This is my Saturday column.
Deflategate might be Roger Goodell’s Waterloo. He doesn’t know it yet. Napoleon probably didn’t know it, either.
Napoleon probably thought France would crush the Duke of Wellington and the armies of the Seventh Coalition. And Goodell probably thinks he can take down the NFL’s most powerful franchise — the Patriots — and biggest star — Tom Brady.
You can understand Goodell’s urge to fight this battle. We know the arrogance of the Patriots makes him look bad. Deflategate wasn’t the first time they broke rules and then danced on them under Goodell’s watch.
And we know Goodell is buddy-buddy with Patriots’ owner Robert Kraft. If Goodell didn’t come down hard on the Patriots for deflating footballs, the public might think he let his pal’s team slide. And how would that look?
What’s more, Brady didn’t cooperate with the investigation. Did not turnover e-mails and text messages. Made Goodell look like a sap.
So, Goodell nailed Brady with a four-game suspension — 25 percent of the season — fined the Patriots $1 million and took away two of their future draft picks.
That’s Goodell’s style of discipline. He tries to smack down people publicly, tries to embarrass them, and hopes the humiliation will deter future wrongdoings.
He’s like a father who whacks his kid in the supermarket. He wants everyone to see it, wants to show people he’s in control. But really he’s showing he lost it.
Look at Goodell’s actions from the perspective of NFL owners. They pay him to protect the league’s image and enrich their franchises. His heavy-handed approach to punishment does neither. His approach is all about his image.
But Deflategate has hurt the league’s image. It dominates the national conversation about the NFL. People are talking about Brady and his suspension more than the upcoming season, just like last season when Goodell’s mishandling of Ray Rice’s suspension dominated the discussion for weeks.
Goodell is supposed to protect the league from scandal. He could have sent NFL executive vice president of football operations Troy Vincent to Foxboro days before the AFC championship game against the Colts and told the Patriots to knock it off.
Remember, Vincent believes the Patriots were deflating footballs even before that game. “While we cannot be certain when the activity began,” Vincent wrote in an official statement, “the evidence suggests that January 18th was not the first and only occasion this occurred, particularly in light of the evidence referring to deflation of footballs going back to before the beginning of the 2014 season.”
The NFL had all season to privately handle this matter. But private punishment wasn’t good enough for Goodell. He needed to catch the Patriots in the act of deflating footballs, needed a spectacle, a full-on sting operation.
And this is what he got. Here’s the fallout of Goodell’s decision.
The first game of the 2015 season is a Thursday night game between the Patriots and Steelers. A large portion of the country will watch that game, and most of the casual viewing audience will ask the same two questions: Who is that Jimmy Garoppolo guy playing quarterback for the Patriots, and what happened to Tom Brady?
The announcers will explain the suspension and analyze the fairness of it and discuss the entire Deflategate controversy from beginning to end. Once again, a scandal will overshadow the game.
Imagine what might happen if the Patriots lose the first four games of the season while Brady serves his suspension. Imagine if they miss the playoffs. The 2015 season would have a permanent asterisk. It would be the Deflategate Season, courtesy of Roger Goodell.
Goodell would have fixed the season, would have prevented the Super Bowl champions from defending their title. Whichever team wins the Super Bowl, people will question if they really deserved it. If they were better than Brady and the Patriots. Goodell will have devalued his league’s ultimate prize.
On top of that, he might cost the league money. Brady is appealing Goodell’s punishment and, if Goodell doesn’t reduce the suspension or Brady isn’t satisfied with Goodell’s reduction, Brady will take the matter to federal court.
Imagine if this gets past the purview of the NFL. What will a federal judge think when Brady’s attorney holds up a poster in the courtroom which reads, “Ray Rice, domestic abuse: Two-game suspension. Tom Brady, deflating footballs: Four-game suspension.”?
What will a federal judge say when he realizes the NFL has no direct evidence that proves Brady knew equipment managers were deflating the Patriots’ footballs?
The judge might conclude Goodell acted unfairly. The judge might think Goodell has an arbitrary, biased judgment. And the judge might rule in favor of Brady.
If Goodell loses, the rest of the league will have to pay Brady’s lawyer fees, which could add up to millions.
In which case, the NFL probably will hire a new commissioner and exile Goodell to St. Helena.
Grant Cohn writes sports columns and the “Inside the 49ers” blog for The Press Democrat’s website. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.