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Goodell, Bengaldom talk the game

He signed a bus, autographed a man's bust, turned down a beer, and then NFL commissioner Roger Goodell signed off on an 18-game regular-season schedule as Lot E cheered.

"Pumpkin bar?" said Goodell to a woman who offered the snack if he came by her group's bus. "I like it. It's healthy."

Goodell's tailgating session with more than 100 Paul Brown Stadium fans before Monday night's game with the Steelers had a little bit of everything on the menu. While he couldn't tell them if there would be football in 2011, he did tell them he was for cutting rookie salaries and for the NFL Players Association urging the players to accept thigh pads and hip pads as mandatory.

He also asked them, "How many here would like to see two (fewer) preseason games and two more regular-season?" and when they cheered, he said, "But we have to make sure we do it the right way."

Players are fighting the notion of an 18-game schedule as well as Goodell's decision to crack down on helmet-to-helmet hits with suspensions and more severe fines without an independent arbiter as part of the appeals. He stood by both Monday night and when he was asked "Will there be a strike?" he said, "We need to have meetings where we do more than meet."

It's the answer he pretty much gave the media a few minutes later.

"We continue to have discussions but we've got to focus on having productive discussions where there's actually progress being made," Goodell said. "We're getting closer and closer to that March deadline and I think for the good of the game, for the good of the fans, for the good of the players, we need to reach an agreement that's fair to everyone. We have a lot of work to do and we've got to sit down and work on it. We owe that to the game."

A fan wearing the jersey of Steelers safety Troy Polamalu asked what he thought of Polamalu's suggestion that decisions on hits should be made by some kind of independent advisory board that could be made of current players.

Goodell shot that down by saying, "This is a very competitive league. You can't do that because of the guy standing next to you. He's the fan of another team."

He also gave the same answer to the media, pointing out that former 49er Merton Hanks and Raiders Hall of Famer Art Shell are big players in the decision-making chain of command.

"We have a former player that is the one that actually does the discipline, and they appeal that up to another former Hall of Fame player," Goodell said. "You always want to try and find that balance but I don't believe you can have active players and active coaches involved with discipline."

Goodell also took a Pete Rose question from a fan wondering if Goodell's power in football could be transferred to baseball and he indicated he was thankful that's not his problem.

When another asked if he could force fans to sit down during the game, "like in Pittsburgh," Goodell offered, "I'm the commissioner, not God."

One of the buses Goodell visited is the one named "The End Zone Gang" by Nancy Brown, the wife of Bengals president Mike Brown. Nancy Brown has been tailgating with fans for 15 years and became friendly with the "End Zone Gang" when she accidently knocked over their chili about 10 years ago.

On Monday, she brought them the commissioner.

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