FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Around noon on Sunday, Scott Zolak was sitting at home with his children and decided to make a sign to bring to the AFC championship game. Zolak spent seven seasons during the 1990s as a fan-favorite quarterback for the New England Patriots. He now works on the team’s radio broadcasts while co-hosting a highly rated talk show on 98.5 The Sports Hub in Boston.
Trying to seize the moment, Zolak grabbed an old folder, laid it out flat, wrote three words on it and then had his 12- and 7-year-olds color it in with markers.
“Where is Roger,” the sign read.
<p type="text" content="As the Patriots’
<p type="text" content="“Rog-ah, Rog-ah” the fans began chanting, mocking NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, who has failed to show up in Foxborough for two seasons now, or ever since he oversaw the controversial deflate-gate scandal.” class=”canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm” data-type=”text” data-reactid=”13″>“Rog-ah, Rog-ah” the fans began chanting, mocking NFL commissioner Roger Goodell,
Goodell spent Sunday at the NFC championship game in Atlanta on Sunday, his second consecutive week at a Falcons home game. This occurs much to the bemusement of New England fans who have taken his hideout act as proof of NFL weakness in deflate-gate and the commissioner’s personal distaste for the Patriots and quarterback Tom Brady. Despite a $44 million-per-year salary, Goodell can’t seem to show his face around here.
“For a number of reasons,” Patriots owner Bob Kraft would say later, his message anything but cryptic, “everyone in this stadium understands how big this win was.”
Big in that it sent New England to a record ninth Super Bowl, including seven under the direction of coach Bill Belichick and Brady. Big also, however, in that this is now a show of force from a franchise still bitter over how it was treated during the bizarre and shoddy investigation into the air pressure of footballs in the AFC title game two years ago.
Goodell can’t avoid the Patriots now. The commissioner will be in Houston for the Super Bowl against the Falcons, where a potential delicious/uncomfortable (depending on your perspective) trophy presentation awaits. Brady could even accept the Super Bowl MVP trophy to conclude a season that began with a four-game, Goodell-upheld suspension after an intense federal court battle between player and commissioner.
The Falcons will provide a formidable opponent and be the Patriots’ primary focus. Goodell, however, will loom over everything, much of it his own self-doing.
Here in New England, Goodell and his office are blamed for a rush to judgment on deflate-gate, for conducting a lengthy investigation that was about proving a conclusion, not seeking the truth, for leaking prejudicial and inaccurate information to frame the Pats in the arena of public opinion and even completely misrepresenting Brady’s under oath testimony, essentially punishing him for saying the exact opposite of what he actually said.
Oh, and for not having the courage to show up in Foxborough a single time the past two seasons, thus putting an unnecessary spotlight on the Super Bowl.
“Where is he?” tight end Martellus Bennett said. “He’s like where’s Waldo right now.”
Goodell “could’ve ended it coming for a 1 o’clock game against the Rams or something,” Zolak said. “He decides not to come here. He’s made it an issue, not this team. This team cares about winning games.”
Indeed, you weren’t getting Brady or Belichick or almost anyone else to mention Goodell’s name after Sunday’s victory. The fans repeatedly sang Goodell’s name during the game, but Brady claimed he didn’t hear it. He brushed aside any suggestion about extra motivation and said he simply wants to honor the hard work of teammates, coaches and family. Belichick could barely be troubled to recall that Brady was even suspended this season. Avoiding nonsense is how New England keeps getting here.
The fans will not be as kind. Neither will Zolak, who serves as an unofficial spokesman.
The New England Patriots react to their win against the Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC Championship.
They are tired of being called cheaters, especially in a scandal in which the NFL was never able to prove the footballs were unnaturally deflated, let alone that Brady had anything to do with it. Scientists and professors across the country have been vocal in their belief that no tampering ever occurred and the data, as rough as it is, proves innocence, not guilt. Even if you think New England did it, the conduct of the league office, particularly in false media leaks, is indefensible.
Goodell has never expressed much care about that, instead doubling down on Brady and opposing the QB in repeated federal court battles.
“I think [Brady] was unfairly persecuted,” Zolak said. “I think a lot of people see the unfairness in it. … I have nothing but respect for this quarterback. The way he has handled this, the way he has kept his mouth shut. A lot of people, especially in this league would use the platform for their cause. Brady’s too classy for that.”
As for the sign, well, Zolak felt it needed to be done, but didn’t want it overshadowing the accomplishment of another Super Bowl appearance.
“I’m sure people in [Brady’s] group appreciated it, but it’s not about the sign, it’s about the team,” Zolak continued.
This is why Houston could prove a weeklong nightmare for Goodell. There will be a rehashing of the entire scandal, which the league has no interest in reliving. His failure to come to Gillette, and his own conduct in the case, will be prime topics.
By the weekend, the streets and stands will be full of Patriots fans. Belichick and Brady and Kraft will be waiting on Sunday, eager to win for themselves, of course, but certainly aware that it would occur in front of the commissioner.
“We’ll see if we can write the perfect ending in a couple weeks,” Brady said.
The juggernaut Goodell tried to kill just won’t die. For the commissioner, there is no avoiding that now. Everyone knows where Roger will be on Super Sunday.
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