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Lockout looms over 2012 Super Bowl

In 1994, a baseball strike scuttled the World Series. In many ways, the sport is still undoing the damage nearly 16 years later. Earlier this decade, the NHL flushed an entire season via an owner-imposed lockout, and the sport’s popularity has languished ever since, with only a recent hint of real momentum.

The NFL has endured two in-season work stoppages since the AFL-NFL merger. In both cases, strikes launched by the players ended well before it was time to play the Super Bowl. And when it’s time to remember the Super Bowls that capped the 1982 and 1987 seasons -- both of which were won by the Redskins -- no one applies an asterisk or any other mark to the fact that the greatest sport’s greatest game was played.

Some think the Mayans predicted that the world will end in December 2012. For football fans, it very well could be the right year but the wrong month, if a lockout imposed next year lasts through the season and cancels the postseason.

While visiting on Saturday the training camp of the Colts, whose stadium is scheduled to host Super Bowl XLVI, Commissioner Roger Goodell said that he expects the game to be played. And all of the headlines we’ve seen trumpet that fact, creating the impression that it will happen.

But the entire quote seems far more ominous.

“I do believe there will be a Super Bowl in Indianapolis in 2012,” Goodell said. “If not, we’ll work on that.”

Why even say “if not” if the possibility is not real enough to acknowledge?

And if the “if not” occurs, it’ll happen because of an owner-imposed lockout. Nearly three weeks ago, NFLPA Executive Director De Smith vowed in an appearance on The Dan Patrick Show that there will be no strike.

When I had a chance to interview Goodell during Friday’s edition of that same show, my list of potential questions included a reference to Smith’s remarks and an opportunity for Goodell to similarly guarantee that there will be no lockout. In the whirlwind of questions and answers and possible follow-up questions (expertly suggested by Executive Producer Paul Pabst), we ran out of time before I could put that specific question on the table.

As it turns out, I didn’t need to. By leaving the door open for the Super Bowl to not be played, Goodell has answered the question.

He can’t guarantee there won’t be a lockout.

He can’t guarantee it because, in the end, it’s completely out of his hands. He can lobby the owners and attempt to build bridges and mend fences, but if the 32 folks who employ him decide they’re going forward with a lockout -- and if the players somehow manage not to cave for an entire season -- then come February 2012 Lucas Oil Stadium won’t need to turn the light on, either for the Super Bowl or possibly for the Scouting Combine.

Hopefully, the mood created this Hall of Fame weekend will serve as the springboard to get these two sides laying the foundation for cordial, professional, win-win negotiations. New inductee Rickey Jackson made his position known on the matter last night, and we can only hope that something in the Canton air will help get this thing on track before the greatest sport on the planet goes down a path from which it will take many years to recover.