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Goodell, NFL turn blind eye to plight of NFL Films

Posted: Thursday April 3, 2008 12:04PM; Updated: Thursday April 3, 2008 4:36PM
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The NFL has cast its lot with the commentary of Rich Eisen and its NFL Network to the detriment of the venerable NFL Films.
The NFL has cast its lot with the commentary of Rich Eisen and its NFL Network to the detriment of the venerable NFL Films.
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
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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 NFL.com 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 "passť," 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.

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