The first anniversary of the NFL owners' election of a new commissioner is still four months away, but no further trial period is necessary. They picked the right man.
In eight months Roger Goodell has accomplished more than most sports commissioners in their entire tenure. Under Goodell's guidance the NFL has fortified both its health and its reputation with a minimum amount of fuss and possibly without the sort of lawsuits that have become part of the landscape of professional sports in this era.
The first milestone of his fresh administration was the agreement between the NFL's large markets and their smaller brethren to arrange an economic system that would assure the continuance of even play on the football field. The arrangement required a certain amount of subsidizing by the large markets to keep the smaller markets competitive, or at least give them an equal opportunity to remain competitive.
To get the large-market owners, many of whom are by nature voraciously determined to acquire as dominant an edge on their business competition as possible, to quell their sometimes blood-thirsty business instincts was a daunting proposition.
Under Goodell's leadership an agreement was reached bloodlessly and in a relatively short time. The result was what appears to be an assurance that franchises such as the Buffalo Bills will remain economically safe for the foreseeable future. The owners acted for the good of the league.
The second milestone in Goodell's brief occupation of the commissioner's chair was the suspensions last week of Tennessee defensive back Adam "Pac-Man" Jones and Cincinnati wide receiver Chris Henry. Jones was suspended for the complete 2007 season and Henry for eight games, half the regular season, without pay.
Goodell, who like the owners is upset at the high number of NFL players appearing on police blotters, had promised he would take corrective action and the suspensions were the carrying out of his promise. It was not window dressing. For instance, Jones forfeits his $1.3 million salary by being kept away from the field. That sort of action has a tendency to get the attention of every player in the league.
Goodell's decision to suspend the players could not have been carried out without the cooperation of the NFL Players' Association, which in the past has fought severe punishment for offending members. This time Gene Upshaw, president of the NFLPA, went into partnership with the commissioner because he was convinced it was in the best interest of the league. A committee of players was formed to advise Goodell and Upshaw on disciplinary cases.
The cooperation of the large-market owners on the subsidies and Upshaw and his membership on the disciplinary policy has more than a little to do with Goodell's management style. He has worked for the NFL for more than 25 years, starting as an intern and absorbing an enormous amount of knowledge from the two commissioners for whom he toiled, the late Pete Rozelle and Paul Tagliabue. From Tagliabue he learned about the importance of detail and preparation. From Rozelle, famed as "the mailed fist in a velvet glove," he learned diplomacy and persuasion.
From the time he was a kid growing up in Jamestown, Goodell learned the lessons of politics, in the best sense of that word. His father was Charles Goodell, U.S. senator from New York, who knew how to achieve a consensus and work with people holding a different point of view than his own. Charlie Goodell was a fellow Republican who became a major critic of the Vietnam War and ended up on Richard Nixon's enemies list.
The political education has served Roger well from the time he took over as NFL commissioner.
An update on Cookie Gilchrist, the Buffalo Bills' great of the mid-1960s who underwent throat cancer surgery last month: Gilchrist is receiving chemotherapy in Natrona Heights, Pa.
"I am happy to say that while I still have a long way to go, my doctors have told me that my cancer is in remission and the long-term prognosis is for full recovery," he wrote. "My recovery has been nothing short of a miracle. From death's door, and that is not an exaggeration, I am now looking forward to a full, healthy and long life.
"My personal faith in Christ, the skilled doctors at the Alle-Kiski Medical Center and my guardian angel, Gale Hazlett, have all been major factors in this remarkable turnaround."
Larry Felser, former News columnist, appears in Sunday's editions.