Everybody involved in this week's NFL owners meetings in Atlanta is a fully grown adult. Most of those involved are millionaires and many are billionaires.
Yet these captains of industry have a rather odd, and apparently iron-clad, tradition of selecting and reserving seats at their high-stakes pow-wows that resembles the traditions that many of us went through in the school cafeteria or perhaps that we still exercise each Sunday in church.
First thing to know about an NFL owners meeting; You don't just go in and plop down wherever you want. Things here are staged, planned and plotted for goodness sake. Just going in and sitting anywhere you want would be like sitting in the second row, center at church when you've been sitting in the fourth row on the left side of the altar for years. Have you no sense of decorum?!
Worse yet, it could be like one of the band members trying to sit with the jocks or one of the jocks trying to sit with the mathletes. Certain traditions in any culture are simply not trod upon. Same goes for seating inside the secret chambers of the NFL owners meeting.
So here's how it works.
In the early morning hours before the meetings begin, owners will dispatch a band of minions–sometimes even a team executive–to the meeting chamber, where they hustle around jotting down the team's name on scraps of paper and putting them in various seats and table tops, thus reserving a block. But again, you don't just reserve a block of seats willy nilly.
Teams and team owners have friends and allies they prefer to sit next to. In addition to saving seats, the team minions may also scrawl a couple of notes to other team officials. I have never seen one, but I would imagine it might say something, like "Hey, hey, over here, this is where the cool kids are sitting."
Oddly, but somehow not surprisingly, teams sit in the exact same formation at every team owners meeting, said sources familiar with the process. No one moves or even suggests a re-arrangement. No one. Nor is the process or seating arrangement ever formalized. That was suggested once and the motion went nowhere.
The meeting room is always arranged as a sideways 'E' with the spine of the letter representing the lead table and the legs of the 'E' extending toward the entry door, reported Sports Business Journal.
According to Sports Business Journal: Former Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis liked to sit in the back of the room, so that's where the Raiders remain to this day, though Davis died in 2011. The Pittsburgh Steelers and New York Giants join the Raiders in the back of the room. Giants and Steelers officials ALWAYS sit next to one another because the Rooney family, which owns the Steelers, and the Mara family, which runs the Giants, are long-time pals. Likewise the Dallas Cowboys always sit next to the Jacksonville Jaguars. No one has an explanation for that one. The new kid, Jacksonville, was probably trying to squeeze in next to America's team.
Each team gets a fancy plackard placed where they are to sit, but those are put in place only after those spaces have been reserved with the slips of paper.
The tried-and-true seating ritual serves some solid purposes. For NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell it's a lot like being a rabbi, priest or minister. If he wants to address an owner or ask him a question (or see if they have nodded off), he knows exactly where to look.
I don't know where or by whom Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay and his lieutenants sit at the meetings. I'll try to dig that nugget up. Whoever the Colts sit next to, you can bet that Irsay will be vigorously lobbying those on both sides of him for their votes on who will host the 2018 Super Bowl.
On Tuesday the 32 NFL team owners will be voting on whether Indianapolis, Minneapolis or New Orleans will host the big game in 2018. And since no one wants to get sideways with their long-time neighbors, that's probably two votes for Indy. Unless perhaps the Minnesota Vikings or New Orleans Saints sit on the other side.