DENVER -- Hours the Broncos' Divisional Round matchup kicked off, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell held a fan forum with Broncos season ticket holders at Sports Authority Field at Mile High.
Broncos President Joe Ellis, who told the crowd he has known Goodell for 22 years, introduced the commissioner and thanked those in attendance for all they do for the franchise.
“I want to first and foremost thank everybody for all your tremendous support over the years and especially this year," Ellis said. "You all have energized our team with your enthusiasm and the excitement you bring."
"On behalf of (Owner and CEO) Mr. (Pat) Bowlen, I simply say, ‘Thank you very much.’"
With that, the question-and-answer session was underway.
Over the course of the hour-long forum, Goodell touched on subjects ranging form an 18-game schedule to helmet-to-helmet hits, HGH testing, player safety and the chances of a Super Bowl coming to Denver.
But first things first, Goodell had to explain his lack of orange attire.
"We have to be neutral," he laughed. "You’ve got to figure out colors. You can make a mistake wearing the wrong colors, so I’ve got to be careful.”
Below is a look at some of what Goodell had to say.
How do you feel about an 18-game schedule with two preseason games?
“Well, before I answer that, let me see how you guys react. How many people here would like to see 18 regular-season games and two preseason? (Generous show of hands) How many of you would like to keep it the way it is? (Fewer hands go up) Well, that’s actually not unusual because we have a majority of season ticket holders here, and that’s actually the reason we looked at the 18-game format, because we’ve gotten to the point now where the four preseason games we really don’t need from a football standpoint, and I have heard overwhelmingly, which I think was demonstrated here in the room, we don’t as fans want to have four preseason games. They just don’t meet the standard of the NFL, and you want to see the best product and the most competitive games. So, we’ve got that on the table. We also have the alternative which is to go to 16-2. The issue we have to work through is making the game safer. That’s our number one goal. We do not want to do it and make the game more dangerous. The changes we put into the Collective Bargaining Agreement two years ago as it relates to how we train our players in training camp and even in the regular season have had a very positive impact. But we are just getting through the first-year cycle of that and we’ll evaluate that and sit down the players. We had the unilateral right to do several years ago, to move into an 18-game season, but we just didn’t feel it was the right thing to do at the time. We wanted to evaluate the changes. The most important thing we do, with whatever changes we make, they need to be positive and we need to make sure they maintain the integrity of the game, and then make sure that we are keeping the game as safe as possible for players.”
How do you judge a player's ability to make split-second decisions, which can result in penalties?
“Yours truly does not make up the rules by myself, I do not sit in an office and come up with it. We make them after months and months of deliberations with coaches, general managers, committees that work on an annual year-round basis, we have a competition committee. And then we also meet with the players and we go through that. The answer is we believe that all these changes that we’ve made you can adjust to and we’ve seen the players adjust to. They are adjusting to it. There are times when you get into situations when you may do something you weren’t intending to do, but that’s why you need to use the right fundamentals, the right techniques, and you need to come in under control. You can’t come into a situation when you’re out of control. We saw it (in the Wild Card Round) in Baltimore, there was a case of that. So, we are trying to get our coaches to coach and our officials to officiate in a way that will encourage fundamentals so that the game is safer and it’s working quite dramatically.”
Where is the line between player safety and making the game less exciting?
"I don’t think the changes we have made have made the game less exciting. Maybe with the possible exception is we’ve taken some kickoff returns out of the game. It’s done in the best interest in the long-term safety and that I think is a good trade for the long term of the NFL and particularly the game. One of the things going back to your original point of areas of focus for us this year, there’s such a thing as a 'launch' in a game, where you drive up and you drive into the head and neck area. That needs more clarity and our committee is looking at that very closely, and that will be another thing on our list along with the low blocks because it’s a difficult one to officiate. It’s a difficult one for us even in video review and it’s a difficult one for the players so I think we’re at the point where we want to take the launch right out of the game. But when you’re making these changes you can’t make them all at once because it’s a hard enough adjustment and if you make too many adjustments in any one year you cause probably more chaos than you do thoughtful change to the game. So, that’s how we’re looking at it. I think you’ll see that launch come out this year. There’s some ways of doing it. There are some other ways of looking at it that may not get done this year, but about how we take out the emphasis on the head and use of the head, both by offensive and defensive players. The facts are the defensive player has just as much chance to get hurt and the number one position for injuries in the NFL is defensive back. So, this actually protects our defensive players, too, by using the proper techniques.”
What’s the NFL’s view on testing for Human Growth Hormone (HGH) and steroids?
“We believe it’s necessary, for a variety of reasons. Let me start with the fact that it was in our Collective Bargaining Agreement in 2011. The players have continually raised issues, saying that there are problems with the science of HGH testing, and that’s just not true. There’s not a scientist on a global basis that takes issue with the testing methods that are going on right now or the reliability of the testing. We’ve seen it in the Olympics; we’ve seen it in other sports. Major League Baseball just improved their HGH testing, just last week. So, the science is there. We just need to implement it, and the Players Association should agree to it. They should agree to what we agreed to two years ago and implement it, for several reasons. One is it’s good for the players. When players have to take performance-enhancing drugs, HGH or steroids, it’s bad for them. They have long-term health consequences, some of which we don’t even know. A lot of times they have to acquire them on the black market, so, they have no idea what they are putting in their bodies. That, again, is a bad thing. And, probably most of all, it’s bad for the integrity of the game and sends a negative message to every young fan who is watching our athletes. That’s not what we should be doing. We should be sending the right message to our young fans.”
What are the chances of the NFL awarding Denver a Super Bowl?
"We are going to do this for the first time next year in New York. So, a year from now we’ll be preparing for an outdoor Super Bowl in a cold climate, and it’s going to be a real test. My personal view is the game of football is made to be played in the elements. It’s great. So I personally like it. But I don’t have a vote, either. It’s a vote of the 32 clubs. They voted to (have the Super Bowl) in New York, and I think it’s going to be a tremendous success in New York, so, we’ll see. If it is a tremendous success I think we may see a little bit more of it, where we may see a Super Bowl (in cold-weather cities). There are different views on this one. People would like to see a Super Bowl played in absolute pristine conditions and everything’s the same—everything is the best it possibly can be, and there are not elements at all. I just don’t think that’s football. Football is something that’s special, in that we’re going to all go out (in the cold of the Divisional Round game in Denver) and pack up and get out there in the cold and cheer for our team, and that’s great, and the players will play, and both teams are playing under the same conditions.”