Goodell seems ready for challenge

MIAMI -- One might have readily gathered, following Roger Goodell's inaugural "state of the NFL" news conference here Friday morning, that the new commissioner is very pleased with the condition of the league he inherited nearly six months ago.

Those were the words, very pleased, that Goodell employed time and again Friday as he assessed the status of the league.

He is very pleased with the quality of the product. Very pleased with the officiating. Very pleased with The NFL Network. Very pleased that Super Bowl XLI on Sunday evening will feature not just the first African-American head coach in championship history, but two black sideline bosses. Very pleased that so many players want to better police their game and eliminate drug and steroid abuse. Very pleased, even, with the 32 teams' training staffs.

What was left unsaid by Goodell, because it wasn't his place to say so anyway, is that the NFL ought to be very pleased with the first half year of his stewardship.

It would be close to impossible, even for a man of lesser skills than Goodell possesses, to undo the accomplishments of his predecessor. Paul Tagliabue, whose term as commissioner will be the subject of passionate debate on Saturday morning when the Hall of Fame selection committee convenes, set a high bar. And often, just extending the status quo is the most daunting task for any successor.

Yet one couldn't help but come away from Friday's session understanding that Goodell isn't in his position simply to be a low-maintenance man.

How does one boost the profile of the most preeminent sports entity? Hard to say. But it seems that Goodell has rolled up his sleeves and is ready to try.

In his first wholesale exposure to the media -- Goodell has met with small groups of reporters at games he attended during the regular season and the playoffs -- he was impressively mundane if there can be such a thing. He was inordinately less dismissive than Tagliabue, who often allowed himself to get caught up in parrying with the media and who was never above the occasional zinger.

Goodell was less edgy and extremely well-prepared without seeming over-rehearsed. He was direct and precise and frequently pithy, but without the sense of being curt. He is good at the public relations element of the game, as demonstrated by an affinity for addressing reporters by their first names, an unimportant facet except to the questioner.

Mostly, though, Goodell was neither Pollyannaish nor naive in addressing 45 minutes worth of queries. His delivery was such that even most veteran scribes didn't feel they had entered the NFL's usual spin zone. More than anything, amid all of the very proud rhetoric, Goodell was honest and sincere.

He acknowledged the game's ills -- particularly the number of off-field incidents during the 2006 season, the need to get a better handle on testing for substances like HGH, the existing problems with a collective bargaining agreement for which some critical elements remain incomplete more than 10 months after it was approved -- and promised to address each of them head-on.

There was, to be sure, an efficiency of words. No rambling replies. No vitriolic verbosity. A minimum of arm-twisting and a distinct paucity of propaganda. The consensus among those exiting the large conference room in which the session was held, and in which Goodell's most crucial audience was the group of owners who are his constituents, and not the media, was that Goodell said very little.

True enough. But he said little in such a manner that you came away convinced his concise delivery was, in part, an effort to reserve energy for the issues that still need to be confronted. And not because Goodell was trying to hide something.

Asked about succeeding Tagliabue, the commissioner noted that he worries far less these days about the transition to his stewardship of the league than he does about the challenges the NFL faces in years to come.

Based on one news conference, at least, Goodell seems well-girded for those challenges.

Len Pasquarelli is a senior writer for ESPN.com.