By Bill Campbell
If the 2011 football season is wiped out by a labor war, it’s to be hoped that it won’t be remembered by Super Bowl XLV. The game wound up in a close score, which was the only reason the vast audience stayed to its conclusion. It certainly was not a well-played game featuring as it did dropped passes, a total of 13 penalties and some weird play-calling on the part of both teams. It was hardly a contest which one could believe was between the two best teams in the NFL – which is what the Super Bowl is supposed to be. In all fairness, there were a lot of injuries which may have contributed to its mediocrity. And next to reaching some sort of consensus on its collective bargaining agreement, injuries are a worrisome factor and frequent topic of conversation at League meetings.
Aaron Rodgers, who won the game’s MVP award, was 24 for 39 throwing the ball with 3 scores. His opposite number, Ben Rothlisberger, was 25 for 40 with 2 scores. A quick look at those numbers would give the impression that this was a pretty well-played and exciting game but stats are often misleading as they were in this case –including the seating in Jerry Jones’ new football palace. Four hundred people were forced to give up their seats completely and 850 others had to move into temporary sections. The NFL office took full responsibility for this snafu but couldn’t do much about the weather – which was inclement to say the least through much of Super Bowl week.
The labor agreement ends on March 3rd and each side, Commissioner Roger Goodell for the owners and attorney D. Maurice Smith for the players, took turns all week presenting their cases for public consumption. On Friday, 2 days before the game, the commissioner staged his annual Super Bowl State of the League press conference, in which he took questions from media from almost everywhere. Among the journalists, surprisingly enough was an active player, Chad Ochocinco, hardly a bashful sort. And he had a question for the Commissioner. It turned out to be one of the most interesting and pointed questions of the press conference. “Do you know how far away you are from getting a deal realistically done?” The Commissioner’s reply was, “Both sides are preparing for any outcome but the commitment on behalf of ownership it to get an agreement.”
In an added interview, Goodell repeated those words and added that a meeting of all concerned had been held on Saturday and had proved to be beneficial. He said that his focus is on the next 3 or 4 weeks, which could be taken as a strong indication that he expects no closure until close to the deadline of March 3rd, if then. The fight between billionaires and millionaires may become even more interesting than Super Bowl XLV.
As our focus turns to basketball and hockey, let me tell you about my weekend. I spent Friday night at the Wells Fargo Center visiting with an old friend. His name is Doug Collins, who coaches basketball for a living. I’ve known Doug for some 30 years. He played for the 76ers, the team he now coaches, and I was that team’s broadcaster. Doug and I became good friends. In addition to talking with Doug, I saw every play in the 76ers-New York Knicks series on Friday here and the game in New York on Sunday at noon. Doug’s team, after splitting the 2 games with New York, has a 23-27 record. I asked him to give me a number he was focusing on for this regular season heading toward the play-offs. He thought about it for a moment and then said, “Thirty-six.” He thinks if his team wins 36 games it will be in good play-off position. It won’t be easy. I hope they do it. But coming up right now they have, over the next 5 game stretch, Atlanta, Orlando, San Antonio, Minnesota and then Memphis.
So just keep Doug’s number in mind. Thirteen more wins makes 36. He’s doing a super job in bringing the 76ers back from the dead. If he accomplishes his numerical goal, it will be one of the stand-out coaching jobs in quite some time.