ASHFORD, Wash. – A funny thing happened to Roger Goodell on his way to an appointment at the league meetings in December.
Make that funny peculiar. Not funny ha-ha.
The NFL commission was approached by Seahawks CEO Tod Leiweke, who suggested, well, let Goodell explain.
“We were walking into the league meeting and Tod said, “I’ve got a proposal for you: Would you like to climb Mount Rainier?’ ” Goodell said Monday. “I said, ‘Sure, no problem.’
“I’m flying home that night when it hit me: What did I do?”
The Commish is about to find out, as he and seven others – including Leiweke and Seahawks coach Jim Mora – will spend the next two days reaching the summit of Washington’s most picturesque peak.
Also in the group, which will be lead by veteran climbers Ed Viesturs and Peter Whittaker, are United Way CEO Jon Fine, United Way chairwoman Molly Nordstrom, Costco senior vice president John Thelan, Boeing VP Fred Kiga and Wells Fargo regional director Greg Bronstein.
The adventurous undertaking has been dubbed “Climb for the Community” and will benefit the United Way of King County’s “Response for Basic Needs” program. Donations already have reached $300,000, in part due to large corporate contributions. But $20,000 has been raised the past five days via online donations (pledges can be made at unitedwayofkingcounty.org/climb).
“You know how Tod is,” Mora said of the climb becoming a campaign. “Tod is all about community service and anything he can do to promote the Seahawks and encourage community involvement, he’s going to do it.”
Check, and check. A crew from NFL Films is on hand to capture the climb and also produce national and local TV spots for the alliance between the league and United Way. KING-TV’s Paul Silvi was planning to take part in the climb and Sam Farmer, the NFL writer from the Los Angeles Times, was planning to make the first leg to Camp Muir with the group.
Goodell, as well as the rest of the group, got a taste for what’s in store on Monday, when they went up the mountain for some training and then had equipment checks, a meeting and dinner at Alexander’s Country Inn – the initial gathering spot before they make the climb to Camp Muir on Tuesday that is expected to take five to six hours.
“This is my first climb of anything,” Goodell said. “I’m not a climber. But I loved it today. I had a great time.
“We have great guides. I felt very comfortable up there. I feel like I’m in condition. It’s the fear of the unknown, but that’s what makes it fun.”
After reaching Camp Muir, the six-to-eight hour ascent to the summit will begin somewhere between midnight and 2 a.m. on Wednesday, when the group also will make the nine-mile descent to Paradise.
While the group will spend Tuesday night at Camp Muir, sleeping is not expected to be part of the agenda – no matter how tired the climbers might be.
“Sleep? No, not really,” said Leiweke, who spearheaded this expedition after making his first climb to the Rainier summit last summer. “You lay down at like 7 (p.m.) and you’re there for like four hours, but you don’t sleep a wink.”
It’s not just Leiweke. This too-wired-to-sleep phenomenon is a common occurrence – even for Viesturs, who has been to the 14,411-foot summit at Rainier 200-plus times and recently made his seventh climb to the summit of Mt. Everest.
“These guys are excited. They’re nervous. They’re scared. They’re worried,” Viesturs said. “All those things. They’re not going to sleep. Nobody’s going to sleep.
“I don’t sleep great up there.”
Count Mora among those who will be sleepless on the summit.
“I’m a night owl anyway,” he said. “I’m rarely asleep before one in the morning, so I don’t think I’ll be doing much sleeping. Which is OK. There will be a lot of adrenalin.”
Leiweke mixed his sports metaphors when he introduced Goodell to the idea of climbing Rainier with Viesturs.
“I told the commissioner this is like playing a pro-am with Tiger Woods,” Leiweke said when the plan was officially announced in mid-June.
Mora runs up Tiger Mountain as part of his weekly training routine and also has hiked Mount Si on numerous occasions. But this is first attempt to scale Rainier – although he did go to Camp Muir and back last summer.
“This is a lot different – a lot different,” he said. “This isn’t Tiger Mountain. Tiger Mountain is a little 40-minute hike. This is a couple days.
“I’ve done other things to training for it, and hopefully I’m ready.”
Mora has increased the frequency of his attacks on Tiger Mountain, in addition to running and weightlifting – with an assist from a program developed by Seahawks strength and conditioning coach Mike Clark.
Like Mora, Goodell had to tweak his training to prepare for this adventure. He lives on a hill, so he’s been running that with 30 pounds on his back. He’s also been running 50 flights of stairs.
“In New York, we don’t have much altitude. So running stairs is about it,” Goodell said.
If the group had one regret, it’s that after what had been a glorious spring and early summer – especially over the Fourth of July weekend – the weather took a turn for the seasonal Monday. Clouds obscured the mountain and Mora’s interview with the crew from NFL Films was interrupted because the rain falling on the umbrella he was sitting under was distorting the sound quality.
But not only was no one complaining, they were all smiling.
“This is helping a lot of people,” Mora said. “And there are a lot of people that need help right now, obviously.”
Mora might have reached the apex of his chosen career, but the summit-scaling accomplishments of Viesturs and Whittaker are not lost on him.
“It’s fun to be with them,” he said. “Peter and Ed are two of the greatest mountain climbers in the world. So to be able to share their experiences up there on the mountain and listen to their expertise, it’s interesting.
“Just listening to them talk, you can really sense they’re passionate about this. They’re just taking a bunch of goofballs up the mountain, but they’re really into it.”
And there is a method to the perceived madness.
Mora cracked a smile before offering, “Like Ed always says, ‘Getting to the top is optional. Getting down is mandatory.’ ”