On Feb. 5, the New England Patriots earned their fifth Super Bowl title in franchise history by narrowly defeating the Atlanta Falcons by a score of 34-28 in what could be known as the greatest comeback and Super Bowl of all time. However, their road to this year’s Super Bowl was wrought with adversity.
Just before the start of training camp, Patriots quarterback Tom Brady had given up his fight against National Football League (NFL) Commissioner Roger Goodell in the infamous “Deflategate” incident. The NFL’s investigation into Deflategate found that it was “more probable than not” that Brady was aware of deflation of game balls.
Because Brady accepted the penalty, he was not able to practice with the team for the first four weeks of the regular season. The Patriots fared well without Touchdown Tommy and posted a 3-1 record with backup quarterbacks Jimmy Garoppolo and Jacoby Brissett under center; the Patriots and their fanbase were visibly upset that their quarterback had been the victim of a witch hunt.
Pete Jensen, Brady’s baseball coach at Serra High School in San Mateo, CA, felt that the NFL wanted to take a shot at the Patriots because it was fed up with their success.
“I think the whole thing is the NFL’s move to get even with the Patriots,” Jensen said. “I don’t think it had anything to do with Tom. I think it was a move by Goodell and the NFL organization to say ‘we’re going to get even with the Patriots for [their four titles in the past fourteen seasons].’”
Goodell’s punishment for Brady was changed from being tied to deflating footballs to him not providing his cell phone. The NFL told him at the beginning of the investigation that he would not be required to show.
Brady’s father, Tom Brady Sr., felt that the league had been relentless to punish Brady because it did not have evidence of Brady’s wrongdoing and had to lie to get out of the matter it had brought up.
“For what the league did to [Tom Brady] — what Roger Goodell constantly lied about — is beyond reprehensible, as far as I’m concerned,” Brady Sr. said.
Brady’s father is referring to many occasions during the Deflategate investigations and following court hearings where Goodell and his team had claimed that Brady had been tied to the Deflategate scandal but could not prove it, so they changed their case to a technicality where the commissioner can make whatever decision he feels is appropriate.
Jensen believes that Goodell felt that Brady was vulnerable, and that Deflategate was the perfect time to demonstrate his power.
“Tommy was the easy scapegoat,” Jensen said. “Best player [on the team]. Best player in the game, maybe. So, he was kind of an easy target. I think there’s a huge underlying thing that doesn’t have anything to do with him.”
Goodell’s punishment of a four game suspension issued to Brady, a $1 million fine to the New England Patriots, a loss of a first round pick in the 2016 NFL Draft and a fourth round pick in the 2017 NFL Draft was unprecedented by any commissioner in NFL history.
It seems to be that Goodell constantly tries to inhibit successful teams. Take, for example, the New Orleans Saints. In the 2009 season, the Saints won the Super Bowl over the Indianapolis Colts. For the next few seasons, the Saints continued their success and made it to the playoffs after posting potent records.
As a result, the NFL tried as hard as they could to stop the Saints from continuing to dominate the league. Towards the end of the 2011 NFL season, the Saints were riding high into the playoffs, and after being tipped off by a player who requested to be unnamed, the NFL initiated an investigation on “Bountygate,” which alleged that the New Orleans Saints had paid players to intentionally harm opposing players.
The conclusion of Bountygate suggested that there was, indeed, a bounty system in New Orleans through evidence of audio tapes and a fund within the Saints’ organization that raised $50,000. Consequently, the Saints were penalized with, at the time, the highest fine in NFL history.
According to Sean Wagner-McGough of CBS Sports, “[Head coach Sean Payton] was forced to sit out a season of coaching, general manager Mickey Loomis missed eight games, assistant coaches were suspended, the team was fined $500,000 and it also lost a second-round draft pick.” Additionally, four Saints players were affected by Goodell’s draconian ruling: Jonathan Vilma was out for the entire season, Anthony Hargrove was suspended for eight games, Will Smith for four games and Scott Fujita for three games.
Due to the suspensions of players and coaches and losses of draft picks, the Saints ultimately had lost out on a ticket to the playoffs, and ended the season with a dismal 7-9 record. Yet Goodell is significantly quieter when weaker teams break the rules.
In the 2016 season, New York Giants head coach Ben McAdoo had used walkie-talkies to communicate to his players and assistants during a game against the Dallas Cowboys. The NFL’s rules do not allow the use of two-way headsets, so the walkie-talkie the Giants were using was, in fact, illegal. Because of the penalty, the Giants were fined $200,000, and its fourth round draft pick was lowered to the end of the round.
Mike Florio of NBC Sports said “The [Giants] will pay a $150,000 fine, McAdoo will pay a $50,000 fine, and the team’s fourth-round pick will move to the bottom of the round, after all compensatory picks have been made. There’s one caveat: The selection will drop by no more than 12 picks.”
Unlike Bountygate or Deflategate, where the evidence suggested the teams had broken rules, the Giants had clearly broken the NFL’s rules — McAdoo was caught using a walkie-talkie — and their punishment was simply a slap on the wrist because no players or coaches were forced to take a leave of absence.
The Giants, a team that had not made the playoffs for three seasons, broke a rule which the NFL had evidence of, and “Roger the Dodger” simply decided to fine them with no effect that was potentially disastrous to their season.
On the contrary, he made the New England Patriots and New Orleans Saints the victim of serious punishments that he likes to use on powerful teams and affected their seasons in major ways. Team chemistry was distracted — allegations affected the way the team had to prepare for the upcoming season.
In the words of New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, “Envy and jealousy are incurable diseases.”