Access Vikings

Matt Vensel is in his first year at the Star Tribune after covering the Ravens for the Baltimore Sun for six years. He is a Pittsburgh native and a Penn State grad. Follow him at @mattvensel.


Mark Craig has covered the NFL for 23 years, and the Vikings since 2003 for the Star Tribune. He is one of 44 Pro Football Hall of Fame selectors. Follow him at @markcraignfl.


Master Tesfatsion is the Star Tribune’s digital Vikings writer. He is a 2013 graduate of Arizona State and worked for mlb.com before arriving in Minneapolis. Follow him at @masterstrib.


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Tingelhoff's wait is over; Mick is finally a Hall of Famer

Posted by: Mark Craig Updated January 31st at 7:47pm 290445351

Mick Tingelhoff is a Hall of Famer. Finally …

here is our story on it

By MARK CRAIG

mcraig@startribune.com

PHOENIX – Mick Tingelhoff will never again be asked if he thinks he should be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. In his 32nd year of eligibility and 38 years after delivering his last snap to Fran Tarkenton, the captain of the Vikings’ four Super Bowl teams finally has joined his dear friend and old roommate for eternity in Canton, Ohio.

“I’m happier about Mick getting into the Hall of Fame than I was when I went into the Hall of Fame,” Tarkenton said. “I haven’t been back to the Hall of Fame since I went in back in 1986. But with Mick going in, I’ll be the first one there this year.”

Saturday’s 8-hour, 53-minute Hall of Fame selection meeting began at 7 a.m. at the Phoenix Convention Center. As the lone senior committee finalist, Tingelhoff was the first of 18 finalists to be discussed. After a positive 12-minute, 53-second discussion that focused on correcting a decades-old oversight, the 46-member selection committee, including me, voted on a 17-year playing career that epitomized the term “iron man.”

With 80 percent of the votes needed for selection, the mood of the room could best be described as one of amazement that this was the first time the selection committee had ever formally discussed Tingelhoff. He was never a finalist in 25 years as a modern-era player and it took another 11 years before becoming the first Viking to become a Hall of Fame senior committee finalist.

And this was a five-time first-team All-Pro and six-time Pro Bowler who never missed a start (240) or a practice from the time he joined the Vikings as an undrafted rookie linebacker from Nebraska until he retired after the 1978 season.

“Mick is one of the finest centers of all time,” said Packers Hall of Fame linebacker Dave Robinson, who met with the senior committee in Canton last summer to help them pick Tingelhoff as a finalist. Meanwhile, Bears Hall of Fame linebacker Dick Butkus also endorsed Saturday’s news, saying Tingelhoff was the “toughest center I ever played against.”

Tingelhoff will make an appearance at Super Bowl XLIX on Sunday and be measured for his Hall of Fame gold jacket on Monday. He’ll enter the Hall in August alongside five modern-era players and two members of the newly-created contributor’s category.

The modern-era players are Steelers running back Jerome Bettis, Raiders receiver Tim Brown, 49ers and Cowboys defensive end Charles Haley, Chiefs guard Will Shields and the late linebacker Junior Seau, the only first-ballot selection this year. The contributors are former long-time general managers Bill Polian and Ron Wolf. They join former Vikings executive Jim Finks as the only general managers in the Hall of Fame.

After discussing and voting on Tingelhoff, Polian and Wolf, the committee discussed 15 modern-era finalists. Eliminated in the first cut to 10 were safety John Lynch, running back Terrell Davis, coach Jimmy Johnson, kicker Morten Andersen and coach Don Coryell.

The next cut was to five. Eliminated in that round were linebacker Kevin Greene, receiver Marvin Harrison, offensive tackle Orlando Pace, two-time league MVP quarterback Kurt Warner and coach Tony Dungy, the former Gophers quarterback and Vikings defensive coordinator. Warner and Pace were in their first year of eligibility. Dungy was in his second year of eligibility and as a finalist.

Tingelhoff becomes the ninth center to reach the Hall of Fame. His five All-Pro first-team selections are as many or more than four of the other centers in the Hall. He has one more first-team All-Pro selection, nine more seasons and 153 more starts than former Dolphin Dwight Stephenson, who was selected in his sixth year of eligibility in 1998.

Tingelhoff has more consecutive starts than any other offensive lineman in NFL history. He’s 12th among players at all positions. And, oh yeah, he also handled all the long-snapping on a team that won 10 division titles, the 1969 NFL championship and played in four Super Bowls.

At 6-2, 237 pounds, Tingelhoff was considered undersized even by the standards of his era. But he was tough with quick feet that helped him reach linebackers and defensive backs better than most of the centers of his era. And to think that he started that first training camp as a linebacker who had fallen through a 20-round, 280-player draft.

“Mick was a catalyst for our team and one of the most respected players on those teams,” Hall of Fame coach Bud Grant said. “I have no doubt that had he not played center, he would have been a Hall of Fame linebacker. Guys look at him as an example of how to do things.”

And now he stands alongside all of them that reached the Hall of Fame oh so long before he did.

Roger Goodell's Super Bowl News Conference

Posted by: Chris Miller Updated January 30th at 5:25pm 290381651

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell’s annual “State of the NFL” news conference was … well, why don’t we just give you the transcript, and you can pick through your favorite questions and answers.

NFL COMMISSIONER ROGER GOODELL

Super Bowl XLIX News Conference

Arizona l January 30, 2015

Opening Statement:

“Good morning. Before getting to your questions, let me make a few comments. First, congratulations to the Seahawks and the Patriots. They emerged as the best of the best in a terrific year of football. A season of amazing competiton and plenty of challenges, learning and real progress. We know when we meet our challenges effectively, we are a better league and a positive contributor to society. It’s on us. I truly belive that we will continue to make progress because the NFL is made up of good and caring people. I’m realistic about the work that lies ahead and confident that we will do what is expected of us, and even more importantly, of ourselves.

“Looking to the offseason, we will focus on innovation and technology in three key areas: the game, player safety and the fan experience. We are doing more to protect our players from unnecessary risk. Hits to defenseless players this season were down 68 percent, and there were similar decreases in other areas pertaining to the safety of the game. We reported yesterday that concussions were down 25 percent this past regular season, continuing a three-year trend.

“Since 2012, concussions in regular-season games have dropped from 173 to 111, a decrease of more than one-third. The real credit goes to the players and coaches. They’ve adjusted to the rules and the challenge of creating a culture of safety for our game. But there’s more to do on player health and safety. Carefully reviewing and approving our concussion protocols will be a focus of our medical committees this offseason. And we are establishing a position of chief medical officer. This individual, who we expect to have in place very soon, will oversee our medical-related policies, ensure that we update them regularly, and work closely with our medical committees, our advisors, and the Players’ Association.

“There is more work to do on other fronts. While the quality of the game continues to improve, fans want every play to have suspense, but the extra point has become virtually automatic. We have experimented with alternatives to make it a more competitive play, and we expect to advance these ideas through the Competition Committee this offseason.

“We are looking at expanding the use of technology and innovation for our football and medical staffs as well as our fans. Last year, technology improved officiating. For the first time, it enabled us to directly involve officiating supervisors in our office in instant replay and for officials to use wireless communications on the field. Replay and other officiating decisions took less time. That’s important. Fans don’t want delays, coaches don’t want delays – they want action and accuracy.

“We are looking at other ways to enhance replay and officiating. That includes potentially expanding replay to penalites if it can be done without more disruption to the pace of the game. And we are discussing rotating members of the officiating crews during the season as a way to improve consistency throughout our regular season and benefit our crews in the postseason. In officiating, consistency is our number-one objective.

“The possibility of expanding the playoffs has also been a topic over the last couple of years. There are positives to it, but there are concerns as well. Among them being the risk of diluting our regular season and conflicting with college football in January.

“In another important area, we are continuing our work to uphold the highest standards of responsible conduct so that we represent our fans and communities in a way that will make them proud. Yesterday, we held the first meeting of our new league conduct committee chaired by Michael Bidwell. The committee reviewed our new Personal Conduct Policy. It emphasizes ongoing education, prevention, support services and raises the standards for all of us in the NFL. Most importantly, it is clearly more effective.

“On the issue of footballs used in the AFC Championship Game, Ted Wells and our staff have been hard at work conducting a thorough and objective investigation. As you would expect, we take seriously anything that potentially impacts the integrity of the game. We are focusing principally on two questions: why were some footballs used in the game that were not in compliance with the rules, and was this the result of deliberate action? I want to emphasize we have made no judgements on these points, and we will not compromise the investigation by engaging in speculation. When Ted Wells has completed his investigation and made his determination based on all relevant evidence, we will share his report publicly.

“Finally, on steps to grow the game and serve the fans, we are excited about the success of Thursday Night Football and the extension of our agreement with CBS. We have the best partners in media and together, we will continue to develop new platforms, expand fan interaction and deepen fan engagement. Technology, great football, and our fans – that’s a winning combination.

“How our fans, especially younger ones, connect with the game is changing every day. To that end, we are agressively pursing the streaming of a regular season game with our first over-the-top telecast. It would be carried on broadcast stations in both team markets, but it would also reach a worldwide audience, including millions of homes that do not have traditional television service.

“Let me finish with this. Football’s popularity is extraordinary. The credit goes to the players, coaches and the fans. We know the NFL’s impact is far-reaching. It is most dramatically seen on Super Bowl Sunday. It means we have enormous responsibility to lead every day by example. It is what our fans deserve. We are humbled by, and grateful for, their passion. They are the ones who inspire me, our owners and coaches, and then, like our Walter Payton Award finalists who are with us today, we know we must earn the trust of our fans every day. I know you have questions on these and many other issues, so let’s get to it.”

With such a focus on off-field issues, including what the public perceives as failures in the league’s investigative process dating back to the Saints’ bounties, as well as some problems on the field that you just referred to, what do you plan to do specifically to restore faith in the league and the shield?

“We’ve already begun that process. We have already begun the process of adding additional resources in terms of individuals that can bring an expertise to our office, an expertise to investigations. As you know, last fall I announced that we would hire a speical counsel for investigations in conduct. We are in the search process and hope to conclude that in the very near future. We have great people working for the NFL, and we are adding resources, adding assets that will make sure that we will have thorough and fair processes. We are also, as we have demonstrated with Ted Wells, not afraid to go outside and to get outside perspective that can be valuable to us – a professional perspective that will give us the kind of outcome that we want, which is fair with the truth being clear.”

What is the league’s level of commitment to keeping a franchise in St. Louis, especially given the recent efforts to build a new stadium for the Rams for the second time in 20 years? And secondly, Rams ownership by all appearances seems to be more interested in the L.A. project than the St. Louis stadium project. How does this meet new relocation guidelines, which call for teams to exhaust every opportunity in their own market before moving?

“The first answer to your initial question is that we want all of our franchises to stay in the current markets. That’s a shared responsibility. That’s something that we all have to work together on. The league has programs, including stadium funding programs that we make available. We will work and have worked with communities, including St. Louis. We also will make sure that we’re engaging the business community and the public sector in a way that can help us lead to solutions that work in those communities, and in your case, St. Louis, and to make sure that it works for the community and the teams, so our teams can be successful over the long term. The second part of your question was the interest in the ownership. You know, (St. Louis Rams Owner and Chairman) Stan (Kroenke) has been working on the stadium issue in St. Louis, as you know, for several years. They had a very formal process as part of their lease. They went through that entire process. It did not result in a solution that works for either St. Louis or the team. I don’t think the stadium is a surprise to anybody in any market that is having these issues. There has been quite a bit of discussion about it, and the St. Louis representatives seem determined to build a stadium. That’s a positive development – something that we look forward to working on with them.”

Robert Kraft said that he felt that you and your office owed him an apology if nothing came out of the Wells investigation. What are your thoughts on that matter?

“Well, Bob, my thoughts are that this is my job. This is my responsbility – to protect the integrity of the game. I represent 32 teams. All of us want to make sure that the rules are being followed, and if we have any information where the potential is that those rules were violated, I have to pursue that and I have to pursue that aggressively. This is my job. This is a job of the league office. It is what all 32 clubs expect and what I believe our partners, our fans expect. We will do so vigorously, and it is important for it to be fair.”

2015 marks the 20th year without a franchise in the nation’s second-largest market and, coincidentally, the 20th consecutive year that I’ve asked this question.

(Laughter)

“I do recognize it already Sam. Do you want me to finish it for you?”

Should I just drop the mic?

(Laughter)

Earlier this month, Rams owner Stan Kroenke announced plans for an 80,000-seat stadium in Hollywood Park. Considering that he has the land, the vast resources, both financial and political, can anyone else win this race? What’s the criteria that the league is going to use to determine which team or teams are able to relocate to Los Angeles? What if an owner decides to go rogue and, without the NFL’s blessing, says, ‘I’m just going to move my team no matter what you say.’

“Well, Sam, several points that you made there and let me try to be responsive to all of them. First, let me start with your second question. The ownership takes very seriously the obligation for us to vote on any serious matter, including relocation of a franchise. There’s a relocation policy that is very clear. We have shared it with our ownership over the last several years. We have emphasized the point, in each of those meetings, that there will be at least one vote, if not multiple votes, if there is any relocation. We would have potentially the relocation itself, potential stadium funding, potential Super Bowls. So a lot of things would likely be subject to a vote, and our ownership takes that very seriously and we take that very seriously, so any relocation will be subject to a vote. As it relates to the first part of your question, there have been no determinations of us going to Los Angeles, any particular team going to Los Angeles or going to any particular stadium. We have several alternatives that we’re evaluating from a site standpoint. There are teams that are interested, but are trying to work their issues out locally. As a league, we haven’t gotten to that stage yet, and it will all be subject to our relocation policy. There are requirements in that policy, as you know, particularly as it relates to cooperation and working to make sure they solve the issues in their local market. I’m confident that all of that will be covered within the relocation policy and with our membership approval.”

I realize that this question might seem to some people petty, especially in comparison to some of the other things you’ll be asked this morning, but Marshawn Lynch’s cooperation, or lack thereof, with the media this week has become a big story. Even before you were commissioner, you concerned yourself with growing the game, with marketing the game. What’s your take on how he handled the media this week and has your office made a decision whether he’ll be fined for lack of participation or for wearing a non-licensed hat?

“On the second part of your question, I do not believe any decision has been made on that. Our staff will probably look at that following the Super Bowl and make a determination, as they have in the past. I’ve been very clear that when you’re in the NFL, you have an obligation to the fans. It is part of your job. There are things that we all have to do in our jobs that we may not necessarily want to do. I think Marshawn understands the importance of the Super Bowl, the importance of his appearance and the importance of him as an individual in this game. Fans are curious. Fans want to know. The media would like to make that story clear to our fans. I understand it may not be at the top of his list, but everyone else is cooperating. Everyone else is doing their part because it is our obligation. As I say, there are a lot of things we don’t like to do in our job but it comes with the territory. It comes with the privilege of playing in the Super Bowl.”

Speaking of jobs, it’s been a tough year for you in your job this year. Many people in America, if they went through the year that you’ve had, probably would have resigned or been fired. Can you envision any set of circumstances that would lead you to resigning or being fired from your job as commissioner?

 

“No, I can’t. Does that surprise you? Listen, it has been a tough year. It’s been a tough year on me personally. It’s been a year of what I would say is humility and learning. We, obviously as an organization, have gone through adversity. More importantly, it’s been adversity for me. We take that seriously. It’s an opportunity for us to get better. It’s an opportunity for us, for our organization, to get better. We’ve all done a lot of soul searching, starting with yours truly. We have taken action. A lot of the concerns that we had back in August where we didn’t have a policy that addressed a very complex issue, we didn’t have answers for that. We didn’t fully understand those issues. Now we have experts in the field. They’re in our office. They’re helping us understand this. Advisors have given us a better understanding of the issues and how to deal with these complex issues. We went on the road. We have spoken to, last count I had was well over 150 experts, whether they are former players, college and university presidents, law enforcement officials. How can we do a better job of managing these complex issues? We set out to create a new personal conduct policy, which was unanimously approved by our 32 owners in December. We made enormous progress. The things we didn’t know and where we were in August, are not where we are today. We’re in a good place in knowing and learning and having a lot more humility. As an organization and as an individual, it’s been a tough year, but a year of progress. I’m excited about the future. The second and probably most important issue for us is that we want to make a difference in this area, not just internally, but externally. We’ve done a great deal to bring more awareness to these issues of domestic violence and sexual assault. We are committed to that. We are working with various organizations to try to make sure that we, as my advisors like to say, and Jane Randel is over here, normalize the conversation, bring awareness and understand what victims and survivors are going through. One of the most compelling moments I had of this entire fall was going to shelters or going to hotline centers and being able to speak to the advocates and hear the fear, the emotion, and the economic consequences. That is compelling. It will make you understand this issue much more deeply. We, as the NFL, and this commissioner understand it a lot better today than we did before. I think we in the NFL want to make this an important issue where we can make a difference in society in general. This is a problem in the broader society.”

Taking into account what the Mexican market means for the league with the largest attendance, but it’s been since 2005, since the league has had a regular-season game in Mexico City, and the fans don’t understand why. Can you explain to them why?

“We have tremendous fans in Mexico. We had a great experience with a regular-season game down there. As you know, that was our first ever. It was a tremendous success for us. We want to get back there. We want to play more games there. It’s a combination of stadium availabilities, making sure that we can do it at the standards and level that we expect to do. When we do it, we want to do it well. We have had a tremendous amount of focus on London, but we are looking at other markets, including Mexico. We certainly hope we’re going to be back there soon.”

You guys have faced a lot of problems over the past year that have a very wide range, but what a lot of the issues have in common is a conflict of interest. When you do something like hire an outside investigator like Ted Wells into the Patriots investigation, you’re still paying him, and Robert Kraft, who owns the Patriots, is still paying you. So, even when you do everything right in one of those situations, it opens you guys up to a credibility gap with some of the public and even with some of your most high-profile players. What steps can you guys take in the future to mitigate some of those conflict-of-interest issues?

 

“I don’t agree with you on a lot of the assumptions you make in your question. I think we have had people that have uncompromising integrity. Robert Mueller is an example of who – I think you asked me the same question last fall about a conflict of interest – their integrity is impeccable. Ted Wells’ integrity is impeccable. These are professionals that bring an outside expertise and an outside perspective, and their conclusions are drawn only by the evidence and only by the attempt to try and identify that truth. So, I think we have done an excellent job of bringing outside consultants in. Somebody has to pay them, Rachel. Unless you’re volunteering, which I don’t think you are, we will do that. But, we have the responsibility to protect the integrity of the league, whether we have an owner that’s being invesitgated, whether we have a commissioner that’s being investigated, they’re being done at the highest level of integrity and quality.”

A number of your players have been quite vocal about criticizing you and your leadership, so a two-part question here. One, how would you describe your relationship with the league’s players, and two, what plans do you have in mind to try and improve that relationship moving forward?

 

“Obviously, there’s close to 3,000 players at any given time in the NFL. I communicate with our players on a regular basis, in almost every case, privately. I receive their input, particularly when we’re making decisions that affect players, which are most decisions. We spend an awful lot of time talking with former players, who are a great input into our Personal Conduct Policy. We also reached out to the Players Association for their perspective. So, we are not going to agree on every matter. We understand that, but no one has more respect for the players, what they do in our communities, what they do on the field, their importance to the NFL going forward. I’ve had the great privilege to be able to work closely with them for now 30-some odd years. That’s a privilege for me. Their well-being, their future are important to me. We spend a great deal of time on player health and safety. We want to make this game as safe as possible for them. We want to make sure while they’re here, and when they transition out of football, we are helping them be successful. I will continue to reach out to them. I will continue to have the input that they’re willing to give me. We will also work with the Players Association, but when we disagree on matters, such as the Personal Conduct Policy, we’re not going to compromise the NFL. We agree that we need to raise standards in the NFL. That’s what our owners said. We agree that we’re not completely relying on law enforcement. Our owners agreed on that. We don’t want to wait for law enforcement to conclude the process; it could take months. We need to take action. We had a fundamental difference with the Players Association on that, so we implemented our Personal Conduct Policy to make sure we have that ability. We’ll continue to work with them. We will continue to find ways to strengthen that policy and to address any issues they raise.”

In the league’s quest to keep innovating with respect to technology and digital media, has there been greater discussion on using both even better, to better persuade more kids and their parents about getting involved with football rather than being dissuaded by it?

“Absolutely, Jason, we’ve spent a great deal of time as you know with USA Football. We helped, with the Players Association, to create that to help promote the game of football on all levels and they’ve done an extrodinary job. We’ve created a Heads Up Football program which is just two or three years old now on which the adoption rate at the youth level and now on the high-school level is extrodinary. It’s teaching coaches how to teach safe techniques. It’s teaching kids how to play the game safely and that’s good for the long-term future of the game, and we’ll continue to invest in it as we’ve done. We’ve committed 45 million dollars to youth football through our NFL Foundation. Again, to promote the game, but to promote it being played safely. The game of football, as someone who played it through youth football and high school, I think that the value, the character that comes from playing a team sport like football is extrordinary, and I want kids to have that same opportunity.”

Play 60 is an important part of my life, but how do you Play 60?

“Bobby, I played 65 this morning, as a matter of fact. I was in the gym at a quarter to five this morning doing the elliptical, and I believe in that. I believe in the importance of taking care of yourself from a physical standpoint, emotional standpoint, a mental standpoint, and that’s a routine that I have. I just get in a routine, and I don’t let it go.”

When Sean Payton was suspended from Bountygate, you had said, when he said he was unaware, that ignorance is no excuse. Will the same standards apply as you said, to the ‘integrity of the game’, when you complete your investigation on these footballs and if they were deflated by anybody, will the same standards hold true for Bill Belichick? One other question, Richard Sherman said the other day that if the players should be available every week, you as the commissioner should be available to the fans and the media on a weekly basis as well. Can you address his question as well?

“Let me start with the second one. I understand the obligation and my job to meet with the media. I don’t know whether I meet with them at a press conference every week, but I’m available to the media almost every day of my job, professionally. We try to make ourselves available on a very regular basis. It is my responsibility, it is my job, and I will do that. The first part of your question, I want to make sure that we don’t mix issues, these are individual cases. The Saints’ bounty case was something, without getting into the details of it, there were allegations of that the year prior. We investigated it and did not find anything. Later, new information came to us that verified that a bounty program was in place. At that point in time, they were all on notice that bounty programs, obviously, are unacceptable, that there were suspicions and that they shouldn’t continue to exist. So I do hold the head coach responsible in that case. We don’t know enough in this investigation to know who is responsible or whether there was even an infraction. When we get the facts from Ted Wells, we will certainly take all of that into account, and we will make the right decision to protect the integrity of the league.”

Las Vegas has long expressed interest in having a professional sports team whether it be NHL, NBA or NFL. In your opinion, do you think Las Vegas could sustain a professional team?

“I can’t speak to other sports, for sure. I certainly can’t speak even to the NFL because I haven’t had any dialogue with officials in Las Vegas about how that could happen successfully for Las Vegas and for the NFL. A stadium would be a big component to that. I’m not sure that exists right now. I do understand the passion of the fans in Las Vegas and their interest in football.”

Can you tell us the thinking behind the early kickoff times for the games in London in 2015, and if that move to an earlier time slot enhances the chances of a franchise in London or an expanded package of games in the U.K.?

 

“It’s something that we experimented with last year with our first game at 9:30 eastern here in the States. It ended up being very successful here, as our fans had another national window on Sunday morning. Our fans said that we love it and would like to see more. But we also had a tremendous reaction in London with our fans at that particular week last year. It was at 1:30 local time. Our fans were able to go to the game in the afternoon. Some that were coming from different parts of Europe were able to get home. We found that it was a very positive change. We wanted to expand with more, and we did that this year. In fact, all three of our games will be at 9:30 eastern time. We found that it’s terrific for our fans both in London and on this side of the pond also. We will continue it. I’m not sure if it has anything to do with the long-term future of whether a franchise is there. We are excited about the continuing growth in the popularity of the NFL in the U.K., particularly in London. We’re going to continue to learn every year from our experience and continue to try and give them more football, which is what they want.”

Has the NFL ever tested the air pressure of footballs in the middle of the game, and how important is that as a frame of reference in the Patriots’ investigation?

 

“Just so I am clear, when you say middle of the game, do you mean while play is going on?”

At halftime.

 

“Well, I think we were pretty clear. We tested them at the AFC Championship Game at halftime.”

Have they ever been tested at other games as a frame of reference related to that?

 

“I don’t know the answer to that question. That would be something, I presume, that Ted Wells would look into and will provide that information.”

Do you believe that you personally deserve a pay cut this year for your performance?

 

“That’s up to the owners. They evaluate my performance. They evaluate my compensation every year. I don’t argue.”

Four years ago, you challenged the owners to get to $25 billion of league revenues – I think it was within a 15- or 17-year time frame. Do you think you’ll reach that objective?

 

“The challenge just wasn’t to the owners – it was to all of us. We wanted to make sure we were continuing to grow the league in not only its popularity, but also opportunities to grow revenue. I don’t know whether we’ll get there, but we’re working towards that goal. It’s something that we think is practical, but we want to do the growth the right way. The most important thing is everything we do has to become high-quality. It has to be done in a way that reflects well on the NFL. We’re not going to pursue revenue without an important aspect of how does that impact our brand. How does that impact what we’re doing to make sure that we’re delivering on what we need to deliver to our fans. It’s a goal, but it’s not something we’re going to overlook other important objectives for.”

Why did you plan on having Super Bowl XLIX in Arizona this year, and do you feel like a lot of the ball controversy has taken away from Sunday’s game?

 

“Arizona earned it. We’ve had a great experience here in Arizona in prior years. They put together a winning bid that the owners accepted. They deserve it. I think the proof is in the pudding. They have done an outstanding job this week. We have more work to do, but we couldn’t be happier with the hospitality, with the plans, the cooperation – to put on an event like this takes a lot of people. This community has wrapped their arms around every opportunity and made the Super Bowl even bigger and better for our fans and for the NFL overall. We’re thrilled about being here, and we look forward to coming back.”

In light of the new ownership in Buffalo, what is your perspective on the need for a new stadium, and what would be the timetable, in your mind, for when that should be built?

“As you know, they have new ownership. Terry and Kim (Pegula) have been very focused on the stadium, that’s one of the things they are evaluating with their franchise. What is the next generation of stadium? I think that’s an important consideration for the Buffalo market and that region, but also for the NFL and Terry and Kim. I do believe that a stadium long term is going to be needed in that marketplace. I’m from western New York. I love Ralph Wilson Stadium, but it’s got to compete against a lot of these new stadiums that have a lot of very important features that that stadium doesn’t have. So they are going through that process. We will certainly work with them, cooperate with them, and if we can be helpful, we will.”

Richard Sherman alluded to this the other day, about possible favoritism on your part toward owners – specific owners – specifically Robert Kraft, and GQ magazine even quoted a league executive calling him the “assistant commissioner”. How do you react to this allegation, and will you avoid having your picture taken at owners’ houses before any future conference championship games?

 

“No, I won’t. I was at the Kraft residence along with season-ticket holders, sponsors and media partners the night before as part of an AFC Championship party. That’s part of what we do. I was there participating in a program with our partner CBS, taking questions from the audience. It’s something that I do on a regular basis, so that’s not unusual. It’s also not unusual that I work very closely with ownership, particularly someone like Robert Kraft, who serves on multiple committees. The broadcast committee, we spend an awful lot of time on that. He’s on the finance committee. He works on several important league initiatives. So professionally, I have a relationship with him, and I also admire, respect and think very highly of him on a personal level. So there is no hiding from that standpoint. But since he knows me so well, he knows that I am not going to do anything to compromise the integrity of the league. I think he has no doubt that I will do the right thing for the NFL.”

My question about Deflategate is – I’m trying to sort this out in my own head – how is throwing a deflated ball drastically different than throwing a spitter in baseball, which is not considered the worst crime in the world, a suspendable offense, but maybe a few games. How do you see it differently?

 

“I can’t really respond to what happens in baseball and other sports. We have rules. We are a league of rules. The 32 teams are partners in everything and expect us to follow those rules. If there are rules that dictate the pressure in footballs, or there are rules about how the game is played between the white lines, we’re going to enforce those rules. They’ll be enforced whether they are enforced with penalties, with financial penalties, with suspensions, with draft choices. Any number of things can be used in the context of that if there is a violation of the rules. Whether a competitive advantage was actually gained or not is secondary in my mind to whether that rule was violated. That’s the integrity of our game, and when those rules are violated, we will take that seriously.”

Just minutes ago, the mayor in San Diego announced the task force to explore a stadium getting built there. You’ve been very complimentary of what Dean Spanos has done in terms of trying to get that done there. Can you speak to the fans there about how important it is? Do they need a new stadium? And also has Dean done enough to demonstrate that he’s tried to work things out locally?

 

“The answer is we all have to work together on this. So from a fan perspective, from a Chargers standpoint, from the NFL standpoint, from public officials and the business community, this is a shared responsibility. Dean and his family have worked for 10 to 12 years trying to get a new stadium. They do need a new stadium for the Chargers to be successful there long term. It’s one of the oldest stadiums in the league, if not the oldest stadium in the league, and we need that for the fans, also. It’s important to the franchise so they can remain competitive, but it’s also important for the fans, because fans expect those amenities now. So it’s something we will continue to work on. I’m glad to hear he has got a task force going. But they have been working at this for 12 years, and it’s something that we need to see tangible results sooner rather than later.”

As you’re aware, I’m sure, a lawsuit has been filed in New Orleans seeking an interdiction of Saints owner Tom Benson. It questions, among other things, his mental acuity, his physical ability to run the team. In your opinion is Tom Benson mentally and physically capable of owning and operating the New Orleans Saints, and should Saints fans have any concern about the stability of the organization and its future success?

“Jeff, I spoke to Tom Benson just the other day. He was going to the office as usual. He was in complete control and energetic, excited about getting to the office, asking about league issues. As you know, he’s been one of our more active owners in the league on various committees. They obviously have a dispute going on, which is always unfortunate. In this case it deals with succession as opposed to current management. Tom Benson is a man of great integrity and a man that is enthusiastic about the NFL, the Saints and New Orleans and somebody that has demonstrated to me he’s got complete control over what he’s doing to make sure that organization goes in the right direction.”

Just following up on London, you’ve gotten support over there of the government and the media and your scheme Play 60, which is now being introduced into London schools, which is fantastic. What more does London need to do, do you think, to actually progress the game there and maybe some way down the line actually achieving a franchise?

 

“I would tell you that London has done not only everything that we expected, but more than we expected. They’re responding to the game better than we ever dreamed, with more enthusiasm, more passion. You see it every year. When I was back last fall, you could see the passion and the understanding of the game. Every event that we have explodes with interest. We are continuing to advance our interests over there from the same point of playing more games. The more media coverage that we have, obviously leads to better understanding of the game on a national basis. We are working with sponsors, we are working with the fans directly, but already the three games that we have here, the report I had yesterday was just a couple thousand tickets left. That may be sold out by now. That’s three games in an incredibly short period of time. So, their passion is obvious. We want to continue to respond to that fan interest and if we do, we don’t know where it will go, but I think there is great potential in London for the NFL.”

The average ticket is now over $10,000 making it the most expensive Super Bowl, the most expensive sporting event of all time. But, there is concern that the free market is not dictating those prices, that it is being fixed, that it is being manipulated. Is there any concern, and is that something the league has looked into?

 

“Just to be specific to your question, I think you meant on the secondary level. The prices are that on the secondary level. I think that shows the incredible fan demand. We obviously follow that closely. We follow the various secondary ticket marketing companies. We want to make sure that our fans are protected, so we will follow that closely and make sure that everything is being done to protect the fan interest. As this game continues to increase in its popularity, we want to make sure the game continues to stay accessible also.”

Closing remarks prior to final question:

“Before we do that, if I could just take one minute to thank the people of this region and Arizona, starting with the Bidwill family. Without them, without their leadership, without the work that they’ve done, we would not be here. So we thank them, Mike and his entire family, for the tremendous work. I’d also like to thank, of course, Governor (Doug) Ducey, who I had the pleasure of having dinner with last night. The work that he’s done, the cooperation, the various mayors in the region have been wonderful, and we want to thank all of you for that work. Certainly, David Rousseau and Jay Parry, who lead the effort here with the Super Bowl Host Committee. They have done an extraordinary job, and we thank them for that work.”

You made a series of proposals in early 2008 in the aftermath of the Spygate penalties regarding future competitive violations. You wrote then of increased penalties and also a lower threshold in terms of the standard of proof, and then the owners ratified those. Have those standards come up in any case since then? Do you consider them, particularly a lower burden of proof, to be in effect as you move forward in investigating this case?

“We want the truth. That’s what I think our fans want, that’s what our clubs want. So, what we want to do is make sure that we find that truth. If there are violations of the rules, we take them seriously, particularly when they deal with the integrity of the game and the rules. The standards are always reevaluated. We will make sure that if the penalties that exist in any given circumstance that don’t fit those violations, we will adjust that. We’ll increase that. That’s important for us to do as we continue to make sure that the league is run in the appropriate way, and with the right integrity.”

Minnesota Super Bowl committee gathers info, embraces weather challenges

Posted by: Mark Craig Updated January 30th at 4:21pm 290373891

We met up with a couple of the six members of the executive board of the Minnesota Super Bowl Host Committee, which has been at this week’s Super Bowl site gathering logistical information that will helm it stage this event in three years.

We’ll have more on it in tomorrow’s paper, but thought we’d share the answer to the No. 1 question that is on everyone’s mind when the discussion is Minneapolis hosting a Super Bowl in late January, where a 27-degree day, like today, is considered a warm day. Remember, it was 7 below zero on this week a year ago.

“As a retailer, I would say now is the time to buy the very best winter clothes,” joked Maureen Bausch, CEO of the committee. “Come prepared.”

Tentative plans call for an outdoor “Super Bowl Boulevard” along Nicollet Mall, similar to the 12 square blocks that have been set aside as a party venue here in downtown Phoenix.

So how in the world does Minnesota keep visitors happy outdoors in January?

“I think we have to be extra especially warm in our personalities,” Bausch said. “I think it’s all about people. If we make them feel good, they’re going to have a good time. Arizona has done a good job of that even in the rain.

“It’s about showcasing our people, our sophisticated marketplace, our innovations. It’s about showcasing all that we do in Minneapolis, St. Paul and Minnesota. And changing what people think. We’re not Fargo. Not that Fargo is bad. The movie and everything.”

Jennings says the Vikings 'all want' Peterson back

Posted by: Matt Vensel Updated January 30th at 3:26pm 290365601

Head coach Mike Zimmer and General Manager Rick Spielman have said since the season ended that the Vikings would like to have suspended running back Adrian Peterson back in 2015. Players publicly voiced support for Peterson all season long, too, saying they would welcome him back.

But on Friday, veteran wide receiver Greg Jennings took things a step further in a radio interview.

“I don’t know if he’ll be back. I can’t answer that question,” Jennings said in an interview with SiriusXM NFL Radio. “But what I do know is that if he does come back, he’d be accepted with open arms. As an organization from the Wilfs on down, we all want him back. So, I mean, it’s a touchy subject and he’s been the franchise player — face of that team — for eight years. So it will be a loss, a huge loss, if we can’t get him back, and that’s the nature of this business.”

Jennings’ comment was interesting because we haven’t heard from Zygi and Mark Wilf since the Vikings reinstated Peterson in September following his child abuse charge and then — while “trying to get it right” — sat him down again by allowing him to be placed on the commissioner’s exempt list. And the Wilfs haven’t publicly stated whether the Vikings would like to have Peterson back in 2015.

Now, it’s fair to wonder how much Jennings is in the loop when it comes to the team’s plans for Peterson. After all, he could have just been making a blanket statement in support of Peterson. But his comments are worth noting with Peterson in limbo.

Vikings offseason snapshot: the special-teamers

Posted by: Matt Vensel Updated January 31st at 9:47am 290333281

Over the next two weeks, we will take a position-by-position look at where the Vikings stand heading into the offseason after their 7-9 season in 2014. Today, we conclude this series with special teams.

Highlighted by the big plays of rookie kickoff returner Cordarrelle Patterson, the Vikings had one of the NFL’s most explosive special-teams units in 2013. Patterson averaged a league-high 32.4 yards per kickoff return as he took a pair of kickoffs to the house. Marcus Sherels ranked second in the league on punt returns with a 15.2-yard average, and he scored on one of those, too. Kicker Blair Walsh backed up his strong rookie season with another steady season.

In 2014, Patterson and the Vikings lacked touchdowns in the return game (they did score twice on blocked punts while beating the Panthers) and Walsh was uncharacteristically inconsistent. But the Vikings were much better covering kicks and punts, which played a large part in the team actually improving in the most notable (make that the only notable) special-teams rankings around.

Rick Gosselin of the Dallas Morning News reviews all facets of special teams when compiling his annual cumulative rankings of special-teams units, and according to his calculations, the Vikings rose from 17th in the league in 2013 to tenth this past season.

Still, despite the improvements the Vikings made in some areas, the special teams were far from perfect in 2014.

ONE REASON FOR OPTIMISM: In 2013, only seven teams allowed more kickoff return yards than the Vikings. Only the Broncos allowed a higher average on kickoff returns. And the coverage teams allowed both a kickoff and a punt to be returned for touchdowns. Things were much different in 2014. Thanks in large part to Walsh’s booming leg on kickoffs, the Vikings allowed just 579 yards on kickoff returns — which was roughly half as many as in 2013. While punter Jeff Locke’s punts sometimes left more to be desired, the Vikings only allowed 6.5 yards on punt returns. That is significant improvement from the coverage teams.

ONE REASON FOR CONCERN: Walsh was one of the NFL’s most accurate kickers in his first two seasons, missing just seven total field-goal attempts over that span. This past season, though, Walsh missed nine and his 74.3 accuracy percentage was dead last among qualifying kickers. Four of Walsh’s misses were from beyond 50 yards. But five came within 50 yards and three were within 40, which is alarming. Can Walsh bounce back in 2015?

GRADES WITH A GRAIN OF SALT: Since the Vikings (understandably) won’t make their player grades public, we turn to Pro Football Focus, whom some players and coaches have been critical of. For context with these grades, a grade of 0.0 is considered average. Positive grades are good. Negative grades are not. Despite his struggles trying to kick the ball between the uprights, Walsh, due to his touchback total, led the way with a plus-8.2. Adam Thielen was a plus-7.8. Everson Griffen, Jabari Price, Audie Cole and Patterson were also in the green. Long snapper Cullen Loeffler had the lowest grade at negative-18.5 due to what PFF felt were errant snaps. Locke was a negative-10.7. And Shaun Prater, Matt Kalil, Sherels, Antone Exum and Gerald Hodges were also in the red.

STAT THAT STANDS OUT: 38.7 — net punting average for Locke, 21st among NFL punters.

POTENTIAL DEPARTURES: Loeffler is a free agent. It wouldn’t cost much to bring him back, but the Vikings must decide whether they want to stick with him for another season or go young there. Joe Berger, Matt Asiata, Jerome Felton and Corey Wootton are free agents who had roles on special teams, but none of them were core special-teamers.

OFFSEASON LEVEL OF NEED: Moderate. There is constant turnover on the special-teams unit — that’s how it goes in the NFL — but special teams coordinator Mike Priefer and the Vikings groomed a bunch of rookies and young players to help out in that phase this past season. Their return games could use a boost, but that won’t require anything drastic. And then there are the specialists. They may replace Loeffler. And while Locke, who struggled in the first half of the season but was better down the stretch, is still under contract, the Vikings should consider bringing in someone, whether it is a veteran or an undrafted free agent, to push him during offseason workouts and training camp. Then let the best man win.

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