Blog & Tackle: Cleaning out the Super Bowl notebook

February 04, 2009 | Chris Pika

It was a long week in Tampa, capped off by an extremely entertaining fourth quarter in Super Bowl XLIII, so it’s time to put a lid on the week that was.

I thought the final quarter of the Super Bowl was the best we have ever seen, even topping the Giants’ victory over the Patriots a year ago. Now, the other 45 minutes were good, not great, so I can’t give SB43 the “best-ever” status some media have already bestowed.

*****
Speaking of bestowed, maybe the talk of Kurt Warner’s eventually induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame will slow down a little. Warner belongs in the Hall of Very Good, not the HOF. A voter for the Hall said Sunday night that he thought that Warner deserved to be in with three trips to the Super Bowl with two different teams, his two MVP seasons and a Super Bowl MVP trophy. But, his seasons as a backup, and struggles in some years as a starter can’t be ignored. He is a Hall of Fame person by all accounts, but there is a reason why players have to wait five years – it gives the voters a chance to reassess the candidate’s entire body of work against his peers. Has it been a good career for Warner? Yes, but not yet bust-worthy in Canton in my opinion.

*****
As for the HOF, there are a few voters I spoke with who endorse Art Modell’s candidacy for induction. Modell made the 25-man semifinalist group, but did not make it to the final 15 modern-era candidates. The problem for anyone in Modell’s group, called “contributors” – think owners, GMs and coaches – is that once you make it to the final 15, you have to survive two cut-down votes, first to 10, and finally to five. It’s hard for voters to give an owner a spot in his personal top 10 or top five over a player on the ballot.

So, how did Buffalo owner Ralph Wilson, Jr. get in this time around? He is certainly deserving, based on what he meant to the upstart AFL. He quietly kept other teams afloat during the fight with the NFL over players, and was a key part in the merger between the “Foolish Club,” as the AFL owners called themselves, and the established NFL, which was gaining momentum from the 1958 NFL title game and catching up to baseball in popularity. Many of the newer panelists had to brush up on their history to see that Wilson was a fit in Canton. Plus with the 50th anniversary of the AFL’s founding being celebrated this year, and his continued active ownership of the club in a small market, there was a groundswell of support that built in Wilson’s favor.

Wilson’s induction gives Modell’s supporters hope for the same kind of re-evaluation of his overall contributions to the league in terms of television’s impact on the game. But his road is tougher with the amount of deserving first-timers coming on the ballot in the next few years, combined with those who came close recently. And the result might be a continued shutout.

As one voter put it, we are entering the “fantasy football” era on player stats and contributions, and that will change how players are evaluated. Other panelists who are on the fence see two sides: Modell’s league-first ideals and personal example that helped the NFL grow at a crucial time and his controversial move of the Browns to Baltimore. Had he stayed in Cleveland, he would have been a sure-fire selection, but the move left some voters, even outside of Cleveland, conflicted on his overall legacy and HOF worthiness.

*****
One piece of news from the HOF voting that was of interest if you are a Baltimore fan, was that Paul Tagliabue was eliminated in the first cutdown from 15 to 10. He was again a hot topic, as voters spent one hour discussing his candidacy. Supporters point to the fact that labor peace was a constant through his tenure, he got several new stadiums built, and television contract money went through the roof, ensuring the long-term health of the league. But the perception that he didn’t always help the media as much as his predecessor Pete Rozelle, the current labor issues looming over the game because of the last CBA agreement he helped negotiate, and that the on-field product seemed to rank a distant second behind league profits are the negatives. He may well also be a victim of the same problem that dogs Modell’s candidacy – a wealth of deserving players up for election over the next several years.

*****
No matter what you may think of the Steelers, you have to admire head coach Mike Tomlin. He is a dynamic personality, and when he spoke during Super Bowl week, some media joked that they were ready to go through walls for him. Everyone connected with the club has the highest regard for how he relates to his players, while not compromising on his principles for success. As a result, he and his clubs will be worthy rivals to the Ravens for a long time to come.

*****
Also, seeing Ben Roethlisberger play from field level, I can see why opposing defenses hate to face him. A term used by a former NFL personnel executive about a drafted player a few years ago fits here: Roethlisberger is a “big human.” His ability to keep plays alive, and not be brought down in the backfield was the biggest reason the Steelers beat the Cardinals.

*****
With all of the talk about the overtime rules in NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell’s press conference last Friday, there may have been an audible sigh of relief from league officials that Super Bowl XLIII did not go to OT. It’s the only thing that has never happened in the 43 editions of the Super Bowl, and could you imagine an overtime that lasted over one quarter as the Colts-Raiders 1977 divisional playoff did? What’s more amazing is that it would have happened 50 years after the first sudden-death title game in the NFL’s history, the “Greatest Game Ever Played,” another game that was not the best-played contest overall until the final quarter.

*****
Speaking of Goodell, an interesting sight on Saturday night at the NFL headquarters hotel was the commissioner standing by the lobby bar enjoying an adult beverage while listening to fans who had wandered in to get a drink. I can’t imagine Bud Selig, David Stern or Gary Bettman doing the same thing before their respective championship series. Goodell also made the rounds at the traditional postgame dinner held for game staff and media in the early hours of Monday morning. It is part of what has made Goodell such an effective commissioner so far; his ability to walk with kings of industry and the owners who pay his salary, his ease in listening to fans’ concerns and his stewardship of the game on the field.

*****
For the record, since I didn’t have a chance to write a blog prior to the game because of my duties for the league during the week, I predicted on Nestor’s Friday show from Radio Row that Arizona would win 34-28. So with that stellar pick, I was 6-5 in picking the NFL playoffs in 2008.

*****
Last item: Keep your eye on the NFL Players’ Association negotiations with the league on a new CBA. There is a lot of talk about who will represent the NFLPA at the table, and the rhetoric about the game’s finances grew louder on both sides during Super Bowl week. The owners thought they gave too much to the players in the previous agreement, and the death of union executive director Gene Upshaw sent the NFLPA into an unexpected power vacuum. No predictions here, but if you are interested in the business of football or sports, this will be a great case study.

Comments on Facebook

Leave a Reply