By Dr Z
April 03, 2008

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Once upon a time NFL Properties used to have a display room set up at the league meetings. When the meetings ended, Properties left the stuff there, not wishing to haul it back home. So they ran a grab bag. You waited outside in a sprinter's stance, and when the door opened, you charged. It got to be an incredible piggy scene, and they finally called a halt to it after one grotesque incident ... I think it was at the meetings out in Palm Desert.

Front and center in the room was a mannequin of a child, attired head to foot in Dallas Cowboys gear. When the door opened two owners' wives hit it simultaneously, one on each side. The head flew off. It rolled -- in amongst the crush of surging feet. Someone kicked it, then kicked it again. A film crew would have produced a sequence that would have won an Academy Award for horror -- that idiot, smiling child's face getting kicked to pieces. Then NFL Properties called a halt.

Those were the wild and wooly days of the league meetings. The new version is a pile of duffel bags, with retractable luggage handles, in the lobby, stuffed with treasures of apparel -- for club personnel and their families.

"Help yourself to one, Z, please do," said the friendly chap who was handing them out, as he found the largest bag for me. I declined because, as I have said, I do not want to sell myself for a mass of trinkets.

And if you believe all that, wait 'til you see what I have for you next week.

Actually there were a few issues I wanted to mention to Commissioner Roger Goodell, and he granted me an audience after the week's hard business had been wrapped up.

I was interested in the commissioner's take on the progress and future of the NFL Network. It was born in 2004. A guy named Steve Bornstein was brought in to run something called NFL Media, which lumps NFL Films and in with NFL Network. What he created in the NFL Network part of it was a hodgepodge of programming that brings us half a season of live games and a good NFL draft package, but makes up for it with extended interviews, press conferences, talk, talk and talk, deadly stuff featuring such artistic and intellectual luminaries as Rich Eisen and Jamie Dukes.

It wouldn't be so bad if you could just tune out the blah blah and stay with the stuff you like, but much of NFL Films' really creative football material, both from an artistic and historic perspective, is being squeezed out. NFL Films, with its near passionate dedication to the game, is, in the words of Bornstein and his Network buddies, "obsolete," and "passé," if you listen to the repeated remarks. The only place you could see NFL Films' Game of the Week last season was on something called the ION network, which does reruns of stuff such as Baywatch.

It's sad. NFL Films recently had to lay off 21 employees. Owners I talked to, who have grown up on its footage, seemed to have slid their allegiance over to the Network. Patriots owner Bob Kraft, the chairman of the NFL's Broadcasting Committee, was quoted in a column by the Philadelphia Daily News' Paul Domowitch as saying, "People who are football addicts will love the NFL Network."

Well, not the ones I know. So that's one thing I wanted to get Commissioner Goodell's take on ... how happy he was with the progress of the league's network so far, and what kind of a future he envisions for it.

"People love it," he said. "We've found that our fans have not reached a point of satisfaction -- how much more football they want. We've found the results so far quite encouraging."

OK, I'm 0-1 so far. I need a win real bad. Let's try the combine workouts. The Network brought us a taste of it, but nothing serious from a statistical angle. Writers were barred. Why? For what reason? I mean, are they finding a secret cure for cancer there? It's in a big venue, the RCA Dome in Indianapolis. Why not let the writers sit in the stands or the press box, flash the information on the screen and make a real media- and fan-oriented event out of it? As long as nobody gets in the way of the testing, what's the problem?

"Actually I agree with that," Goodell said. "And I think that someday it'll come about. But there are people who always are nervous about too much access ... you know."

Well, there were a few more issues, personal ones mostly. I wanted to do a post-Super Bowl piece with Giants' defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, based on the way his defense kept pressuring Tom Brady -- about how more pressure defenses will be the vogue this year because quarterbacks get the ball out so early. A think piece, see? Innocent, thoughtful, well mannered. Uh uh. Absolutely not permitted. Conversation denied by the Giants.

So I whined about it for a while to the commish. And maybe the results will be felt down the road, maybe not. We'll see.

Elsewhere, well, I would be remiss if I didn't tell you something about this hotel where the meetings were held, The Breakers. It was built in 1896. The lobby and meeting rooms carry ornate gilt and filigree work, frescoed ceilings. The press room, named the Gold Room, is further embellished by portraits of Renaissance grandees circling the walls. On the press information table, next to the booklet of league stats, is a Brown Harris Stevens (est. 1873) guide of Important Residential Properties:

230 Pendleton Ave., Palm Beach. "This traditional 2-story, 5-bath home is located on a much desired in-town street $5.4 million


Two writers expressed their worthlessness and committed suicide after reading that thing.

The Redhead and I are the social scum of Palm and West Palm. She discovered a restaurant called 264 The Grill, where they have a complete dinner special (the Sunday buffet brunch at The Breakers, for instance, is $107 plus tax and tip) for $18.95 if you come before 6:30. They even give you plates and silverware. We ate our last two meals there. Oddly enough, the place was jam-packed with the old, moneyed gentry of West Palm, the elegant ladies.

"Eighty-plus, reduced by many surgeries to 65," says my Flaming Redhead. "Skin stretched so tight to produce an extra inch of face. Waxy look, shellacked page boy hair, fringe of bangs, gigantic Dior eyeglasses producing golf ball-sized eyes, sweater tied round the shoulders, Lilly Pulitzer pastel-colored outfit."

Wow! Enough already. It's a gargoyle!

• We are in the vast, ornate lobby of the Breakers, swapping stories, myself and a few club reps. Amy Trask, the Raiders' attorney, walks past.

"Hi-bye," she says, looking straight ahead, not breaking stride. It's what is known as a Raider greeting.

Dan Edwards, the Jaguars' PR man, walks by, carrying an imaginary sheet of paper. Then he turns around and comes back.

"Tony Parisi, the Steelers' clubhouse guy, used to carry a sheet of paper from one end of the hall to the other, then he'd turn around and come back," says Edwards, who used to work for Pittsburgh. "First thing he told me when I got there. Always carry a piece of paper and look at it while you're walking. They'll think you're busy. They'll think you're doing something."

• I spot a nattily attired figure in light blue suit and hat. A familiar face, a face from my fan days, my childhood. All Pro Bill Dudley, the Bluefield Comet.

"Bullet Bill ... never took an approach step ... the league's only pendulum-style kicker," I announce in my fan's voice.

"Coach Shearer, who coached with Bo McMillan at Centre College, taught it to me," said the 85-year old Dudley, an All-Pro of the 1940s. "He said, 'It'll take five yards off your distance, but you'll save a second or two.'"

Mike Ornstein, an Al Davis gofer on the Raiders for 15 years, is telling stories about the late John Matuszak.

"Five Quaaludes," he said. "Al Davis told me to stay with him all night, the night before the playoff against the Broncos. I went out for a couple of minutes, and he'd popped five Quaaludes. He was running up and down the halls of the hotel naked. The trainer and I got him into the room. We called room service, ordered every sandwich they had on the menu. He couldn't get them into his mouth ... he was smacking them off his forehead.

"Next day he was a little better, but he was still shaky. John Madden had to play him ... there were guys hurt. The Broncos killed him. They went to the Super Bowl that year, 1977. Cost us a shot at the Super Bowl, Tooz and those Quaaludes."

• As far as rules, playing of the game, conditions of servitude, etc. ... the element I feared they'd mess with never came to a vote. And that was the proposed change in the seedings for the playoffs, which fell after a show of hands indicated that few people wanted it.

The whole idea was to pump more profit into the end of season contests, in which clinching teams rest people. A try to attach more meaning to those games, in other words. Hey fellas, you make enough money. Leave the game alone. It's right the way it is, even though a few fans might switch the dial when they see Peyton on the bench.

• They dipped into the college rules for two modifications. Teams will be allowed to "defer" if they win the coin toss, and the five-yard facemask penalty is kaput. Deferring means having the option in the second half instead of the first, and although colleges do it all the time, I'm not sure that an NFL team that wants to make an early statement would follow suit. We'll see.

The question I asked, though, when supervisor of officials Mike Pereira was laying all of this out for us, was why, if the league has overcome its bashfulness about adopting college rules, it can't adopt the best one of all. And that is the 15-yard pass interference penalty.

A quarterback, is rushed, pinned, almost sacked ... he's a dead duck ... what does he do? Heaves the ball downfield, hoping for the interference call. It's bullsh... uh, phony football. Fifteen yards makes a lot more sense than the 40-yard point of the foul penalty.

What was Pereira's reaction? A shrug. A smile. He agrees. How can he convince everyone else?

• I'm not too excited about the other mini-rule changes, including eliminating the force out. The important thing is to get the calls consistent, and I think that's what they tried to do.

• Oh yes, Bob Kraft's mea culpa about Spygate and l'Affaire Walsh and all the rest of it. Reportedly, he apologized Wednesday before a mass gathering of owners, GMs, coaches and Breakers Hotel employees monitoring the room. They rose en masse and applauded. The band struck up Semper Fidelis and a representative from England arrived to confer knighthood.

Give me a freakin' break. "There was a lot of false stuff out there ... we're not about what the whole issue is ..." were some of Kraft's statements, quoted in USA Today. That's an apology? You know something? I'm afraid I'm getting too old, too fat, too cynical, too jaded for this business. I think I'll turn my tour of duty over to The Flaming Redhead. She'll get after these dudes, you betcha.

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