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Recent posts by Dan Parr
Huddled in meetings at the Westin Hotel in downtown Indianapolis last week, the 32 teams and league officials plotted the next moves in their fight with the NFL players' association.
Signs of progress toward making a compromise were hard to find. Negotiations on a new labor agreement were described as frozen. The venue for mediation was called artificial by the league's general counsel, Jeff Pash.
Outside the hotel's doors, the city, preparing to host its first Super Bowl in February 2012, worked and watched.
It's waiting to see whether the battle will spill into the regular season and put the league's marquee event — and a major boon to the local economy — in jeopardy.
The NFL came to its annual spring meeting looking to reassure, but there was no sigh of relief.
Commissioner Roger Goodell noticed the effect that the uncertainty is having on fans — which is exactly what the Super Bowl XLVI volunteers are. Traffic on NFL.com is down and the TV ratings from the draft took a hit. But the same effects haven't been felt by the 2012 Indianapolis Super Bowl Host Committee. It has 13,000 names on its list of volunteers and had to create a waiting list, as it will need about 8,000 of those volunteers to cover all the bases. I saw the concern, however, in the face of the valet attendant at a hotel when he asked me if the NFL really was going to lose games because of the dispute.
The residents of Indianapolis, the innocent bystanders in this labor mess, are counting on a league that is unreliable at the moment. They're excited about having the Super Bowl and they want to put on a great show and have the game return to the city in the future, and for good reason. The NFL estimates the Super Bowl has an economic impact of as much as $400 million.
"It's our intention to be here and play a full season and we look forward to concluding the 2011 season here in Indianapolis," Goodell said.
Of course, the NFL never intended to cancel its annual rookie symposium, but it did that last week and Colts owner Jim Irsay suggested that more cancellations will not be far off if there isn't a deal by July 4.
"You're going to have a Super Bowl," Giants co-owner John Mara told a local cameraman as the meeting adjourned. "I'm confident."
Yet, the league and host committee have had to make a contingency plan. They're preparing to hold the game on two different dates — Feb. 5 or Feb. 12 — in case the start of the season is delayed. The city's 18,300 hotel rooms are blocked out for both dates.
Irsay said delaying the game would cause complications.
"It can be done, but it's costly," he said. "So we want to try to avoid it. It's just that one-week window."
If the NFL cancels the '11 season, it's expected that Indianapolis would host the Super Bowl in 2015, which is the next year that the game has yet to be assigned to a site.
Dianna Boyce, the host committee's director of communications, doesn't want to spend too much time worrying about that scenario. She offered her perspective on the mood at the committee's office, located not far from Lucas Oil Stadium, where the game would be played.
"Staff here is really focused on the mission at hand," Boyce told me. "I kind of describe (the lockout) as that white shiny light that tries to distract out here. Staff is really not paying attention to it. We really understand that you have to take advantage of every day that you have to get everything done that you need to do.
"We can't take the time to be distracted by that because it's not something within our control."
Boyce, born and raised in Indianapolis, admitted that the pesky white light is not completely ignored, however.
"It's not out of mind," she said. "It's within sightline every day I think."
But it's not the thing that keeps her from sleeping as soundly as she would like.
"My biggest concern is being able to engage everybody that wants to be involved," Boyce said.
In a time when the NFL could use some good publicity, it's overshadowing the best of its work with the lockout. The Indianapolis Super Bowl Legacy Project recently helped rebuild 19 homes on the Near Eastside of the city and Boyce is anticipating more than 200 homes will be touched by the program.
Important and impressive work is being done by the committee in Indianapolis. Goodell and the owners attended a reception with Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels and Indianapolis mayor Greg Ballard while they were in town and Goodell spoke about his meeting with those planning Super Bowl XLVI.
"The people here have been extraordinary," he said. "Very cooperative. We think they're incredibly well organized and prepared. We had the chance to meet with them (Tuesday night) and you see so much passion behind what they're doing. We're excited about being here."
Goodell was booed as he walked across the stage at Radio City Music Hall on draft weekend and he and the 32 owners would be greeted with a similar reaction by fans from around the country, but Indianapolis wants to welcome them in February.
It would be a shame if the NFL makes them worry much longer.