The AFL's off-season from hell has prompted a warning from Andrew Demetriou that the game must keep its soul.
Demetriou said at Wednesday night's season launch in Melbourne that winning at all costs was "a madcap philosophy".
He added fans were rightly outraged after a series of scandals and crises over the past few months.
The spectre of doping looms over the league after last month's landmark Australian Crime Commission (ACC) report into sport and the Essendon supplement investigations.
Star Sydney recruit Kurt Tippett and Adelaide chief executive Steven Trigg were suspended for their roles in the Crows' draft tampering and salary cap scandal.
Dean Bailey and Chris Connolly were suspended and Melbourne received the third-highest fine in AFL history - even though the AFL effectively cleared the club of tanking.
Demetriou's speech at the season launch, effectively a "state of the AFL" address, was tempered this time with warnings.
"If our game is reduced to a madcap philosophy of winning at all costs, then we have lost the spirit of sport and we need to pull out all stops to get it back," he said.
"Some will scoff at that - some will think the elite game is all about winning and winning is the only measure.
"It is not.
"The AFL has flourished off the back of great athletes performing marvellous feats - without any assistance beyond their own genius."
Demetriou added that there was no avoiding that the past few months had not been positive for anyone in the game.
"Our fans have had reason to doubt us," he said.
"We cannot avoid this truth: what infects any of us has the capacity to infect us all.
"Our fans have quite reasonably been outraged by what's been happening, and with great justification.
"Many of our wonderful players and many brilliant sports medicine practitioners are similarly angry - besmirched as they have been by poor behaviour".
Demetriou said the league had to remember what has made the game so popular.
"It is a time, in a sense, to slow down, to return to a more languid past to understand what it is that makes sport a wonderful thing to watch, to be part of," he said.
The AFL boss is proud of how the game's commission responded to the ACC briefing and said the reaction from clubs to the doping crisis had delighted him.
"But we cannot rely on rules alone," he said.
"We have to act personally and collectively - all of us in the room tonight are agents of change."
He has stamped this year as a time when the AFL must make sure it sticks to its values.
"2013 must be a year of solidarity, of great purpose, blended by just the right mix of optimism and realism," he said.
"2013 is the year that we remind everyone that Australian Rules Football is the greatest game - it's authentic, it's beautiful, it's eternal, and it's ours."