Before last night, the last time Roger Goodell and Tom Brady were in the same building—as far as we know—was in a federal courthouse in downtown Manhattan in August 2015, each seated and silent, flanked by attorneys.
Before that, the last publicly known meeting of Goodell and Brady was two months prior at NFL headquarters, for a 10-hour appeal hearing for Brady’s four-game suspension, which was upheld. From there, the NFLPA took it to court.
What ensued was a dragged-out saga over labor law, not the ideal gas law. It caused Boston sports fans to fiercely rally against perceived persecution and to grow even more monolithic in character. And as unlikeable as Deflategate made everyone involved, it’s over now, and the winners are clear.
No one except Brady and his gang of locker-room attendants know if Brady was intentionally tampering with footballs to his advantage. It was easy for everyone outside of New England to side with the NFL out of the gate—many people cherished the vilification of the NFL’s golden boy. He’d destroyed his cell phone, while the Patriots had brushed away Jim McNally’s “deflator” text message by saying he wanted to lose weight. Everyone was sick of the Patriots winning, fatigued by Spygate, and annoyed with watching their team lose to the same masterminds year in and year out.
But eventually, the pendulum began to swing for Brady. Goodell may or may not have overreached the power allowed to him by the collective bargaining agreement, but the issue was tired, and we were tired of it.
It was Brady and the NFLPA who took it to the courts, and doing so, other players became frustrated with the NFLPA. They asked their union why they were going so hard for Brady when the baseline evidence made him look like a cheater. But that’s the job of a union, to fight for its members until it has no avenues left to appeal. The NFLPA would fight for you just the same, the union explained to its members, though by that time everyone was sick of hearing about Tom Brady’s balls.
It’d be inaccurate to say Deflategate could happen to your team. Don Van Natta Jr. and Seth Wickersham delivered a deeply reported story that asserts that Deflategate was the NFL’s overcorrection for its limp Spygate sanctions, and the result of pressure from other owners to see the Patriots finally punished for a long track record of skirting the rules. That felt plausible, given Goodell’s own track record of playing fast and loose with player issues. He has fucked up seemingly straightforward issues in the past, and while Deflategate was less clear, the context of his prior fuck-ups gave Boston sports fans’ bloodthirst a little bit of legitimacy.
The Patriots came out strong in 2016, winning three of the four games of Brady’s suspension with Jimmy Garoppolo and Jacoby Brissett under center. But upon his return, Brady was unstoppable. He played with a vengeance and we all could see where this was headed. Wouldn’t it be absurd, and inevitable, if after all of this, more than two years after the original allegations, Goodell would have to hand Brady his fifth goddamn Super Bowl trophy, and then a fourth MVP trophy to boot?
The truth is that Brady doesn’t need deflated footballs. His personality on the field—temper tantrums and whatnot—make him an unsympathetic superstar, but to watch him play is a joy and a privilege. We are all witness to the greatest, and now most decorated quarterback in NFL history, and we are lucky for it.
Last night when the Lombardi Trophy was handed to Roger Goodell to present to the Patriots after the wildest Super Bowl comeback in history, it was impossible to not enjoy watching Goodell eat crow. He’d avoided Foxboro all season, even going to Atlanta twice during the playoffs. He looked like a fantastic weenie, but after the Super Bowl there was no more hiding.