NEW ORLEANS — An effigy of NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell dangles from the front porch of a New Orleans home that is otherwise festively decorated with Saints paraphernalia.
With restaurants and bars gearing up for an influx of Super Bowl XLVII visitors, the “Refuse to Serve Roger Goodell” page on Facebook had 107 likes as of Friday.
A portrait of Goodell covers the bull’s-eye on the dart board at Parkview Tavern.
And floats in the unabashedly lowbrow Krewe du Vieux parade in the French Quarter last weekend displayed larger-than-life likenesses of Goodell in acts that defy polite description.
New Orleans is celebrating the return of Saints coach Sean Payton after a season of NFL banishment as a result of the “bountygate” scandal – when the team ran a pay-for-hits program. But Goodell, who suspended Payton and other current and former Saints players and coaches last year for their roles in the system, is being ridiculed here with a vehemence usually reserved for the city’s scandal-scarred politicians.
“They believe he completely used the Saints as an example of something that was going on league-wide,” said Pauline Patterson, co-owner of Finn McCool’s, an Irish Bar in the Mid-City neighborhood where the words “Go To Hell Goodell” are visible over the fireplace.
Some of Goodell’s critics say the disarray resulting from what they believe were unfair suspensions led to the Saints’ 7-9 performance this year – and a missed chance to make history.
“We had a real shot of being the first team in history to host the Super Bowl in our own stadium,” Parkview Tavern owner Kathy Anderson said. “He can’t give that back to us.”
Goodell suspended the coaches and players after an investigation found the Saints had a performance pool offering cash rewards for key plays, including big hits. The player suspensions eventually were overturned, but the coaches served their punishments.
Mayor Mitch Landrieu is among those saying that people in this city, known for its hospitality and history, should mind their manners and remember the not-too-distant past.
“Roger Goodell has been a great friend to New Orleans, and it’s a fact that he’s one of the people instrumental to making sure that the Saints stayed here after Hurricane Katrina,” Landrieu said in a statement.
It was a reference to the days after the storm, when 80 percent of the city was underwater and the damaged Superdome became a shelter for thousands of the displaced.
Then-Commissioner Paul Tagliabue and his second-in-command, Goodell, are credited with working to keep the team from abandoning New Orleans for San Antonio.
“If not for Roger Goodell, we would not have this Super Bowl,” Landrieu added. “And we will need him since we want to host another one.”
Saints quarterback Drew Brees said the game is validation of everything the city’s gone through to rebuild after Hurricane Katrina.
“There’s no question, yeah. And I think people will see that when they come down, as soon as people come down that haven’t been there in a while,” Brees said Friday while in Hawaii for the Pro Bowl. “The city knows how to entertain, knows how to treat people right. The tourism industry’s huge, so we’re excited to host this big game. Obviously it’s the biggest sporting event in the world, and the city will be ready for it.”
But some are in no mood to back off when it comes to Goodell.
Anderson said she understands city leaders’ desire to put their best foot forward, but that it also is important for Saints fans to be able to vent.
“Whether I have Roger Goodell’s face on my dart board is not going to change anybody’s mind about the Super Bowl,” Anderson said.
People should not take the barbs too seriously, said Lynda Woolard, a Saints fan who has been tracking some of the barbs on social media. “Nobody’s saying there should be violence against the man,” Woolard said.
“It’s tongue-in-cheek,” Patterson agreed.
Still, some diehards are ready to put it all behind them.
Patrick Brower, owner and manager of the Dirty Coast T-shirt shop, said Friday that he’s pushing black-and-gold wear at his shop, choosing to unify Saints fans without bashing the commissioner.
“We’ve got to look forward here,” Brower said. “The more time we spend in the past, it’s just not beneficial.”