Thiel: NFL operating out of the trunk of a car


by Art Thiel


Posted on September 27, 2012 at 7:30 AM

By now, everyone down to the Taliban in Afghanistan has seen at least a replay of the Monday Night Mess. Even the Taliban dudes, padding about the mud floor of their blown-in cinder-block hovel, are celebrating the demise of America:

"How can these infidels rule the world when they can't play their own games right? Everyone knows it wasn't a simultaneous catch! Packers lose, Seahawks don't really win, America crumbles. We win!"

As Americans have been told for decades now, when a bad thing is allowed to go on too long, the terrorists win.

You saw the look on the face of quarterback Aaron Rodgers, the vaunted Captain America of the double-vaunted Green Bay Packers. Eight sacks in a half by the Seahawks defense, including a self-sack when he tripped and fell down over nothing but perhaps piano wire set by gophers? Pure terror. This is decline-of-empire stuff, people.

So who better to ask about empire stuff that Paul Allen, builder of worlds, owner of the Seahawks and one of 32 bosses -- and richest among them  -- to whom NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell reports. As you know, Goodell is the nation's second most-badgered man, next to Mitt Romney's campaign director. Goodell is calling the shots in the labor negotiations with the NFL's veteran officials, talks that have produced nothing but second careers for Elmer Fudd, Beavis, Butthead and Homer Simpson.

The last-minute drama was still vibrating the Clink as Allen walked out of the locker room  and aimed to cross the field back to his suite when he was headed off by KJR's Dave Mahler and me.

"I can't remember a Seahawks game to match that," Allen said, smiling. "I don't know if they're calling it the Monday Night Miracle yet, but it was so great for the franchise and Russell Wilson."

Um, well, the term "miracle" hasn't been used a lot so far, particularly in the Upper Midwest, where satellites have spotted numerous ominous-looking farm implements convoying in the direction of New York,  presumably to help Goodell negotiate.

In fact, Paul, isn't this outcome, because of the replacement-ref controversy, anything but a miracle for the league?

"It’s an unfortunate situation we have to work through," he said.  "I know the league is working hard in negotiations. I know it will get resolved. These things always do.

"I think we'd all prefer it would be sooner than later. But we have to let the people negotiating at the league level do their work."

Not to put too a fine point on it, but nine veteran refs were fired for non-cooperation in June and the regular-season schedule hits the quarter-pole this weekend. Maybe it's time. Do you think this latest debacle will provide impetus for a settlement?

"At some point both sides will come together," he said.  "But I don’t want to . . . it’s up to the league negotiators."

Not really. It's up to the owners. The negotiators take their orders from Goodell, who takes his orders from Allen and other owners. Aren't you worried about damage to the league's cred?

"I’m not going to comment further," he said. He went on to say nice things about the potential return of the NBA to Seattle -- no, he and Chris Hansen haven't talked, but they have a friend in common, Steve Ballmer -- which you can listen to here.

But Allen wasn't going rogue.

No, I didn't expect him to say that the NFL should make the game's integrity of paramount importance. But he could have, offering the first progressive signal that owners care as much as fans do.

Instead, he kept to the same corner into which he and his lodge brothers have painted themselves. They are trusting that however angry the fans are, and however critical even their ESPN broadcast partners are, everything will be forgiven as soon as the real referees cave.

They're probably right. They know that most consumers most of the time won't stand on principle when it comes to their passions. NFL stadiums will continue to sell out, and the ratings will stay high, and maybe even improve because of the lust to see wreckage. Let's not forget the psychological foundations upon which NASCAR was built.

Because of its solo platform, the Monday night debacle would seem to have lasting effects, particularly when images linger like the photo of officials standing over the final play, making two different calls, one a game-over, touchback signal, the other a touchdown, then still not getting it right upon replay review. It is a fine illustration for an enterprise run out of the trunk of a car.

Then again, the NFL understands more deeply than its fans the virtues of monopoly operation. No matter how degraded the product gets, there is no alternative. It's like the derisive motto affixed years ago to AT&T before its court-ordered break up: "We don't care, because we don't have to."

I doubt very much that a court or Congress is going to spend time attempting to break up the NFL over Golden Tate, although President Barack Obama did weigh in on his Twitter account Tuesday, writing, "NFL fans on both sides of the aisle hope the refs' lockout is settled soon."

It might help that the president, a big sports fan, does not relish being taken for an idiot. Besides, he's more invested than most in keeping terrorists from winning.

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