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Charlie Strong: Roger & Me

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The booster ushered Roger Goodell into Coach Charlie Strong's office, smiling with a face as weathered as west Texas leather.

Alex Goodlett

BOOSTER:  You work up a thirst, flying down here?

GOODELL:  No, that's fine, thanks.

Goodell let his eyes slide off the booster's smile and track out the window of Coach Strong's office.  There were trees, actual trees, lining the streets of the Texas campus near DKR.  The Commissioner assumed Strong had flown them in specially for the 2014 season.  Everyone knew there were no trees in Texas.

Coach Strong boomed through the mahogany-stained oaken door and strode the length of the room, offering his hand every step of the way with a broad, pearly smile.  After a few pleasantries, they got down to business.  After all, Roger Goodell had come all the way down here for a reason.

GOODELL: We've noticed, well -- a lot of people have noticed -- that you're throwing lots of guys off the team. How is that supposed to work, exactly?

STRONG: Well, first of all, nobody wants to throw guys off the team, we have to give them every opportunity to --

GOODELL: Now, you see right there. That's what I've been telling them.

STRONG: -- right, to improve and better themselves and go out into the world as grown men.  That's our job.

Goodell thought of some of the players he had known, how they had come into the League and how some of them had gone out of it in ways other than they might have planned, or wanted.  "Improvement" was not a word that applied, no matter how Goodell tried to batter its squareness into any round hole in his memory.  When he spoke again, he startled himself.  The words came inadvertently:

GOODELL: Well, we've got grown men.

Coach nodded slowly, encouragingly.

STRONG: Right.

GOODELL: I mean, legally. Sometimes, some of them --

But, remembering what his lawyers had told him, Goodell stopped short of any particulars.  After a deep breath, and after reengaging Coach's eyes with a smile, Goodell started over again.

GOODELL: Well, let's say one of your guys punches his girlfriend's lights out, allegedly. Hypothetically-allegedly.

Coach frowned gravely, but he didn't hesitate.

STRONG:  He'd be gone.

GOODELL: Right, but before that. What do you do?

STRONG: Before what?

GOODELL: Before you have to, uh -- Do you have to see the video tape?

STRONG: Why would I?

GOODELL: But, just for the sake of argument, what if there is video tape?

STRONG: OK.

GOODELL: And you managed, somehow, not to see it?

STRONG: I don't follow you. Why would that make a diff--

GOODELL: You know, there isn't really any video tape, anymore. Did you know that? It's all just ones and zeroes.  It's on a cloud somewhere  The chain of evidence has been broken, doesn't exist.

STRONG: But we still call it "tape."

GOODELL: Right. See? We're all compromised, every one of us.

STRONG: I am? What did I do?

Coach laughed. Goodell laughed. It felt good to Goodell, this laughing together. But then it stopped.

GOODELL: Well, not you, I just mean everybody. So to speak. No one's perfect. That's why we need time to get this right.

STRONG: Get what right?

GOODELL: Exactly! No one knows. Anything could have happened. There are certain ambiguities --

STRONG: It's your hypothetical, Roger.

GOODELL: OK, what if we don't ask to see it because we think it might be illegal to see it?

STRONG: It is?

GOODELL: No, but what if we thought it was? What do we do then?

STRONG: But if he did it, he's gone.

GOODELL: So you'd actually do that?

STRONG: I didn't do anything, he did. He did this to himself. And if I can't disown him, then what he did will wind up owning all of us.  I can't let that happen.

GOODELL: Allegedly.

STRONG: Hypothetically.

Goodell looked at the Coach's burnt-orange golf shirt, embroidered Bevo over his heart.  Coach Strong had buttoned it all the way to the top.  Goodell had many shirts like this one, though none in that color.  And he had never buttoned that button, even though it was there on all of them.  It was a button he had never even thought to use.  Goodell stared at that button, feeling like it was choking him.  Why button that button?  How does he breathe?  Goodell began to panic.  He blurted out:

GOODELL: OK, what if it's a starter?

STRONG: He'd be gone.

GOODELL: Right, but for how long? Two games or what?

STRONG: No, just gone. A guy crosses a line like that, why should you trust him? Why should anyone trust him?

GOODELL: I need to trust him?

STRONG: Even beyond that, why would anyone want to be associated with him?

GOODELL: … because he's a starter?

Goodell laughed again. But this time, Coach Strong wasn't laughing. Why wasn't he laughing?  Goodell looked at the booster, but the old man's smile was unchanged.  Either the booster didn't give a damn, or he was saving them up for something.

STRONG: No difference.

GOODELL: OK, see, here's where it's different.  In the NFL, we only have 53-man rosters.

STRONG: I know.

GOODELL: And you have, what? 85 scholarships and then you've got walk-ons.

STRONG: That's correct.

GOODELL: So, we've only got just north of 60% of the guys you do.

Strong nodded his head from side to side, a single shiny bead on an imaginary abacus, tabulating the results:

STRONG: Give or take.

GOODELL: So, maybe he could be gone a maximum of 60% of the season?

STRONG: Did he hit only 60% of a woman?

GOODELL: OK, what if I bring in more women?

STRONG: Wait, how many did he hit?

GOODELL: No, I mean what if we bring in several women, with backgrounds in women's stuff and whatever. You know, to oversee the process?

STRONG: What process? Clean out your locker, there's the door, you're barred from the facility. I can do that myself.

GOODELL: Am I speaking from the heart when I do this?

STRONG: I would hope so!

Goodell hadn't anticipated that.  Perhaps there was another way.

GOODELL: Can I hire a fat pollster to say what a good job I did on TV?

STRONG: Knock yourself out.

GOODELL: OK, what if he kills two people?

STRONG: What did he do, sit on them?

GOODELL: Not the pollster, the starter.

STRONG: Gone.

GOODELL: Does it have to be with a gun?

STRONG: No.

GOODELL: Hit a kid.

STRONG: Gone.

GOODELL: Hit a kid with a stick.

STRONG: Gone faster.

GOODELL: Hits a kid with a stick, injuring his scrotum?

STRONG: Are you kidding me?

GOODELL: No, I mean he injures the kid's scrotum.

STRONG: He's gone. Gone yesterday. De-cleated, de-feated, and de-leted. Erased, made absent, removed, replaced by a stark absence of himness, do you hear me? Gone.

GOODELL: OK, I'm -- I'm a little bit confused. It's all just so arbitrary, like nothing's connected to anything. OK, let's say we might wind up losing a sponsor, a big one --

STRONG: Roger, I hate to go, but I've got a game to prepare for. I'll send you the list of rules, and any time you have a question, just email me? OK? I try to answer all my email by the end of the day, although you might get a reply at 4am.

GOODELL: Not a problem, thanks for your time.

The door boomed shut again, and Roger Goodell was alone with the booster.  He could feel the man eyeing him, judging him, perhaps pitying him.  Goodell managed a weak smile in the booster's direction, and was rewarded with a shrug from the old man.

BOOSTER: Now you see why I wanted Gruden.