Special to Page 2
I'll never forget my one-on-one with Paul Tagliabue at the Super Bowl.
It was Super Bowl XXXII in San Diego, and as I was walking through the lobby of the San Diego Convention Center, imagine my good luck! There he was: Paul Tagliabue, NFL Commish. He was smiling, if a bit frozen and awkward, and holding a hammer, if a bit frozen and awkward in his pose. He was dressed in work clothes. "The blue-collar leader of men," I thought to myself, as I pulled out my notebook and began a little Q-and-A with the Big Fella.
After a few opening queries to which Tags never responded, I turned curious. Why was he still grinning? Why was he still holding that hammer? Why hadn't he moved? Then, the embarrassing truth became clear: Aha. This is a cardboard cutout of Paul Tagliabue!
See, in person, it was hard to tell the difference.
The cardboard cutout Tags was promoting a home-building charity associated with the NFL, but you could forgive me my interactive error. That's just how Tags rolled when it came to public appearances or communicating with the media. In fact, upon further review, the cardboard cutout put on a much better show.
So, yes, Paul Tagliabue's resignation is not even a day old, and already I'm piling on with the commish-as-stiff angle. But that's not my entire strategy here. See, with Tags, there's always two sides to the story. There's the Anti-Tags Spin and the Pro-Tags spin. You'd get your Anti-Tags spin from frustrated media types or from fans unmoved by the cut of the commish's jib. You'd get your Pro-Tags spin from NFL suits and owners mostly interested in Tags' two marching orders:
Marching Order A: Make the league millions of dollars. Failing that, go to Marching Order B.
Marching Order B: Make the league billions of dollars. Don't fail on Marching Order B.
We can't fault Tagliabue for that. It's the market economy. It's capitalism. It's life. Tags' job wasn't to sit around at a Champions Sports Bar in the downtown Marriott and argue with fans in Kimo Von Oelhoffen jerseys over whether the Colts-Giants 1958 NFL title game was better than the Immaculate Reception Game. His job was to make dough for everyone. Leave the barroom arguments for those who have the DirecTV Sunday Ticket Package. Tags was too busy back in his oak-paneled boardroom, tabulating DirecTV Sunday Ticket receipts.
So, there are always two sides to the Tagliabue Legacy. Like, take the cardboard cutout thing.
Anti-Tags Spin: Cardboard cutout has more charisma than Tags.
Pro-Tags Spin: Cardboard cutout is representative of Tags' consistent, unwavering leadership; plus, all media scum have intellects of a cardboard cutout, and if they don't like it, they can go cover indoor soccer. Now, if you'll excuse us, we have a Super Bowl to run.
In honor of Tagliabue's 16-year run atop the country's most successful sports league, let's unveil a List of Five on Tags' Legacy, giving both sides of the argument a look-see:
1. Instant Replay Arrives on the Scene
Anti-Tags Spin: Technology has slowed down the game. It's taken a contest once decided by speed, strength and strategy and turned it into the football equivalent of a rain delay, with an NFL official spending valuable time with his head under a curtain, recreating a quarters-only peep show at a pre-Disney Times Square burlesque show. And, as evidenced by the Troy Polamalu interception ruling in the playoffs, they can still get it wrong.
Pro-Tags Spin: Technology is your friend, Mr. Rotary Phone. Replay is the future, caveman. Eat my shorts if you disagree.
2. Teams Leave L.A.; Teams Spring Up In Charlotte, Nashville and Jacksonville
Anti-Tags Spin: The nation's No. 2 media market has no team, robbing the league of millions upon millions of dollars in revenue. Instead, the nation's 27th-, 30th- and 52nd-ranked media markets get teams, leaving one to wonder -- what, Tags couldn't find a way to build a stadium in Wilkes-Barre? Tulsa? Spokane? Way to think big, Big Man.
Pro-Tags Spin: L.A. doesn't care if it has an NFL team. L.A. is too busy getting a chemical peel and taking a meeting. Besides, Cincinnati (34th), Buffalo (49th) and Green Bay (69th) have teams, and each has reached a Super Bowl. Also, eat my shorts if you have a problem with it.
3. Super Bowl Halftime Shows Evolve
Anti-Tags Spin: Now, the game has become almost secondary to the halftime show. It's another example of style over substance in an increasingly fluffy American society. Halftime shows last too long and affect the players' preparation for the second half, not to mention affecting lung capacity when toxic smoke from fireworks linger under the roof of a dome. Besides, nobody really needed to know that Janet Jackson employed a nipple clamp.
Pro-Tags Spin: U2. Paul McCartney. The Stones.
What, you wanted Up With People?
4. The Super Bowl Now Takes Place in February
Anti-Tags Spin: Used to be, the NFL could look down on the NHL, or the NBA, which had a never-ending, endless, ceaseless season and playoff system. Used to be, the NFL was two weeks of playoffs, and then a Super Bowl: tight, compact, thrilling. Now, it's 17 weeks (including a bye week), three weeks of playoffs, plus two weeks off and careens into February, with the distant promise of March, one day in your child's future. It's bloated, and excessive -- like a lot of the Roman Empire-like tendencies of Tags' reign.
Pro-Tags Spin: February is a Nielsen Sweeps month. Eat our shorts.
5. The Death of the NFL Dynasty
Anti-Tags Spin: Before Tags, we had the 1960s Packers, the 1970s Steelers and the 1980s 49ers. After Tags, we had the salary cap, a watered-down product and Super Bowls with the '98 Falcons, the '05 Seahawks and a pox-on-both-houses Ravens-Giants Super Bowl. As Matt Dillon once wondered about modern rock in the movie "Singles" ... "Where is today's 'Ironman'? Where is today's 'Misty Mountain Hop'?" True dynasties, we hardly knew ye.
Pro-Tags Spin: The salary cap keeps a level playing field. League revenues, TV money and ratings are as high as ever. Everybody's making dough. Oh, and dynasties? Bill Belichick and Tom Brady on Line 1, pal.
And did we mention the thing about our shorts?
E-mail Brian Murphy at firstname.lastname@example.org.