HOUSTON — New England Patriots fans itching for a fight with Roger Goodell are going to be sorely disappointed.
The NFL commissioner doesn’t see this Super Bowl as divine retribution for what Patriots fans will always believe was his heavy handedness with Deflategate. He doesn’t see it as anything, really, other than another appearance by the Patriots in the NFL’s grand finale. And if anyone in New England is hoping he’s scarfing down Tums at the prospect of handing Patriots owner Robert Kraft the Lombardi Trophy with Tom Brady at his side, sorry.
In the immortal words of Michael Corleone, this wasn’t personal. It was business.
“It’s not awkward at all for me,” Goodell said Wednesday during his annual state of the league news conference. “We do our job. As I said, there was a violation. We applied the process and the discipline and we came to the conclusion that was supported by the facts and the courts.
“From our standpoint, we understand when fans who are loyal and passionate to a team object and don’t like the outcome. I totally understand that. That’s not an issue for me,” he added. “This is just about making sure we take care of business and do it the way that is right and upholds the integrity of our teams and our rules for all 32 teams.”
That cackling you hear is New England fans’ reaction to Goodell’s use of the word integrity. In their minds, he has none and hasn’t since that AFC Championship Game two years ago.
For the fans, it was bad enough that NFL investigators used fuzzy science to determine that the Patriots had deliberately deflated footballs. That Goodell punished Brady for four games — longer than some domestic abusers have gotten, mind you — for reasons that didn’t have anything to do with the initial case, that was simply too much.
But if you know anything about Goodell, it’s this: He doesn’t backtrack and he doesn’t apologize — not publicly, at least. That’s not going to change now, even if the Deflategate drama makes for good theater.
“We have a disagreement about what occurred,” he said. “I’ll be honest with you, I have disagreements with probably all 32 of our teams. I’m not afraid of disagreements and I don’t think disagreement leads to distrust or hatred. It’s just a disagreement.
“It’s not all personal in nature,” he added, “which I know people like to make it.”
How much of that is true is anyone’s guess. Goodell did hold his annual address on Wednesday, two days earlier than normal, ensuring it wouldn’t be as well-attended as in years past. He will participate in a forum with fans Friday, but the Cleveland Browns have better odds of winning the Super Bowl next year than Goodell does of getting anything besides softballs.
The relationship between Goodell and Kraft doesn’t seem to be as warm and fuzzy as it once was, either — and not just because the commissioner has been conspicuously absent from Foxborough the past two seasons.
When he accepted the AFC trophy after the Patriots beat the Pittsburgh Steelers two weeks ago, Kraft appeared to take a dig at Goodell, telling the roaring crowd, “For a number of reasons, all of you in the stadium understand how big this win was.” He’s been restrained this week and made sure he was a visible presence at Goodell’s address — even if he did make a hasty exit at the end to avoid reporters.
But even if Kraft had spouted off the way Brady’s father did last week — “What Roger Goodell constantly lied about is beyond reprehensible,” was among the gems by Tom Brady Sr. — Goodell would likely brush it off. Anyone who has watched him during his 10-plus years as commissioner knows that his main objective — his only objective — is protecting the beloved shield.
If that means coming down hard on one of the league’s premier teams and its poster boy to send a message that no one is above the law, so be it. If that means being the public punching bag so the owners won’t be, that’s fine, too.
The only thing Goodell cares about is the NFL, and he won’t apologize for that.
By Nancy Armour
This article was republished with permission from the original author and 2015 Ronald Reagan Media Award recipient, Nancy Armour, and the original publisher, USA Today. Follow columnist Nancy Armour on Twitter @nrarmour.