DANA POINT, Calif. -- Condoleezza Rice finally got her chance to address the NFL. Judging by the numerous standing ovations she received, Rice scored a touchdown.
The Secretary of State under the Bush administration, who once aspired to be the league's commissioner, was invited by Roger Goodell to speak to the "NFL family" Sunday at the NFL annual owners meeting. She spoke to several hundred rapt listeners about everything from football to politics to the need for American optimism in a trying time.
"I am prepared to answer any questions on Russia, the Middle East, advice for the draft, the zone blitz," Rice said, drawing laughs from everyone, especially Goodell. "And why no one should ever run a prevent defense."
Rice was mentioned as a potential candidate to replace Paul Tagliabue, and Goodell thanked her "when you were busy three years ago when they selected a commissioner."
"I've invited somebody who wants my job in front of the same people who hired me," Goodell joked.
To which Rice responded, "It's true, when I was talking with the Russians and ... the Iranians and Venezuelans, your job seemed like a pretty good one to me."
Rice comes by her football chops naturally. She described how her father was ready for a John Jr., who would become an All-American linebacker when, instead, she was born. She mentioned tossing the coin for the opening of the Tennessee-Alabama game in Tuscaloosa and, after the Crimson Tide won it, quarterback Brodie Croyle saying to her: "Nice flip."
And Rice praised the NFL for its efforts in internationalizing the game.
"What the NFL does abroad is a part of public diplomacy," she said. "To try to use sports and sports diplomacy to present the values we stand for, to give people a little different outlook at what we stand for (as Americans). America's game, I just know, will be one day an international game of some proportion."
Rice predicted that such nations as Britain, Germany and Australia will become hotbeds of football.
"We need to find countries with a mass sports culture. Countries where they play either rugby or Australian Rules Football or soccer," Rice said. "Not places where they play cricket. I would not go there."
She also congratulated Pittsburgh Steelers owner Dan Rooney for being nominated as ambassador to Ireland.
While acknowledging the difficulty of the times, with a failing economy, rising unemployment and such uncertainty about the future, Rice urged her audience to never lose a positive outlook.
"What matters in the United States is this is the place you can come and realize your dream," she said. "The one thing people love about this country is this is the place you can come from humble circumstances and do great things. It doesn't matter where you've come from, it matters where you're going.
"I don't mean to diminish in any way how difficult this (time) is, but I know America has been through difficult times before and always came out on top at the other end. I know it's tough to be optimistic in times like these. But I do know we are the most optimistic people on Earth. There's an answer, we'll find it, we'll work on it."
Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press