Tom Brady walked onto the stage with his Patriots teammates through an explosion of smoke and into a spotlight Monday night at Minute Maid Park. Highlights played above him on the giant video screen, and fans who plunked down at least $20 to see him return to his Super Bowl throne listened intently as he was interviewed by the media.
Even upon the Patriots' arrival, this already was shaping into one of the most venomous rivalries in the NFL. Historic. Vengeful. It's Brady (TB12, Tom Terrific) and Bill Belichick with a chance for redemption.
Not against the Falcons.
The real opponent for Brady, Belichick and the Patriots in Super Bowl LI is NFL commissioner Roger Goodell.
If they win Sunday, Goodell will have to present Patriots owner Robert Kraft, Brady and Belichick with their fifth Lombardi Trophy, the ultimate rub considering the commish suspended the Pats quarterback the first four games for his role in Deflategate.
If that ceremony isn't frosty enough, Goodell gets to do it again the next morning if Brady wins his fourth Super Bowl MVP.
"You know, I've moved on," Brady said Monday. "I said earlier last week I focus on the positive things in my life, and I've made a concerted effort to be focused on my goals, which are ahead of me. Good, bad, indifferent, neutral — none of those things help as far as going forward."
Still, if Brady wins Sunday, the moment will be full of intrigue and ice not breaking. This is Tonya Harding presenting a rose bouquet to Nancy Kerrigan. You know, how's the knee? For the record, Goodell hasn't been anywhere near Foxboro in two years when the whole mess began over some footballs that were discovered not to have the legal air pressure at halftime of the Patriots' 45-7 win over Indianapolis Colts in the AFC Championship Game played in 2015.
The thermostat was lowered Friday when Tom Brady Sr. spoke to San Francisco television station KRON. When Deflategate came up, the Senior Brady went low.
"For what the league did to (Tom) and what Roger Goodell constantly lied about is beyond reprehensible as far as I'm concerned," Tom Sr. said. Goodell "went on a witch hunt and went in way over his head and had to lie his way out in numerous ways, and the reality is that Tommy never got suspended for deflating footballs. He got suspended because the court said that he could, Roger Goodell could do anything he wanted to do to any player for any reason whatsoever. That's what happened. The NFL admitted they had no evidence on him."
Brady responded on his weekly radio appearance in Boston by chuckling that his dad was banned from talking to the media this week.
Couple things here. Whether you believe in the ideal gas law, where Dr. Belichick claimed plummeting temperatures that day would've accounted for the 1.5 pounds of air pressure that leaked out of those footballs, Brady's dad is wrong. The NFL had some evidence that Brady was obsessive in texts to Patriots equipment guys about footballs having the right air pressure.
No need to re-try the entire case here, but the suspension of Brady was really about him not cooperating with the NFL in its investigation and possibly tampering with evidence when he destroyed his personal cell phone the day he was to be interviewed by Ted Wells' investigative team. Brady testified he was following his ordinary practice in destroying an old cell phone to protect his personal privacy. Tiger Woods wished he had done that.
A lower court federal judge overturned the suspension until Goodell and the NFL prevailed with the Second U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York, which ruled the commissioner was within his collectively bargained rights to suspend Brady.
There also was a sense that the 31 other owners wanted Goodell to go hard on the Patriots after they were fined $250,000 and docked a first-round selection in the 2008 NFL draft for videotaping Jets defensive hand signals.
The fact is Brady would've beaten the Colts that day two years ago if he threw kittens instead of footballs. But he finally took his medicine, went 13-1 since his return and is a three-point favorite to beat the Falcons and win a record fifth Super Bowl ring.
It's a shame. This will never be expunged from Brady's career notes. Goodell may be remembered for suspending the winningest QB of all time for what should've been a traffic ticket.
This has happened before, the awkward Lombardi Trophy presentation, in Super Bowl XV in January 1981. Raiders owner Al Davis was suing the NFL and commissioner Pete Rozelle for blocking his move from Oakland to Los Angeles, which he announced without seeking approval from his fellow owners.
The Raiders beat the Eagles, and the suspicion is Rozelle kept both hands on the trophy so he wouldn't have to shake with Davis, who was cordial. So if Brady wins Sunday, maybe he will take a page from Davis' playbook. Just grin, baby.