INDIANAPOLIS -- It wasn't so much what the NFL did at its annual spring meetings that was notable; it was what it said. And what it said was that there will be a 2011 season, and there will be a Super Bowl in Indianapolis.
Let me repeat that. There will be a 2011 season, and there will be a Super Bowl. League officials passed that message on to Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels and Indianapolis mayor Greg Ballard at a reception Tuesday night, then passed it on to the public a day later.
"You're going to have a Super Bowl," New York Giants' president and co-owner John Mara told a local broadcast crew. "I'm confident."
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And the reason is ...
"At some point," said Mara, "there's going to be a deal done. We've said that from the beginning. I can't tell you at what point that will be, but I feel confidently there will be a 2011 season. And there will be a Super Bowl here."
Great. So that's that, right? Not so fast. Listen to what happened when Mara was asked if there will be a 2011 season in its entirety.
"Let's hope so," he said.
The confidence he expressed about the Super Bowl and the 2011 season was absent when he was asked about a complete, 16-game campaign, and that's understandable. The NFL and its players are waiting on the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals to rule on a motion to appeal an injunction that would lift the current lockout. It will hear from both sides next week and is expected to deliver a decision two to three weeks afterward.
Most expect the court to rule in favor of the league, which would force players to decide where to go next, and that may determine how and when the 2011 season begins. Maybe that's why league officials keep preaching an end to litigation. Nevertheless, they seem remarkably confident that there will be football this fall and that there will be a Super Bowl in Indianapolis.
"It's our intention to be here, to play a full season and to conclude the 2011 season here in Indianapolis," said commissioner Roger Goodell.
Notice that he said it's the league's intention. The NFL isn't certain of much right now, other than next week's court appearance in St. Louis. Already there have been sacrifices, with the NFL canceling its annual rookie symposium and several clubs cutting employees' pay and putting staff on unpaid furloughs.
That is the beginning, with Goodell and others saying the longer a stalemate continues the greater the likelihood of more sacrifices – with the start of preseason and the annual Hall of Fame Game next on the chopping block. Though Indianapolis owner Jim Irsay offered July 4 as a drop-dead date for a settlement before the regular season and preseason are jeopardized, Goodell and others disagreed.
"We don't have a date, but, obviously, that time is coming," said Goodell. "We're getting close enough now where those will have to become considerations. We would prefer to get a negotiated agreement so we don't have to make those decisions. This is going to be resolved through negotiations, and the ownership knows that, and the ownership believes that."
The question, of course, is: When exactly do those negotiations resume? It seems clear the league doesn't appear much can ... or will ... be resolved through the court-supervised mediation in Minneapolis, so that leaves us with next month's court hearing and what it produces -- with a feeling that it could push the two sides closer to ... well, something.
I said "could." There have been no signs of a détente, and more and more cynics believe nothing really happens until games are sacrificed, which takes us into August and September.
"It's pointless to pick dates and deadlines," said Dallas owner Jerry Jones, "because at the end of the day this resolution will come from an agreement between the owners, the league and the players. When we get there it needs to cover everything. If there are any dangling participles out there you don't have an agreement.
"My experience has been in any negotiations it can come quick when you have a meeting of the minds that says, 'Now let's get in here and get this done.'"
The NFL continues to believe that will happen. What it doesn't know -- at least not now -- is if it has a complete season, and I can understand why: Because owners and players were willing to flush seven games during the 1982 strike. They still managed to produce a 16-team playoff tournament and pull off a Super Bowl, and, five years later, held another Super Bowl after a 15-game season.
Pay attention, folks: The last two times the league had work stoppages it sacrificed regular-season games.
The NFL has, as Goodell put it, "contingency plans for contingency plans," with Indianapolis capable of holding the Super Bowl on the regularly scheduled date of Feb. 5 or Feb. 12, if necessary. But that's it. On the front end of the season, however, it's more flexible, which means if it starts canceling games you can start there.
So far, that hasn't been discussed, but stay tuned.
"We spent the last two days making plans," said Goodell, "including going through our kickoff plans and our 9/11 plans with our clubs. We are approaching the 2011 season as we would any other season as far as making plans. So that's our intention."