'Playing Game Is Last Possible Resort,' NFL Commissioner Says
MIAMI—Team officials from the New Orleans Saints and Indianapolis Colts emerged from a tense, 12-hour negotiating session Thursday and told reporters that, while they had yet to reach a settlement that would prevent a massive on-field conflict, the AFC and NFC champions were committed to resolving the Super Bowl through diplomatic channels.
"Playing this Super Bowl is our last resort," said NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, who was flanked by the coaches and quarterbacks for the opposing teams. "Yes, there are some difficult issues that need to be hashed out, such as who will be the game's MVP, the number of total passing yards for each quarterback, and which team will be named Super Bowl champion, but I think we made progress today."
"The Colts and the Saints are unwavering in their commitment to avoid any violence and wish to resolve the Super Bowl peacefully, without a single football being thrown," Goodell added.
According to team sources, formal overtures to crown a Super Bowl victor through peaceful negotiation began almost immediately after Saints kicker Garrett Hartley connected on a game-winning field goal against the Vikings last Sunday.
Saints general manager Mickey Loomis reportedly sent one of the team's high-level ambassadors, Deuce McAllister, to Indianapolis to see if the Colts would agree to a 42-38 outcome wherein the Saints would be named Super Bowl champions. Sources confirmed Colts general manager Chris Polian told McAllister that, while he was open to diplomacy and would do anything to avoid sending his players into harm's way, his organization would prefer a final result that favors the Colts 27-17.
"Absolutely no one wants to see these teams forced to take the field and play 60 minutes of brutal football against each another," Colts owner Jim Irsay said. "But the Saints have to understand that if they aren't willing to meet us half way on some our demands, specifically those that are outcome-related, we are fully committed to using all our offensive firepower to achieve our goals."
"If this game is played, I assure you it's going to be a bloodbath," Irsay continued.
Saints owner Tom Benson told reporters that, while he believes the teams are capable of compromise, the major sticking point preventing the negotiations from moving forward has been a failure to agree on who would be the winner of the Super Bowl.
"The Colts don't seem to want to bend on this, and unfortunately, this is one area where we as an organization are firm," Benson said. "We are more than willing to give the Colts 36, 42, or even 986 points, just so long as the Saints receive 37, 43, or 987 in turn."
Continued Benson, "I'd just like the Colts to take a moment and think about what this long, bloody clash would be like, not only for their players, who will be putting themselves in the line of fire, but also for their families, who will have to watch their husbands and fathers be shipped out to Miami, some of them for the second time."
Commissioner Goodell said both teams reached a tentative agreement Thursday for the Saints to win a theoretical opening coin toss. However, this arrangement was contingent upon Saints kickoff return man Courtney Roby not running the ball deep into Indianapolis territory—an incursion the Colts said they would consider an act of aggression.
While some have praised Goodell's step-by-step approach to reach a game outcome through diplomacy, many believe it won't be enough.
"In my experience, negotiations like this always break down, and on Sunday, Feb. 7, at 6:28 p.m., all hell will break loose," said former NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue, who has tried with little success to broker similar deals. "It will be just like last year and the year before that and the year before that. You'd think that after what the Giants did to the Patriots in 2008 these guys would learn their lesson."
Added Tagliabue, "That entire Patriots team was basically wiped out that night."
As of press time, Saints coach Sean Payton had been fired for making a verbal agreement to lose the Super Bowl prior to it being played.