This is the fourth straight year I’ve done a story on the making of the NFL schedule. Each year, I speak to the four-person team of schedule-makers, led by NFL broadcasting and schedule czar Howard Katz, after the hay is in the barn . . . sometime late in the day after the schedule is finalized.
But this year, I feared the jig was up. At 12:22 a.m. on Monday, Katz emailed to say there was a long way to go before the schedule would be finished—and he wasn’t feeling very confident. On Monday afternoon, the scheduling team presented to Roger Goodell one iteration of the tens of thousands spewed from nearly 400 computers that looked quite good; Goodell thought the schedule was good enough to play, but also thought three teams’ slates had minor flaws, and that the Los Angeles TV schedule had holes. Back to work. On Tuesday at 11:05 p.m., a few hours after returning from the funeral for Pittsburgh owner Dan Rooney, Katz sounded even more pessimistic about an optimal schedule getting done in time for the projected 8 p.m. ET Thursday release.
But a breakthrough happened while the schedule-makers slept. At 2:21 a.m. on Wednesday, schedule number 52,129 shot out of a computer and fixed the four problems Katz & Co. hadn’t been able to get over—making three team schedules less arduous, and giving the Los Angeles market better doubleheader games.
“Making the schedule is always a balance,” says senior director of broadcasting Mike North, who has worked on the annual three-month schedule marathon for 19 years. “In this case, how much of what we liked about the schedule could be kept intact by addressing teams X, Y and Z, plus the TV games with the two L.A. teams now? In this