Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Before the Big Game with Ray Anderson: An NFL Executive Takes on the Super Bowl

Over lunch at the National Football League offices in New York City, we sat down with NFL executive vice president of football operations Ray Anderson to talk about the big game.

Before joining the NFL, the California-native was the Atlanta Falcons vice president and a former agent representing coaches and players, including Tony Dungy and Brian Billick.

Now, Anderson is responsible for cracking down on dangerous plays and overseeing rules, fines and officiating for the league. Here’s his take on the current state of football.

First off, who are you routing for – the Giants or Patriots?
Ray Anderson: [Laughs] Publicly, I love all 32 of our NFL teams.

Ha! Well said. After seeing so many Super Bowls as an executive, do you still get excited for the game?
RA: I don’t think it could ever get old. When you’re interacting with the owners, GMs, coaches, players, scouts and all the people in-stadium on a regular basis, you understand and appreciate all the commitment, time and passion that goes into it.

What is your favorite part about the Super Bowl?
RA: The competition. I want to see the best teams match-up against each other.

How do you want people to remember this year’s game?
RA: I hope people think of it as an amazing Super Bowl following a tumultuous off-season. Despite some gloomy prognostications, this season has ended up being one of the most exciting seasons – and hopefully Super Bowls – ever.

Do you have a favorite Super Bowl memory?
RA: When the Giants came back after David Tyree’s helmet catch, and beat the Patriots with a pass in the end zone to [Plaxico] Burress in Super Bowl XLII. There was the excitement of knowing that the game wasn’t really over, because Tom Brady had the ball with time left on the clock. I thought the ending was tremendous. I was standing on the field near the end zone with Ron Hill, my good buddy and vice president of football operations. When the Giants broke the huddle, Ron said, “They are throwing over here to Burress!” And literally, it happened ten feet in front of us.

How are officials selected for the Super Bowl?
RA: We grade every individual official and crew on every play of every game each week. We keep report cards and the officials are held accountable. At the end of the year, we rank 17 crews and referees. The top three ranked will be in the conference championship games or the Super Bowl.

Have the calls on violent hits been more consistent this season?
More so – that’s been an emphasis. That doesn’t mean all of those hits are finable, but we’re certainly seeing more consistency in terms of the calling, enforcement and discipline.

How will technology affect the future of football?
RA: One of the biggest challenges we have is continuing to integrate technology to improve the game. Some football traditionalists are scared of what might come, but it’s coming.

What is the biggest change you’ve seen in the game over the past decade?
RA: The speed, impact and overall athleticism have been elevated. The athletes are so much better – and certainly bigger – than ever before. We have a more violent game with hits that can potentially have long-term effects, and that’s concerning.

Do you see any further changes in the game for safety?
RA: We’re always going to see how we can make the game safer. We feel pretty good about where we are now, but we can still do more.

Is it hard to maintain friendships with players or coaches when you have to fine them?
I’ve fined some of my best friends in the business over the years.

Do you have any funny stories about fining a friend?
RA: Soon after I started this job, Brian Billick used profane language against one of our officials and it was caught on camera. It didn’t take a brain surgeon to read his lips. [Laughs] When I called to let him know that I had a problem with his behavior, I asked about the family, how his daughters were and how he was doing. And then I said, “Well, that’s the good news. The bad news is I’m fining you $25,000.” He took it very well and swore the next time he came to New York that I would be taking him to dinner and he would be picking out the wine, which did occur. He wrote about it in his recent book.

Did you always want to work for the NFL?
RA: I never in my wildest dreams thought that I’d be working for the NFL. When I was an agent, I told myself that if an opportunity to work for a club came along, I would seize it. Minorities, particularly African Americans, had not had those types of opportunities, so I wanted to be one of the first. When Arthur Blank joined the Falcons and reached out to me, it was clear that I was finally going to get that chance. And during my time at the Falcons, I got to know now-commissioner Roger Goodell, who sought me out to interview for the EVP position. I never thought I’d be lucky enough to be where I am.

Disclosure: I did not receive any products nor was paid for this post. I was provided info from the PR firm to share. Thanks to A Bullseye View. Any expressed opinions are my own and personal thoughts. No other compensation was given.

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