Like most Americans residing outside New England, Roger Goodell is pulling hard for the Atlanta Falcons to win Super Bowl 51. Of course, the pompous, omnipotent NFL commissioner would never say so publically. He’s continuing to tell reporters the only thing he’s rooting for is an exciting game. But we all know that’s a crock.
Deep down, Goodell dreads the prospect of presenting the Lombardi Trophy to New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady late Sunday night. And, heaven forbid should he also have to present the game MVP award to Brady the following morning. The commish realizes these would be among the most awkward handoffs in football history, ranking down there with the uncomfortable trophy exchange between two mortal enemies—late NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle and late Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis—36 years ago.
Clearly, after the 18-month Deflategate soap opera, there is no love lost between Brady and the man who forced him to sit out the first four games of this season after the future Hall of Famer was deemed guilty of deflating footballs to his rather than the league’s liking in the 2015 AFC Championship Game.
I don’t doubt Goodell’s contention that Brady’s bunch were up to something. But I also don’t believe deflated footballs had anything to do with the Patriots 45-7 thrashing of the Indianapolis Colts that day. Nor do I believe the penalty matched the crime. The ruling came across as petty and was another blow to a commissioner who originally thought a two-game suspension was sufficient punishment for a running back who knocked out his fiancée.
Brady would have been better off just ’fessing up to his misdemeanor and paying for his “driving 35 in a 25 mph zone” violation. Instead, he stubbornly dug in his cleats, as if prepping for a quarterback sneak. The equally pigheaded Goodell responded by pulling out a sledgehammer to swat a mosquito, and an Everest erupted out of a molehill. The league reportedly spent more than $30 million in legal fees prosecuting the case. But, hey, what does Goodell care? Thirty mil is chump change, an expense that will be made up with the airing of six, 30-second television commercials Sunday night.
As we’ve learned, hell hath no fury like Brady scorned. During this stick-it-to-Goodell campaign, the 39-year-old passer has guided his team to a 13-1 record (including the postseason) while throwing 33 touchdowns and just four interceptions. Since being snitched on by the Colts following the AFC Championship romp two years ago, Brady has added 76 touchdown passes, a 27-6 record and another Super Bowl title to his resume.
Goodell, who has not set foot in Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass., since that Deflategate contest, said he wouldn’t hesitate a second in handing over the hardware to Brady if the Pats win. “It would be an honor,” he said in a radio interview last week. He went on to call Brady “an all-time great.” Interpretation: “I’m praying like hell I don’t have to share that stage with him.”
Don’t expect a biting acceptance speech from Brady. Gripping a record fifth Lombardi Trophy would be revenge enough. But Goodell probably will take some flak from Kraft. And he had better hope the quarterback’s dad—Tom Brady Sr. —isn’t allowed on stage because the old man just might bloody the commissioner’s nose. The elder Brady recently vented to a San Francisco television station that Goodell had conducted a “witch hunt.” When told Goodell would be honored to present his son the trophy, Senior scoffed: “It should be an honor because someone that has Roger Goodell’s ethics doesn’t belong on the same stage that Tom Brady is on.”
Clearly, the post-game confetti might not be the only thing flying Sunday night.
The more I learn about Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan, the more I like him. He gives new meaning to the term “old school,” having graduating from Philadelphia’s William Penn Charter High School, which was founded by its famous Quaker namesake in 1689. Ryan, the league’s MVP, comes across as a humble, low-key guy who was raised to let his actions do his speaking. In his senior yearbook, he wrote the following message to his dad: “Pop, thank you for your support and advice. I’ll always remember to play with a bat, ball and a glove; not my mouth.” The man they call “Matty Ice” because he’s cool under pressure also quietly provides 20 scholarships to his high school alma mater for kids who can’t afford the tuition.
From the “Be Happy You Didn’t Get What You Wished For” department: The Falcons’ top candidate to replace fired head coach Mike Smith two years ago was Rex Ryan. Fortunately for them and unfortunately for the Bills, Buffalo wanted him more badly. Methinks Atlanta is quite pleased with Dan Quinn.
In addition to betting on the obvious things, such as who will win the Super Bowl and which player will be MVP, you can also wager on oddball things such as whether Luke Bryan will use a cheat sheet to sing the national anthem and in which quarter “Deflategate” will be mentioned for the first time on the telecast. Other bets include the color of Lady Gaga’s hair and whether she will make an “anti-Trump” statement during her halftime performance.
People forget there was a long stretch when the Patriots were pathetic. In 1990, they went 1-15 and several of their players sexually harassed a female reporter in the locker room. As if that wasn’t horrible enough, a few days after the incident, then-Patriots owner Victor Kiam made jokes about it at a public appearance. Kiam eventually sold the team to James Orthwein, who considered a move to his native St. Louis. And there was some rough sledding even after Kraft purchased the Pats in 1994. Early on, he considered moving the franchise to Connecticut, but changed his mind after Massachusetts politicians offered a sweetheart deal, enabling him to build a new stadium complex, replete with retail stores, restaurants and a hotel. He hired Belichick, drafted Brady and has New England on the brink of a fifth Super Bowl title.
Scott Pitoniak is the Rochester Business Journal sports columnist.
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