Since Roger Goodall was officially announced as the third commissioner of the NFL on August 8th, 2006, precisely 10 years ago today, the NFL has weathered through 522 weekends, almost half of those containing at least one game, and there may not be one as damaging on the league’s image in the previous 521. (Okay, yeah, fine, Rice and Brady will still be worse PR hits than this weekend.) We’ll hit these stories in reverse order of when they happened, because the much larger mistake took place Sunday and I’ll wait to jump on a personal soap-box about what happened in the aftermath of a very entertaining Saturday of speeches.
The exact timeline of the NFL’s putrid Sunday isn’t clear, but a few of the events have been reported with “x hours before kickoff”, helping detail how inept the entire operation was. Lets go over what we know happened before the scheduled Hall of Fame Game, as reported by NFL.com’s Michael Silver:
- The stadium and surrounding complex received an $11 million donation from Saints’ owner Tom Benson, and the “new” turf on the field is actually transplanted from the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, who re-did their turf this past off-season.
- The field was covered for the Tim McGraw concert on Friday, and the Hall of Fame induction ceremony on Saturday.
- Something went wrong with the painting of the half-field logo and the end zones, most likely theory is that the wrong paint was used.
- When this, most likely incorrect, paint failed to dry someone on the field decided to heat the paint to help speed up the process—this lead the rubber pellets inside the turf to melt, only exacerbating the issue.
- “More than three hours before” kickoff, Silver notes comments from Aaron Rodgers saying the logo felt “hard”, “like plastic”, and “slick”.
- 2.5 hours before kickoff: stadium workers apply a substance “that appeared to be paint thinner”, to try and fix the issue. A Green Bay Packer employee then snapped a picture of a label warning of severe burns if exposed to skin and alerted others.
Silver is correct in his comments that cancelling the game was the right call. But that’s also not a tough call when you consider the exact factors that Silver does. It’s a preseason game. It’s an extra preseason game. The risk of injury to any of the players in the game was too great.
But back to that loosely constructed timeline. Gregg Doyel over at the Indy Star added a crucial detail for us: the Colts and the Packers were told at 6:40PM (kickoff was scheduled for 8PM) that the game was being cancelled. The ineptitude of those around the field is bad enough, but what the NFL did, or didn’t, do in the resulting 80 minutes is fucking unconscionable.
*You’ll also find multiple quotes from pissed off fans that Gregg interviewed. They are both enjoyable and infuriating.
No, the real issue is that the NFL attempted to, and succeeded, in gouging the fans that they had unwittingly screwed over for as much as possible. The richest league in the country took the time to slowly drag every damn cent from these fans, fans who came from all over the midwest to see this game, before FINALLY informing them the game was cancelled. Stands remained open, apparel shops kept ringing up customers and vendors still sifted through the stands, selling to fans who had no idea their beer order would quickly be “to go”. This is the National Football League at its unbearable worst. On a weekend that usually paints the league with the nostalgia and grandeur that makes the NFL what is it, the business side of the game showed larger and brighter on the stage—to tens of millions of football fans.
(Fair warning: If you’re not at least sympathetic of cities that have lost sports franchises, these next few paragraphs won’t interest you…BUT if you think the NFL can be a little shitty at times, you may enjoy this.)
Orlando Pace, the building block of the Greatest Show on Turf, gave an impeccable speech on Saturday evening. At just about 18 minutes it was the perfect length and included all the stories and thanks you for coaches, family & friends that we look for in these speeches. The Big “O” even threw a bone to those St. Louis fans wallowing over their lost team, “To the St. Louis Rams fans, I’m so proud to say we brought that city a championship. Thank you for the support that you gave us during that run, no one can ever take that away from you.”* Unfortunately, it wasn’t so nice if you were a fan who couldn’t catch the live broadcast so you pulled up the youtube version as soon as the NFL had uploaded it.
I was one of those fans, and for a few hours myself and many others, were treated to a shortened version of Pace’s speech that conveniently omitted that previous quote. I, and many like me, were understandably livid at this perceived snub. Now, my cohort Howard Balzer got an official statement from the NFL, essentially saying the incomplete version was just a technical issue, specifically stating that the full version was always available on nfl.com. Is this a case of jilted fans trying to read between the lines and find any fault they can? I’m self-aware enough to admit that certainly might be the case…but this is also an NFL media department that uploads thousands of videos across its many different social media platforms and mediums, and does so without any notable mistakes, including successfully uploading the other five enshrinement speeches to their youtube channel.
*I’m not completely sure what “that” is referring to in the second sentence of the Pace quote. It’s most likely referring to the championship, that makes sense, but I couldn’t help but notice the much better, and more subtle, answer for the question. “The support you gave us during that ran…”. This is what I like to think Orlando was referring to. The support from a city that had watched another team run for the desert a decade earlier, and lost out on two expansion teams, and still emptied their pockets for PSLs and season tickets. That then watched 22 wins in four seasons and still came out. The NFL can harp on attendance numbers all they want, but this was a reminder that when the Rams were a watchable team, St. Louis staunchly supported that team, and that can never be taken away.
Will this weekend effect the bottom line of the NFL? Of course not. If the incidents with Ray Rice, Adrian Peterson and Tom Brady didn’t do the damage, this certainly won’t be enough. But anytime the NFL fails to capitalize on one of the few weekends where the collective sports media focuses on the best parts of the NFL, every corner was clearly focused on the negative, they put their already unstable public image on even shakier ground.