As the latest NFL season moves full speed ahead, it’s more obvious than ever that football has cemented its place as America’s most popular–and most lucrative sport.However, a labour war looms on the horizon and all that money and surging popularity–not to mention the fantasy football and sports bar industries–could go up in smoke if a protracted lockout kills the 2011 season.
Who can prevent that? Who secretly wants it to happen? Who will have to find a way to work together to save the sports from itself?
Obvious, right? But few league bosses have wielded their power quite the way Goodell has. His 'personal conduct policy' and discipline by fiat have forever altered the league and its relationship to its players. His never-ending quest to protect the NFL's image has cost misbehaving players entire seasons off their careers and left teams in fear of his wrath. At the same time, he's consolidated the influence and wealth of the owners and has them well positioned for their upcoming labour fight. Underestimate him at your peril.
In a world financial behemoths, Jones controls the king of the pack. The Dallas Cowboys franchise has been valued at over $1.8 billion, and that will only go up thanks to the 80,000-seat Cowboys Stadium, affectionately dubbed 'Jerry World.' Perhaps that's why Jones has been agitating against the NFL's revenue sharing plans, a system that has benefited the league as whole, but at the expense of the pocketbook of 'America's Team.' Jones is tired of seeing Cowboy money propping up less successful teams, and that makes him the wild card in any upcoming negotiations.
Despite mixed success in championship play, Manning remains the NFL's greatest bankable star, shilling for everyone from Sony to Gatorade to Sprint. He even hosted Saturday Night Live. Bland and unassuming, he's the perfect football-playing spokesman, as there is little danger of any tarnish coming to his squeaky clean image. He's also a hell of a quarterback, running the deadly Colts offensive almost single-handedly for more than a decade. No one calls their own shots--literally--the way Peyton does.
A former NFL lineman himself, Condon turned union head and eventually became an agent, before rising to take over one of the most powerful shops in the business. He and his partner Ben Dorga head up the sports division at Creative Artists Agency, boasting an ever-expanding roster of Pro Bowl talent--including Manning and his brother, Eli--that would make any coach drool. (And pay through the nose to hire them.)
One of the most reviled figures in the business, Rosenhaus has a reputation for inserting himself, rather publicly, into the disputes and foibles of his talented clients. Fans (and owners) may loathe his tactics, but there's no denying that he's changed the landscape of sports, securing some of the league's most impressive contracts and continuing to keep his athletes happy and rich.
Old, angry, and possibly unhinged, Davis continues to hold his iron-fisted grip on the Oakland Raiders and their die hard fans. Despite a long dry spell on the field in recent years, there's no denying his previous success winning games while holding two California cities hostage to get what he needs. No matter what, Davis continues to run the franchise his way--which always makes him a threat to upend the best laid plans of the league or the City of Oakland.
His three Super Bowl titles are fading in the rear-view mirror, but as he proved with the Randy Moss trade this week, the Patriots still belong to Bill Belichick. Even after his partner in crime (former personnel director Scott Pioli, who helped build the New England dynasty) left for Kansas City two years ago, Belichick continues to enforce his hard-nosed, team-first philosophy. And there's precious few football minds who can out-coach him.
It remains to be seen if this week's ... um, indiscretions ... diminish 'The Gunslinger''s influence, but one thing is clear--there aren't many players who could hold the media and the league hostage for two consecutive offseasons, while debating whether to take $17 million to play football.
In the 77-year history of the Steelers, the team has belonged to just one family. The sons of Art Rooney Sr. continue to run the franchise that has six Super Bowl titles and counting ... and also carries a powerful voice when it comes to league operations. The now famous 'Rooney Rule,' which governs how NFL teams hire minority coaching candidates, was named after Dan Rooney, the current team Chairman.
Smith became executive director of the NFL Players Association last year and his mettle will be severely tested in the upcoming negotiations over the Collective Bargaining Agreement. The union has already resigned itself to a lockout--and taken steps to decertify so that it can fight the league in court--but it remains to be seen if he can stand up to Goodell and the owners and deliver a good deal to the players.
Women aren't allowed to play football, but they could be executives and agents. Why aren't there more of them running the NFL?
Honorable mention: Jenn Sterger, who currently has Brett Favre by the…no wait, those are his hands…
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