NFL Network called it the most important news conference of his tenure as Commissioner, and so it was that Roger Goodell stepped up to the podium in Arizona at the site of Super Bowl XLIX and took the offensive.
The annual news conference at the site of the Super Bowl two days before the game has been the Commissioner's primary exposure to the media dating back to the days of Pete Rozelle, and the Super Bowl XLIX version was expected to be a confrontational one. It would live up to that forecast, but at the start Goodell tried to set a positive tone.
He began by congratulating both Super Bowl XLIX participants – the Seattle Seahawks and the New England Patriots – and then he talked about hits to defenseless players being down 68 percent this season, and about the report stating that concussions were reduced by 25 percent this season to continue a three-year trend. Goodell talked about ideas to make extra points a more competitive play, and he mentioned the desire to utilize technology to enhance the football experience for fans, to improve officiating, and to be used as a tool for medical staffs to enhance player safety.
Goodell utilized his opening statement to address issues directly related to the game – expanding instant replay, expanding the playoffs – before getting around to the topics of player conduct and what has come to be known as Deflategate. He mentioned that just 24 hours earlier, the League Conduct Committee had met for the first time and that the session included a review of the league's new personal conduct policy Goodell said emphasizes education, prevention, and support services.
Before the session was opened up to questions, Goodell said that Ted Wells would conduct a thorough and objective investigation into the football that were used in the AFC Championship Game. Goodell then promised that once Wells' investigation is complete, it will be made public.
"As you would expect, we take seriously anything that potentially impacts the integrity of the game," said Goodell. "We are focusing on two questions: why were some footballs used that were not in compliance with the rules, and was this the result of deliberate action?"
When Goodell opened it up for questions, the first one posed – by the Associated Press – had to do with his specific plans to restore faith in the league. And the tone had been set.
From there, the assembled members of the media who were given the opportunity to ask Goodell questions spent most of the allotted time looking to pin the Commissioner down on Deflategate, on his thoughts on Patriots owner Robert Kraft saying the league would owe his team an apology if nothing comes of that, on why he's not available to the media every week as Seattle CB Richard Sherman had suggested, on whether the "ignorance is no excuse" standard that was applied to Saints Coach Sean Payton during Bountygate would apply with Deflategate, on the perception of a conflict of interest contaminating the outside investigations led by Robert Mueller and Ted Wells, on whether he believes he deserves a pay cut for his job performance in 2014, and on a relationship between the Commissioner's office and NFL players that currently can be described as contentious.
Goodell also was asked about the status of the league having a franchise in Los Angeles, about when the league might return to play games in Mexico, and on his level of confidence in New Orleans owner Tom Benson in light of the lawsuit filed by some family members over his competence.
As usual in these types of settings, there were few bold initiatives revealed or definitive answers given, but Goodell did say this about the deflated footballs: "Whether there was a competitive advantage gained is secondary to the fact the rules were violated."
And he also reiterated what he sees as his charge as NFL Commissioner.
"We know that when we meet our challenges effectively, we are a better league and a positive contributor to society. It's on us," said Goodell. "I truly believe 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's expected of us.
"This is my responsibility, to protect the integrity of the league."
The most confrontational question could have been this one: It's been a tough year for you in your job. Many people in America, if they had the kind of year you had, either would have resigned or been fired. Can you envision any set of circumstances that would lead to you resigning or being fired?
"No, I can't. Does that surprise you?" said Goodell. "It's been a tough year on me personally, a year of humility and learning. We as an organization have gone through adversity, but more importantly it's also been adversity for me. We take that seriously. It's an opportunity for us to get better. It's an opportunity for our organization to get better, and so we've all done a lot of soul-searching, starting with yours truly."