By Frank Pingue
(Reuters) - The COVID-19 pandemic has brought a lot of unusual change to the NFL but perhaps one of the strangest came on Thursday when Commissioner Roger Goodell and NFL Players Association Executive Director DeMaurice Smith shared a rare moment of harmony.
Smith made a surprise appearance on stage during Goodell's news conference ahead of Sunday's Super Bowl in Tampa, Florida, and said the two sides have never worked better together over the season and believes the best days for the NFL are ahead.
"We've had our dust-ups in the past," a laughing Smith said. "But this season, it really took all of us to get through this and I'm really proud of the partnership we have with the NFL."
The sight of a smiling Smith and Goodell sharing a stage like old friends would have seemed implausible last offseason when the two sides were discussing how to safely get through a season amid the novel coronavirus.
The NFLPA had advocated cancelling the preseason while the NFL wanted to shorten the exhibition schedule. Other issues included the frequency of COVID-19 testing and the percentage of player salaries held in escrow to make up for a potential loss in revenue this year.
"We've done a lot of things this year that we've never done before," said Smith. "We learned that football can evolve, we've learned that we can move outside of our comfort level and work better and work smarter."
Goodell said he agreed with Smith and said that like any relationship the one between the league and union, who last March voted to approve a new labour deal that ensures labour peace through at least 2030, has evolved.
"That comes with growing pains, and it comes with many challenges," Goodell said. "But we have worked together to find solutions and look past our differences and be able to find those solutions in an innovative way."
(Reporting by Frank Pingue in Toronto, editing by Ed Osmond)