodell has isolated an entire fanbase and an entire city. Unfortunately for Roger, the Saints, and the city of New Orleans, he singled out the wrong fanbase and the wrong city.
New Orleans has been through a lot. Not much more than most, but a lot nonetheless. The resolve of the city, the region, and the Saints themselves have been tested time and time again. These are - we are - people that can take a shot yet continue to get back up. People that have grown stronger and more united through each trying experience.
These are the people Roger Goodell threw into the lion's den in March of 2012. He made this fateful decision in honor of self interest and self preservation. To say the least, he chose poorly. In Goodell's eyes he had to "drop the hammer" to set the tone for the impending lawsuits by former NFL players. He had to look tough on head trauma by putting a face on the issue, not his own but the faces of the New Orleans Saints.
Not to say that another NFL franchise was more deserving of the "Goodell treatment," but all of the NFL franchises should've been reprimanded in smaller, more productive ways to get the same point across. A more all-encompassing indictment of headhunting, which has been rampant throughout the NFL, rather than making one franchise look as if they unleashed an immoral virus into a pure environment. Goodell used a hatchet where a scalpel was clearly needed.
Now the commissioner will walk into a hornets nest, buzzing with nearly a year's worth of growing rage. This is a situation Goodell clearly has seen coming for quite some time now. The first olive branch was extended through the "early" reinstatement of Sean Payton. Wow, two weeks early Roger? The 2012 season may be saved after all!
Wait, oh that's right. The reinstatement of the 2013 second round draft pick may have been more of a bridge building gesture to the people of New Orleans. It may not have gone a very long way this late in the game but it may have eased a few tensions. Who knows, there's still time for that one.
At this point though, Roger Goodell has made his bed and very little can be done to change his reception. For all of those who are vehemently opposed to everything he stands for there are likely just as many in New Orleans who just want to have fun at his expense with all of this. Hilarious floats of questionable taste have already been made in his honor, as have "Do Not Serve This Man" signs in local establishments around town. Goodell will just have to take it all from the moment his plane hits the tarmac in New Orleans.
It will be pretty interesting to see how he takes it all though. Will he ignore it? Will he laugh things off and take it in stride? Will something be said or done that will make Roger snap and give us a soundbite or news footage that will go down in history? The looming cloud of dissent and civic embarrassment is clearly a worry for some, most notably Mayor Mitch Landrieu. The mayor issuing a statement for the city to be gracious hosts and to be on their best behavior must be unprecedented for a Super Bowl host city.
The quips about Goodell needing a taste tester and body doubles, only eating room service and never leaving his hotel are surely done in jest. I believe New Orleans will shine over the next two weeks. Goodell will make his rounds, shmooze, and hold press conferences as he does every other Super Bowl and all will be well. Many have written articles lately trying to prove that Goodell is a friend to New Orleans. How Goodell worked tirelessly to keep the Saints in New Orleans by clearing up red tape on the Superdome renovations post-Katrina, and how he helped New Orleans keep Super Bowl XXXVI in 2002.
You know what? They're absolutely right. Roger Goodell deserves credit for all of that and it should not be forgotten. But it does not exonerate him for his actions in 2012. I liken it to the the Lance Armstrong situation. Armstrong's monetary gains and fame from doping likely saved lives and gave many cancer patients hope where they didn't find any before, thanks to LiveStrong. All of that, though, does not exonerate him for ruining the lives of those who spoke out against him by simply telling the truth behind his lies. Goodell clearly has to be thinking about legacy here, any egotistical personality like his does. What will Goodell's legacy be after all that has happened?
The Saints as a team and an organization clearly and unmistakably mishandled the entire "bounty" saga from the very beginning. Ego and defiance got in the way and it met head-on with an equally large ego and defiant personality. The entire situation became a complete train wreck and there were victims on all sides. Roger Goodell has to know deep down that he made very critical mistakes and he underestimated the victims of his wrath.
The people of New Orleans will have their revenge over the next two weeks but it will not come with threats and violence. It will come, in traditional New Orleans style, in jest and with a great sense of humor. The people of New Orleans and Who Dat Nation as a whole deserve this opportunity to release the tension and confront their "tormentor" in person. Fun will be had at Goodell's expense and jokes will be made. Roger's not going to get off scott-free here but he is not in danger by any means. We are better than that and we will prove it over the next few weeks.
Many Super Bowls, college bowls, and Final Fours will continue to be hosted in New Orleans because New Orleans is one of America's greatest cities. A national treasure unlike any other, and I think Roger Goodell realizes this. In moments of anger and power-flexing, Goodell made some bad decisions that severely affected a city he once supposedly fought so hard for. Does Roger Goodell have any regrets regarding the way he handled this situation? Would he do things differently if he were miraculously given a second chance? I'd like to think so, but only he knows for sure.
The time has come, Roger. Take a deep breath, get on that plane and prepare for two weeks of being a walking punchline, but not a walking target. New Orleans needs this, New Orleans deserves this, and deep down you know you deserve this too.