Roger Goodell a neutral party? Not in this Super Bowl


Roger Goodell strolled onto the stage in the brilliant disguise of a neutral party: slacks, blue sports coat and a dress shirt unbuttoned at the top.

He had planned to wear his Matt Ryan jersey and toy Falcons helmet from Sears, walk out while spinning a deflated football on his left hand and flashing the A-Town-Down sign with his right. Later, he could lock arms with Samuel L. Jackson, the hotel ballroom would suddenly become bathed in red mood lighting and the two would joyously sing out like a Gospel choir, “Rise Up!”

Damn if his stuffy posse from Park Ave. didn’t advise him against it. So the charade continued Wednesday.

“We have a disagreement about what occurred,” the NFL commissioner said Wednesday. “We’ve been transparent about what we think the violation was. I’ll be honest …”

(At this point, the room broke into laughter, at least in everybody’s heads.)

“… I have disagreements with probably all 32 of our teams. But I don’t think disagreement leads to distrust or hatred. It’s just disagreements. It’s not personal in nature.”

It’s not personal. It’s strictly business. Thank you, Godfather.

Goodell will be among the 160 million people watching Sunday’s Super Bowl between the Falcons and the Galactic Empire from New England.

He can’t choose sides. But let’s be real. If you’re Roger Goodell, would you want a game result that effectively forces you to hand the league’s championship Lombardi Trophy to Patriots owner Bob Kraft? Or the Super Bowl MVP award to quarterback Tom Brady?

It has been two years since “Deflategate” broke following the AFC Championship game between New England and Indianapolis. What started as an amusing little story morphed into a two-ton genetic mutation that centuries from now historians will look back on with wonderment and ask, “Why?”

There seemingly was a mountain of evidence Brady intentionally had footballs slightly deflated to his liking. So yes, he was cheating. But each side presented their scientific experts. There were transcripts of text messages, accusations, an allegedly smashed cell phone, finger pointing, angry Patriots fans (redundancy), Kraft shaking his fist and demanding an apology and, of course, ball jokes.

The Patriots were criticized by everyone from Troy Aikman (“It’s obvious Tom Brady had something to do with this.”) to astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson (“For the Patriots to blame a change in temperature for 15 percent lower pressures requires balls to be inflated with 125-degree air.”)

In the end — I’m skipping a lot and you’re welcome — Brady was suspended four games and the Patriots were docked two draft picks and fined $1 million.

Goodell hasn’t attended a New England home game since the decision. Meanwhile, he attended both Falcons’ home playoff games.

There’s a simple explanation for this. Boston doesn’t have any Waffle Houses.

Goodell denied he is boycotting Gillette Stadium. He denied he has a rift with Kraft or the Patriots. He was asked five Deflategate-related questions in a 45 minute news conference. All came from Boston-area media members and were delivered with an undertone that said, “Roger. You’re a corruptible weasel. Now let me slap you.”

“Would you agree there’s be an erosion of public trust …”

“Your explanation strains all credibility …”

“It appears there’s still a war between the Patriots and their fans and you.”

There was a needed comedic break amid the verbal combat when a young girl from the NFL’s Play 60 initiative was given the microphone.

“Hi Roger! My question is going to seem a lot easier compared to all this madness.”

I can’t remember what she asked. But I remember what she didn’t ask.

We can debate whether the NFL ever proved its case against Brady, whether the Patriots’ inglorious past of straying from the rules played a role in the punishment. We can debate whether Goodell was “out to get” the Patriots because of their growing rapsheet. But I don’t know how you can ignore the NFL emerged victorious after an appeal and even a circuit court judge stated “the evidence of ball tampering is compelling, if not overwhelming.”

Both sides should agree on this: The whole matter blew up to ridiculous proportions and could have, should have been handled better by Goodell.

Then again: “Go Falcons!” Isn’t that what most football fans outside of the New England region are thinking? The Patriots wear the black hats. Maybe it overshadows their greatness more than it should, but welcome to sports.

Falcons coach Dan Quinn wouldn’t bite on the seeming Good vs. Evil backdrop. He’s smart that way.

“I just can’t wait to go battle for it,” he said. “If we need something like that to motivate us right now, you’re in the wrong neighborhood.”

So the Patriots aren’t the Evil Empire?

“No. Even though I was a Jet for a while.”

Kraft harbors contempt for all those who look poorly on his organization as a result of this little scandal.

“Jealousy and envy are incurable diseases,” he said earlier this week. “If you are going to play in that field, it’s nice that people have some reason to look at you. That is the way of the world.”

Goodell is coated with Teflon. He brushes off all criticism.

He said: “We applied the process. We came to a conclusion that was supported by the facts and by the courts.”

He said: “I don’t expect for one second for people to agree with every decision I make. Those are always difficult, sometimes contentious and sometimes less-than-perfect decisions. But you do them in the best interest of game and the NFL.”

He said: “We’re moving on. We’re focused on the game now.”

Isn’t that Bill Belichick’s line?

The Falcons are the fresh and wholesome faces this week. They didn’t videotape the other team’s defensive signals or deflate footballs. The worst thing they ever did was play fake crowd noise through the public address system. Why? Because they stunk and nobody would go to the games for two years. If the extra noise helped them, they wouldn’t have gone 10-22 in those two years. They were fined and docked a draft pick mostly for the stupidity of it, not because of some competitive advantage.

Come Sunday, Goodell will play the role of neutral party. But if the Falcons win and suddenly the NFL commissioner flaps his wings and reprises the Dirty Bird dance, don’t be surprised.



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