HOUSTON — Commissioner Roger Goodell insisted Wednesday he doesn’t feel uncomfortable about any lingering drama from the Deflategate controversy that rocked the NFL for much of the last two years, even though Tom Brady and the Patriots are in the Super Bowl. Goodell suspended Brady four games, which he sat out this season, for his alleged role in the use of purposely deflated footballs in the AFC Championship Game in January 2015.
“I would tell you that it’s not awkward at all,” Goodell said at his annual state of the NFL news conference during Super Bowl week. “We have a job to do. We did our job. There was a violation. We came to a conclusion that was supported by the facts and by the courts. So, from our standpoint, we understand what fans, who are loyal and passionate for a team, object to and don’t like the outcome. I totally understand that. That’s not an issue for me.”
Goodell has not been back to Gillette Stadium since the game in which Brady and two Patriots equipment staffers were accused of being involved in a plan to purposely deflate the footballs before game. Goodell said he would welcome the opportunity to see a game there again soon.
“If I’m invited back to Foxborough,” he said, “I’ll come.”
Patriots owner Robert Kraft left immediately after the news conference and was unavailable for comment. Boston Globe reporter Ben Volin tweeted that he had reached Kraft by telephone, and that he said he might extend an invitation if the Patriots beat the Falcons in Super Bowl LI.
“I’ve talked to a lot of fans who would love to welcome Roger back to Gillette Stadium,” Kraft said, according to Volin. “If we are fortunate enough to win on Sunday, the kickoff of the NFL season would present the perfect opportunity.”
The Super Bowl winner always opens the following season in a nationally televised Thursday night game.
Goodell said he held no animosity toward Kraft or Brady.
“I’m not afraid of disagreement, and I don’t think disagreement leads to distrust or hatred,” Goodell said. “It’s a disagreement. You take your disagreements, you find a common place and you move forward. That’s what it is. It’s not all personal (in) nature, which I know people like to make it. For us, it’s about making sure we do what’s right for the league long-term.”
Brady had no comment about Goodell’s remarks. When a reporter asked Brady late Wednesday afternoon whether he thought the commissioner had a difficult job, Brady declined to address the question directly.
“I’m focused on this game and the importance to our team,” he said. “We’ve worked really hard to get to this point, and the attention should be on this game. It’s been a fun week to prepare for a great opponent. It’s going to be a great game.”
Brady’s teammates continually have defended him, and Wednesday was no different. “I could care less,” safety Patrick Chung said when asked about the team’s feelings toward Goodell. “He doesn’t play football. We play football for the Patriots. He’s not a part of our organization.”
Brady sued the NFL after Goodell suspended him for four games in May 2015, and the quarterback had the sanction overturned by a district court judge and played the entire 2015 season. The NFL appealed that ruling, however, and the suspension was reinstated by the Second Circuit Court of Appeals. Brady announced last July that he would not try to take the case to the U.S. Supreme Court.