Roger Goodell handing trophy to Tom Brady would be sweet justice
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In my free time, I like to imagine confetti falling on Tom Brady and Roger Goodell as they share the stage after Super Bowl LI. Brady’s Patriots have just defeated the Falcons, and the NFL commissioner has the look of a man in the grip of a foodborne illness.
Clearly, my fantasy life isn’t what it used to be.
But wouldn’t that be a special moment? Brady, who served a four-game suspension for allegedly using deflated footballs, looking into the eyes of the man who meted out that ridiculous punishment? Then receiving the Lombardi Trophy from the league’s maximum leader and calling him a small, officious twit on national TV? There couldn’t be a better, starker, more public payback than that.
Most of you know the story, and many of you would prefer corporal punishment to hearing it again. So, quickly: At halftime of the 2015 AFC Championship Game between the Patriots and Colts, officials noticed that at least one of the Patriots’ game balls was underinflated. Gasp.
The obvious response of “Big deal’’ was passed over in favor of an ominous question: “Who knew what when?’’ And thus began one of the most absurd controversies in sports history. By the time it was over, we had been subjected to scientific treatises on the effect of temperature on gas pressure inside footballs; investigations into whether Brady knew the balls were underinflated; questions about the involvement of locker-room attendants in the alleged deflation; news of an NFL suspension of Brady; rulings by federal courts; and, finally, the quarterback’s acceptance of the four-game penalty.
You know, everything you’d want in a sports story when you’re trying to escape reality.
It was called Deflategate and Ballghazi, my favorite. It was brutal, and it was entirely unnecessary. The penalty was so out of whack with the other penalties Goodell had handed out in his tenure that it looked personal and vindictive, most likely because it was.
To be clear: This wasn’t the downtrodden vs. The Man. The Patriots take rules to the limit, then go about two miles beyond — and that’s being kind. The not-so-kind description is that they’re a pile of cheating manure. So making Brady out to be an innocent would be ludicrous.
But this was pettiness dressed up as law and order. This was getting prison time for going 10 mph over the posted speed limit. The NFL talked about the importance of protecting the shield — from what? People who have played the game at a high level will tell you that there is little advantage in using footballs that are inflated below 12.5 pounds per square inch, the league minimum. It’s more personal preference than competitive edge for quarterbacks.
Colts linebacker D’Qwell Jackson intercepted a Brady pass in the first half of that AFC Championship Game, and league officials later found that ball to be underinflated.
“I wouldn’t know how that could even be an advantage or a disadvantage,” Jackson told NFL.com. “I definitely wouldn’t be able to tell if one ball had less pressure than another.”
NFL officials later inflated a football to the same specifications as the underinflated ball.
“You really couldn’t tell the difference unless you actually sat there and tried to squeeze the thing or did some extraordinary thing,’’ referee Bill Vinovich said. “If someone just tossed you the ball, especially in 20-degree weather, you’re going to pretty much play with the ball. They are going to be hard. You’re not going to notice the difference.’’
The Patriots outscored the Colts 28-0 in the second half, and if anyone thinks it’s because of deflated footballs, he’s living in the same world of delusion as Goodell.
So, yes, I’m casting aside the journalistic rule book in favor of that fantasy of mine. I want New England to win. I don’t care how Goodell and Patriots owner Robert Kraft interact at the postgame celebration. Those two might have had a falling-out over Deflategate, but they’re back to being chums. I know this because TMZ Sports released a photo of the pair together Wednesday.
I want to see Brady laughing the last laugh against Goodell. I hope the moment in which Goodell hands the trophy to Brady will be as awkward as I’m conjuring it up to be. Goodell insists it won’t be.
“Not for a second,’’ he said Wednesday on Fox Sports Radio. “. . . Tom Brady is one of the all-time greats. He has been for several years. He’s on the precipice of at least potentially winning his fifth Super Bowl ring. He’s an extraordinary player, great performer and a surefire Hall of Famer. So it would be an honor.”
I’m not buying it. Revenge is a dish best served cold and underinflated by a few pounds per square inch. And Goodell knows it.
Follow me on Twitter @MorrisseyCST.