Hell’s Super Bowl has now ratcheted itself to DefCon 2, and it’s all because of those damned anemic footballs.
In a story that went from silly to insane and now to career-threatening, the NFL’s most powerful owner just pushed a huge pile of chips into the middle of the table and stared down its highest paid employee.
Robert Kraft essentially demanded an apology from Roger Goodell if the league cannot prove what it cannot prove – that Bill Belichick and Tom Brady knew that the balls used in the first half of the AFC Championship were under-inflated.
And if Goodell does cave in and apologize, then the other owners and the rest of the nation while know that Goodell is in fact what he is – a tool for the game’s most powerful owners at the expense of the others, and therefore an ineffective front man for the league in general.
So yeah, Hell’s Super Bowl. And it’s only Day Eight.
Kraft’s re-up seems to have flied in the face of the teams' apparent plan not to discuss the issue, but Kraft can do whatever he wants because as everyone understands, he is the associate commissioner, chief vote-whipper and biggest strongarmer in the sport.
In other words, Richard Sherman, who was right when he thought the Goodell-Kraft relationship was a conflict of interest, is now a budding conflict between interests. Unless Goodell can figure out how to make his surrender look like not a surrender, or Kraft backs off his thinly-disguised ultimatum, we’ve got a game that makes Super Bowl XLIX look like the Pro Bowl.
The NFL is good at looking the other way when it needs to, but over the last few years has been much less effective when attacking an issue head-on. Goodell’s ear in crisis situations has become increasingly tinny, and if he hasn’t gotten out over his skis re: his authority over the owners, he surely has lost his gift for public relations and influence. Those media members he hasn’t cowed or already had in his thrall due to their love of the sport and its power brokers have lost the willingness to sign up for the full subjugation package.
Which was all well and good when that’s all it as, because he hadn’t lost fans or sponsors even after the Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson messes, or the concussion problem before that.
But in the past six months, he has had to suspend Rice over the original reluctance of Rice’s team’s owner, Steve Bisciotti, and now he has imposed the league’s disciplinary arm against Kraft’s team. That, kids, is commissioner suicide, and if you don’t believe that, ask Fay Vincent how raging against the machine works.
Will this undo Goodell? Hard to say, though the betting would be “no” at this point. Can his relationship with Kraft be repaired? Possibly, at least for public consumption.
But Kraft’s presser was a punch in Goodell’s stomach, and Kraft knew it as. He struck publicly and aggressively at Goodell’s illusion of impartiality, law-giving ability and problem-solving skills, and reminded him in no uncertain terms that he would not tolerate having his power challenged by a mere $44 million employee.
This leaves Goodell with two choices: Fight Kraft and lose, or lose the non-powerful billionaires by letting Kraft win his public dare.
So yeah, Hell’s Super Bowl. And that’s putting it mildly.