PHOENIX -- It's a wrap. That was the word Tuesday here at the NFL owners meeting, which raised the bar for rapid-fire achievement that commissioner Roger Goodell can only hope can be emulated in the pace of the game he plans to rev up.
This was a meeting highlighted Monday by a curiously fast and lopsided rubber stamp vote approving the Raiders move from Oakland to Las Vegas.
Then, shortly after the early media breakfast with AFC team coaches Tuesday, the league announced closure on eight rules and other procedures, and that Goodell would conclude the annual gathering with a getaway press conference long before sundown.
That began at 4:50 p.m. Mountain time and alternately featured Goodell, Rich McKay, chairman of the competition committee and Dean Blandino, senior vice president of officiating. After a brief overview of the state of the league and a quick word or two rules, there was an obligatory Q&A for the assembled press.
At 5:12 p.m., NFL vice president of communications Brian McCarthy followed his courteous "two more questions" warning and called a halt to the session. Elapsed time: 22 minutes.
Adios NFL, hello Hotwire.com or any of those online reservation aggregators who prey on reselling hotel rooms that are suddenly and unexpectedly vacant. Judging from the parade of luggage and cars leaving the Arizona Biltmore Tuesday evening, vacant rooms were surely easy to find.
Left up in the air was the media breakfast for NFC coaches, originally scheduled for 7:15 a.m. Wednesday, the day the whirlwind meeting was supposed to end around noon. Four of those NFC coaches already packed up early Tuesday and kindly availed themselves for the media. Ben McAdoo of the New York Giants and Jason Garrett of the Dallas Cowboys went first.
Jay Gruden of the Washington Redskins and John Fox of the Chicago Bears held court even as the Goodell/McKay/Blandino show was on stage in the adjoining room. As for the other 12 NFC coaches, the question was asked how many would still be at the Wednesday breakfast.
"Don't know," was the closest thing to an official response.
With its new Vegas connections, the NFL surely understood the long odds against a full house of the remaining NFC coaches Wednesday. Maybe Goodell could help by imposing another new rule for conduct detrimental to media relations. How about a fine with proceeds going to the Pro Football Writers of America?
With all due respect for clinical efficiency, these meetings fail to take advantage of bridging the widening gap of understanding and empathy among the media, owners, coaches, general managers and even the commissioner. Instead it maintains the vigilant, arms-length, us vs. them juxtaposition.
It wasn't always so. And the winners were the fans, readers and viewers who benefitted from the stronger bond among the various groups here.
Even the complex details of rules changes afforded an opportunity for giants of the football game to get down and dirty with the media, literally. One of the annual highlights for me was when Miami Dolphins head coach Don Shula and Dallas Cowboys president Tex Schramm, representing the competition committee, explained the intricacies of rules changes.
More often than not, one thing would lead to another and Shula would invite one or more of the media to get down into a stance and he would then demonstrate some newly illegal technique. Sometimes several participants wound up sprawled on the ground. But after they helped each other up, they sure as hell had a new appreciation and understanding of the new rule.
Just one demonstration of a single rule could easily take more than, say, 22 minutes. But it was time well invested.
Some owners got to know media members and their families by going out to dinner. Former 49ers owner Eddie DeBartolo would sometimes host a couple dozen media, with all of his and their families, to raucous dinners that featured free flow of agreement and disagreement.
Former Raiders head coach John Madden and then San Diego Chargers general manager Bobby Beathard, who competed non-stop since they were roommates at Cal Poly (SLO), took a group of writers to a small family-owned Mexican restaurant during an owners meeting in Palm Desert.
Madden and Beathard each tried to outdo the other by chugging hotter and hotter homemade chili sauce. They both turned red, their eyes teared up and one of the writers had to drive their car back to the hotel.
But the writers at that dinner continued to communicate with Madden and Beathard on business matters for many years afterward.
Commissioner Pete Rozelle was intuitive in making the best of just about any situation. There was a huge barbecue party at the stables for the Biltmore, where a parking lot now stands. Everybody received a straw cowboys hat and bandana. Rozelle showed up wearing the little hat, tied the bandana around his neck, danced a few country dances, rolled a cigarette cowboy style and challenged some of the writers to do all of the same.
He even managed to turn a bad scene into his favor when necessary. In 1978, he told a group in Minnesota that they could not hold the team hostage in the antiquated Old Met outdoor stadium by hiding behind the NFL's constitutional rule that required a three-quarters approval of owners to move.
I was covering the Oakland Raiders during that 1978 owners meeting in Palm Desert and, of course, asked Rozelle if he would tell politicians in Oakland and Alameda the same thing. After ignoring my question twice, Rozelle said, "Frank, If you have any more of Al's questions don't waste everybody's time. We'll just talk later."
Infuriated, I headed down the middle aisle towards Rozelle when he was finished. Executive vice president Joe Browne jumped between us and held us at arm's length. We went next door, had a drink and Rozelle said he would apologize, which he did the next day. After that we stayed in contact, with Rozelle sometimes phoning me in a hotel after midnight to ask about his USF basketball team that I covered at the time.
Despite covering the Raiders, I managed to maintain a good relationship with Rozelle. Shortly before he died, Browne, who held us apart that one time, brought us together during the week of a Super Bowl in New Orleans, We chatted, hugged it out and that was the last time I saw him alive.
There was one event that became an annual hit at these meetings. After giving up his AFL commissionership following the merging with the NFL, Al Davis still commanded respect among the media.
In the 1980s, he had an open media gathering outside his room or cabana on the Thursdays of each meeting. He talked about anything, answered all questions and verbally jousted with anybody willing. It became known as the annual State of the Al and sometimes lasted two or three hours and often included discussion about the Raiders moving.
Of course, the Raiders moving is Topic A at this year's meeting. But by Thursday, there will be nobody here even to note the irony that the long-debated move that disrupted the NFL for so many years raced through the approval process with shocking ease. Nobody here to salute the memory of the State of the AL and put an end to one of the most chaotic chapters NFL history. Nobody. The meticulously planned mechanics of the meeting efficiently dispatched the tasks and the people involved.
All the attendees will be gone, appropriately, on their separate ways.
--Frank Cooney, founder and publisher of The Sports Xchange, has covered football since 1965, including the Raiders from 1969 through 1980, and he represents the Raiders' franchise as a selector in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. While covering Raiders training camps in Santa Rosa, he often ended the day at the hotel restaurant talking with Al Davis in the owner's reserved booth.