Well this is awkward.
A week after ESPN tiptoed around the prospect of openly contesting the league’s position that there was never a thought of resuming the Week 17 game between the Bills and the Bengals, ESPN.com dropped a bombshell that strengthens ESPN’s position — and that’s specifically aimed at NFL executive vice president of football operations Troy Vincent.
Don Van Natta, Jr.’s article characterizes league official Dawn Aponte, who was at the game, as a voice of reason who was urged by Vincent to continue with the game.
“The Lord himself might come down and we wouldn’t play again,” an unnamed senior official of one of the teams told ESPN. “[Aponte] got pressure. She didn’t get the consistent and direct message she deserved.”
Aponte reportedly didn’t waver.
“Whatever crazy nonsense she got, man, she held it,” the source told Van Natta in reference to Aponte. “She kept it strong.”
Van Natta’s article makes it clear that the game’s postponement came not from the league office but from the venue.
“The league didn’t cancel the game,” the unnamed team official told Van Natta. “The Bills and the Bengals canceled the game.”
Then there’s this from the unnamed source: “The league is screwing up this shit because Troy Vincent is screwing up this stuff. This is the wrong person in the wrong position at the absolutely wrong time. . . . He wants to be the hero but he will never take responsibility. He is that down to the last detail.”
Van Natta’s article also claims that acting ESPN pundit John Parry received word from “a senior NFL rules analyst at the NFL command center” that play would resume Monday night.
The NFL, in a statement to ESPN.com, “strongly believed that at no point was this the case [the unspecified rules analyst] Say anything related to a five-minute warm-up to John Parry…John is just plain wrong. . . . We stand by Troy Vincent’s statements and strongly refute this characterization.”
But, as Joe Buck Van Natta said, the league never asked ESPN to put the five-minute toothpaste back in the tube.
“We were on the air for another 40 minutes and nobody corrected the idea of the game going ahead,” Buck told Van Natta. “No one.”
A source who reviewed the ESPN.com article predicted the league will try to identify the unnamed team official who spoke to Van Natta. “There aren’t that many,” said the source, “and it’s just two teams.”
And this report is likely to cause trouble at 345 Park Avenue. The source added, “I know Troy well enough to know this is going to cause freaking shockwaves.”
The shockwaves began last Monday, exacerbated by Vincent’s decision to brand any suggestion to resume play as “insensitive” and “ridiculous” when it would have been perfectly reasonable to state that the league has a standard protocol that was originally intended to be employed , until it became clear that the situation required a different approach.
If that had happened, a huge mess would have been avoided.