NFL commissioner Roger Goodell reflected on the season completed in the midst of a pandemic in his annual Super Bowl week address on Thursday.
Goodell delivered remarks from an outdoor rooftop setting in Tampa, the first in-person media event of the abnormal Super Bowl week before the Kansas City Chiefs and Tampa Bay Buccaneers play Super Bowl LV on Sunday night.
“This was an extraordinary collective effort,” Goodell said in a question-and-answer session sprinkled with sunlight. “There’s so many people that had to work together to get this done. … We believed that staying on schedule and working to try to get 256 games done as we try to say, ‘avoid the asterisk.
“We had to adapt at every stage, just like the media, just like everybody else. We had to find innovate solutions to challenges.”
Super Bowl LV is the proverbial bow on a season unlike any other in NFL history. All 256 regular-season games were played amidst the COVID-19 pandemic in a league year that began in March as the world started to shelter in place due to coronavirus.
Goodell said “we hope we were in some way representative in doing things the right way” when asked about Dr. Anthony Fauci’s advice against gathering in groups on Super Bowl Sunday.
“We worked with the CDC about their advice about staying home — we’re all going to enjoy the Super Bowl a little different this year,” Goodell said.
Around 25,000 tickets are issued for the Super Bowl in a season in which the NFL had just 1.2 million fans at regular-season games.
Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady is playing in his 10th Super Bowl, and is five years removed from the “Deflategate” scandal that led to Goodell suspending him.
“Tom Brady has shown that he’s probably the greatest player to ever play this game,” Goodell said. “Everyone just plays better when they’re with him. … He’s an extraordinary guy. He cares deeply about this game. I wish him well. I think he’s going to continue to be a great performer. I’m happy to hear he’s going to play a few more years.”
Goodell again was asked to answer for the NFL’s continued issues with hiring diverse head coaches.
“I’m not sure there’s an issue we’ve spent more time working with our ownership on. We look at this as broadly as possible. We want to make the NFL more diverse,” Goodell said, pointing out three minority general managers were hired. “It wasn’t what we expected. … They’re not the outcomes we wanted. But we want it to be a natural process. A process, what we believe in is diversity making us better.”
Asked if he would consider an ownership summit to discuss diversity in hiring head coaches, Goodell reiterated that the NFL has raised “this issue and the importance of doing this better” at every ownership meeting.
“Yes, we’ll have more discussions for sure, both individually and collectively,” Goodell said. “I’ll reinforce again — while we may be disappointed in head coaches, there are a lot of positives we need to continue to build on.”
Goodell also said he “wished we would have listened to our players earlier” with respect to Colin Kaepernick’s demonstrations in the name of social justice.
Goodell was corrected on stage by emcee Steve Wyche of NFL Network when he called the Washington Football Team “the Redskins” and quickly shook it off as a “bad habit.”
When the NFL turns the page to a new league year in mid-March, Goodell said “virtual is going to be part of our life for the long-term.” For the first time in league history, the 2020 NFL Draft was held entirely as a virtual event with Goodell announcing selections from his basement.
Offseason training camps could be a mix of in-person and remote training, but no determination has been made. Goodell said the NFL protocols made team facilities some of the safest places a person could be because of an unwillingness to compromise on safety.
“I think we’ve proven, working together between the NFL and the NFLPA we’ve been able to put our differences away and aside. Find those areas of common interest, look past our differences for solutions,” Goodell said. “I think we have learned a great deal. … I expect the offseason, we’ve already started on that. The combine is going to go through significant changes. I expect a lot of the things we did last offseason with respect to training camp, the offseason. … There were a lot of positives in that.”
The plan entering next season will be to wait and make decisions as the timing becomes clear and be prepared for uncertainty.
“I don’t know when normal is going to occur again,” Goodell said. “I don’t know if normal ever will occur again. I don’t know if anybody here can do that. I know this: We have learned to operate in a very difficult environment. We have found solutions. And we’ll do it again.”
NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith joined Goodell on stage for the final 10 minutes of the session and acknowledged “a few dustups” with the league over the years. But he said it took dedication and teamwork on both sides to make the 2020 season a success.
“We’ve learned that we can work smarter and work better. What a great message for our country,” Smith said. “Using (Goodell’s) words, I think the NFL’s best days are ahead of us.”
Goodell said the NFL is “planning for international games in 2021” in the UK and Mexico. The International Series was scrapped during 2020 due to challenges related to the pandemic.