ATLANTA—NFL owners always sit in the same place at every meeting. And they often sit by friends and allies. Until this year, the details of that seating arrangement largely have been secret.
But it recently came out that the tables at NFL owners meetings are situated in an 'E' shape with the NFL's top brass, including Commissioner Roger Goodell, sitting along the spine of the "E" at the head of the room. Owners and their groups sit on either sides of the tables making the three extensions of the "E."
The jockeying for preferred positions is like something you'd see in a junior high cafeteria scrum.
On Monday, Indianapolis Colts Chief Operating Officer Pete Ward revealed some details of the seating arrangement to IBJ. That arrangement will be in place Tuesday as the 32 NFL team owners gather to vote on the host city for the 2018 Super Bowl. Indianapolis, Minneapolis and New Orleans are bidding for the big game.
In this quasi-formal seating orchestration, you'd think Colts owner Jim Irsay would want to be able to count on the guy sitting right across from him. Not so fast.
That's Minnesota Vikings owner Zygi Wilf, who has his own interests. He wants to win the game for his city, which is building a $975 million stadium with more than a few local tax dollars. Although the Vikings organization is known to be quite friendly with the Colts and typically an ally, all bets are off today.
What about the other nearby teams? The Baltimore Ravens owner and his staff sit just to the left of Irsay's group, and the San Diego Chargers sit just to the right. Many people from Baltimore want no part of Irsay, whose father moved the Colts from the city three decades ago. Luckily, many of the Ravens folks are imports from Cleveland, from the days when the Browns moved to town. They later changed their name to the Ravens.
Sitting diagonally across from the Colts camp, and at the very back of the room, are the unpredictable Oakland Raiders. Even though former owner Al Davis passed away, you still can never tell which way that organization will blow.
And Irsay shouldn't expect much support up the arm of the 'E' where his group sits. That's where 86-year-old New Orleans Saints owner Tom Benson sits. If you're keeping score, that means that all three teams in the running for the Super Bowl are sitting in the same arm of the "E."
Benson has had plenty of time to win allies—and enemies, I suppose. But lots of folks here in Atlanta this week are saying that owners feel sentimental toward the 86-year-old Benson, since this could be his last crack at winning the Super Bowl for New Orleans.
New Orleans has been a sure thing in the history of Bowl bidding. The city has bid for 10 Super Bowls and hosted 10 Super Bowls.
But if Ward has learned anything in his more than 30 years in team administration, there's no sure thing when it comes to the Super Bowl vote, the only one that the 32 owners take by secret ballot.
"Yeah, it's hard to tell who you can believe or trust in these situations," Ward said with a smile. "Everybody has their own agenda."