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Irsay 'full-steam ahead' with SB plans despite lockout

by | CBSSports.com Senior Writer
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NEW ORLEANS -- There's no progress on the NFL labor front, and, OK, so it's six months until the regular season is scheduled to begin. What's the big deal? Well, nothing. But the longer a lockout lasts, the longer people wonder if the season is compromised ... or worse, canceled.

Only scratch Indianapolis owner Jim Irsay from that crowd, and, yes, you should want to hear from him because it's his city and his stadium that host the next Super Bowl.

Colts owner Jim Irsay is optimistic on football in 2011, and says 'in terms of the Super Bowl, we're full-steam ahead.' (AP)  
Colts owner Jim Irsay is optimistic on football in 2011, and says 'in terms of the Super Bowl, we're full-steam ahead.' (AP)  
Except there's no Super Bowl without a season, and, I know we're nearly a year away so there's nothing "radical," as Irsay put it, about the current stalemate. But tell that to the people in Indianapolis because until or unless the NFL and its players settle on a new collective bargaining agreement ... until or unless they settle anything, period ... the people in Indianapolis won't feel safe about Super Bowl XLVI.

And I can't say I blame them.

The league and its players are in their first work stoppage in the last 24 years, with no resolution in sight. An April 6 court date should rule on the legality of a lockout, with players seeking an injunction to allow them to return to work. But if they win, they don't necessarily return -- not immediately, anyway. Look for the NFL to seek a stay to have the injunction lifted, then pursue an appeal that could take months to resolve.

And that's where Super Bowl XLVI and all the angst that goes along with it come in.

"I'm optimistic," said Irsay between meetings at the annual winter meetings. "And, in terms of the Super Bowl, we're full-steam ahead."

No offense, but they don't have a choice. There's no reason to believe there won't be a season, though there is reason to believe it could be a season that starts late or includes games that are canceled. If either were to happen, the question would be what happens to Super Bowl XLVI? Irsay's response: Nothing. The game date is flexible and is not locked into Feb. 5.

"We have a three-week window," said Irsay, "and it's always going forward in case we come in late and need to get into late February.

"You've got to understand that this thing [the labor stalemate] is going to go back and forth, and it's a rollercoaster. But I'm optimistic about playing, and we do have flexible dates. At the same time, we obviously want to aim at the date we have there, which is Feb. 5.

"It gets tough when you have to go to the next week, but it's possible. But it also gets a little tougher because the [Indiana] Convention Center is open, and they're trying to get other dates. They've been desperately looking for [a deadline], but, at the same time, they understand the circumstances, and they've worked hard to try to keep everyone involved because there are so many people that are involved in the planning aspect.

"This is something we're totally prepared for. We know it's something where people are going to be looking at us to see what kind of job we do as a city and state."

According to the NFL, Indianapolis has flexibility with two dates -- Feb. 5 and Feb. 12. That should alleviate some of the anxiety with people at the Indiana Convention Center. Plus, it could serve as a dry run for what happens if the NFL goes to an 18-game schedule. But 18 games, players insist, is no longer a negotiable issue and will not be considered in future collective-bargaining talks.

OK, fine. But someone tell the NFL's lead counsel, executive vice president Jeff Pash. He insisted Monday that that wasn't communicated to him or the league's labor committee. At the same time, he reiterated the league's stance that, while it would prefer 18 games, it wouldn't push them if players weren't agreeable.

So what? So that's just another example that these two sides are nowhere near an agreement. Did I say agreement? They're nowhere near a resumption of talks, with the April court date the next time they're expected in the same room.

Which begs the question: If Irsay is optimistic, why? I mean, the only discussion going on between the NFL and its players now involves letters inviting the other to resume discussions under conditions unacceptable to the receiving party.

"I do believe we can work it out," Irsay said. "It goes back to everyone's point that too many great things are going on with the NFL. It's the greatest sport in the world, and we know that. We're not saying we have to completely redo everything. It's negotiating that involves, to a lesser degree, finite things that need to be done and fine-tuned.

"There is no need to have the ghost of Wellington Mara appear or have Dan Rooney come in from Ireland and pop in the [owners'] room to talk about the fans, about what's in the game or about being a steward to remind the owners that there's a lot at stake here and to tell them that you have to be judicious and moderate in your thinking and compromise.

"I've surveyed my partners and, talking to various owners, that feeling is there. It's something where everyone wants to get something done, and it's something I believe we can work out. I truly believe we really are united in the sense that I believe the stewardship is there.

"I know people say it's greed, it's billionaires vs. millionaires, and it's very easy to be cynical and criticize. But I also know the spirit is in the room about understanding the responsibility you have. You know there are a lot of people who are depending on you and that there's a responsibility. There is a lot of work to be done, and it's got to be done at the negotiating table -- because that's where a deal is going to get done."

And if it's not? I know a lot of people in Indianapolis who aren't going to be happy.

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