Bickley: It’s high time to give Roger Goodell praise for NFL’s 2020 season

Feb 4, 2021, 5:16 PM
NFL football commissioner Roger Goodell speaks at a press conference ahead of Super Bowl 55, Thursd...

NFL football commissioner Roger Goodell speaks at a press conference ahead of Super Bowl 55, Thursday, Feb. 4, 2021, in Tampa, Fla. (Perry Knotts/NFL via AP)

(Perry Knotts/NFL via AP)

The NFL has staged 268 games inside a pandemic. None were canceled. One remains. All counted in the standings. None were exhibitions.

It is the crowning triumph of Roger Goodell’s career.

Football will never be the same. We have learned that training camp can be abbreviated; that off-season gatherings can be done virtually; that pre-season games aren’t necessary for an NFL team to perform well in Week 1.

This shouldn’t be a surprise. We’re talking about professional athletes.

But in the coach-centric universe of football — where authority and control are not easily relinquished, where the importance of coaches is exaggerated and mythicized to the point of absurdity — the 2020 NFL season has been a revelation.

“Virtual is going to be part of our life for the long term,” Goodell said Thursday, during his annual Super Bowl media conference. “I think we’ve learned and the coaches learned and the players learned that it was actually a very positive way to install offenses and to work in the offseason. I think we will instill more of that for sure.

“But I also believe our coach feel strongly that there is value in training camp, there’s value in practices, there’s value in having preseason games where you can develop young players and give them the opportunity to get better as football players. The veterans may not need that much. Those are the types of things we’ll balance as we come into the offseason, and I’m sure we’ll come up with solutions from that.”

The NFL shined in 2020. Early in the pandemic, their virtual draft was a smashing success, revealing a softer side of the sport. It showed coaches working from home, amongst their families, not chained to an office desk for 18 hours a day. Goodell seemed to find his place in the moment, loosening up the collar, ditching the tie.

The regular season was spectacular, especially for long-tormented fans in Buffalo and Cleveland. Tom Brady and Philip Rivers starred for new teams. Derrick Henry rushed for more than 2,000 yards, including a 250-yard effort in Week 17.

Aaron Rodgers threw 48 touchdown passes. Justin Jefferson broke Anquan Boldin’s rookie receiving record. The expanded postseason produced a glorious gluttony of games in the Wild Card round, with tripleheaders on Saturday and Sunday.

Granted, the playoffs have been largely lackluster. But the Super Bowl features the dynastic Chiefs and an unstoppable offense; a quarterback matchup pitting the G.O.A.T. (Brady) and the baby G.O.A.T. (Patrick Mahomes); and an underdog team playing a Super Bowl in its own stadium (the Buccaneers).

In a broader lens, the NFL is 60 minutes away from completing a full season inside a pandemic, without a bubble, without a safety net, without a commissioner haggling with his players over compensation.

Goodell helped deliver football to a nation on time and at a crucial time, when our mood ring was going dark, when our collective spirit was starting to crack, when contentious politics dominated the headlines.

The NFL logo is a shield, and the symbolism never seemed more appropriate than in 2020, when the league powered on through a global catastrophe. On demand.

“We don’t think there was a safer place to be than our NFL (team) facilities this year,” Goodell said.

Along the way, Goodell surely won over a good percentage of his players by finally standing up for them inside a political maelstrom, for admitting he should’ve listened to Colin Kaepernick.

And while the NFL Commissioner will always get booed at future drafts, he won back some fans by standing firm inside a pandemic, by clinging to a fundamental truth in this country:
In the NFL, the show must go on.

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Bickley: It’s high time to give Roger Goodell praise for NFL’s 2020 season