Superbowl mustn’t become bitter-sweet for Patriots

New England Patriots at Washington Redskins 08/28/09
Tom Brady (pic courtesy of Keith Allison)

I know only the bare facts of ‘Deflategate, and the sense of enduring injustice it has instilled in the New England Patriots and their nailed-on Hall of Fame Quarterback, Tom Brady.

On the other hand, I know only too well how quickly the moral high ground  can be abandoned, once people start acting like they own it, and I spy a potential eviction this evening, should a Patriots win in Superbowl LI open the floodgates on the grievance that has driven their season.

Has there ever been a Superbowl like this among the previous 50, I wonder, where the contest’s most talked about  head-to-head involves one man who won’t even be suiting up, never mind playing a down?

The sight of NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell – who banned Brady for the first four games of this season, for his alleged complicity in the affair – handing the championship trophy to the Patriots’ owners, while Brady and coach Bill Belichick smile the smiles of avenged men in the background, has acquired the status of the Promised Land in the eyes of many Patriots’ fans.

If Goodell thought he would effectively torpedo New England’s season with that ban, goes the Patriots’ narrative, he will, at that moment, be forced to concede a humiliating defeat.

It’s a line I can understand but at the same time, I don’t get it. Assuming Goodell has merely followed due process in both investigating and passing sentence for the doctored footballs (although I suspect books could be written on that aspect alone) the fate of a team and its quarterback who have done their time shouldn’t bother him in the slightest. He’s there merely to apply the rules: what happens after that is down to the game itself.

No, others can worry for Goodell. It’s the Patriots I’m worried about. You only have to see how NFL players succumb to near-religious ecstasy after a mere sack or interception, to fear for how some Patriots might react if tonight’s game does indeed settle a festering score in a manner straight out of Hollywood.

In the heat of such a moment could lie the acid test of whether Brady and Belichick possess Hall of Fame character to go with their Hall of Fame numbers. There are too many nose-holding moments in professional sport. Another one this evening would be tinged with genuine sadness.

Just to be on the safe side, go Falcons.