The New England Patriots kickoff the NFL season with a Thursday night game against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Gillette Stadium on September 10. Tom Brady won’t be there. Will Roger Goodell?
I posed the question on Monday to the folks at the NFL. They appear about as eager to answer me as Tom Brady was to answer Ted Wells. My inbox awaits a response. I sense I’ll get it sometime after the league gets Tom Brady’s iPhone to snoop through.
Roger Goodell, as far as I can tell, has ventured to just about every opening game since he became commissioner at the start of the 2006 season.
Last season, Goodell traveled to Renton, Washington, a day before the season opener at CenturyLink Field to unveil an NFL Play 60 program to promote flag football for kids. “About a half hour before the scheduled kickoff of the NFL’s season-opening game, a black luxury SUV rolled into the bowels of Sports Authority Field at Mile High,” the Denver Post informed two years ago. Out walked Roger Goodell. The commissioner postured more as a man of the people prior to the 2011 season opener at Lambeau Field. “Shoveling dirt and carting cement in a wheelbarrow,” the Times-Picayune reported, “Goodell didn’t break a sweat as he helped dozens of volunteers build a playground and greenhouse at a Green Bay elementary school.”
What penitential, er, charitable act might Roger Goodell embark upon during his visit to New England? He is coming, isn’t he?
Maybe he pulls a Tom Brady and cites “family obligations” as an excuse. It’s not like Gillette Stadium ranks with the White House in prestige, so the explanation might fly this time around.
He might get creative, as he did at the NFL Draft. Rather than appear in a disastrous photo-op with Jameis Winston, the first pick now fighting a rape accusation in civil court, the commissioner, bruised and bloodied after the Ray Rice-suspension disaster, Jedi Mind-tricked 2013’s Heisman Trophy-winner to stay home. Winston became the first top pick to do that since Dan Wilkerson more than two decades ago.
Perhaps borrowing from Major League Baseball by making the audience stay home would work. He has the power, like Rob Manfred and David Copperfield and Tony Soprano, to make people disappear. Michael Jackson sent a hologram in his stead, and Elvis sent his coat, when they couldn’t make the show any longer. That could work.
Or, the commissioner could masterfully reorient his public-relations woes by manning up and grabbing some open-air seats in Section 317. Tom Brady, akin, some might say, to his role in Deflategate, wouldn’t even have to issue the order. “Yeah, start drinking early,” Brady advised the Foxboro Faithful before the home opener four years ago. “Get nice and rowdy—4:15 game, lot of time to get lubed up. Come out here, and cheer for the home team.” This Thomas a Becket-Henry II moment, with edibles becoming projectiles and Roger Stokoe Goodell hearing words not heretofore entering the ears of the son of the U.S. senator, surely transforms the bully into a victim very quickly. He would gain sympathy, albeit at the cost of gaining a quarter keg of stadium beer soaked into his clothes and several creative, new nicknames.
Remember: Goodell braved the elements, at least long enough to get that live shot and the accompanying forced informercial from Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth, at Gillette Stadium before. After a season of abuse, the commissioner showed up to the Patriots-Ravens playoff game in Foxboro in January wearing, in such characteristic, middle-of-the-road, please-everybody-like-me fashion, a Baltimore-Boston ambiguous “B” on his cap. Why not again sit among the Patriot Nation plebes when September comes?
The commissioner spent four months and $4 million figuring out whether or not Tom Brady conspired to deflate footballs. He has four months to figure out whether he makes the short trek from 345 Park Ave. to 1 Patriot Place.
Tom Brady could lend him that helicopter or Rob Gronkowski could permit him to hitch a ride with Goon on the party bus he bought from a church. The commissioner could drink Peach Schnaps with several blue-collar, pot-bellied Pats fans next to a burn barrel in any number of lots along Route 1. Robert Kraft could even promise to save him his old seat among the peeps.
One surmises the odds of this visit appear more not than probable.