Outside of Boston, the whole “Deflategate” thing has long been a snoozer, a non-starter, a topic beaten into the ground so much that even “concussions” were jealous.
But one thing that became clear throughout Super Bowl week was that the New England Patriots and their fans have not forgotten. Not after their star quarterback, Tom Brady, was forced to sit out the first four games of 2016 as punishment, despite an absence of concrete proof.
That was obvious on Wednesday, when commissioner Roger Goodell fielded three contentious questions from Boston media over the topic during his annual pre-Super Bowl presser.
It was also obvious after the Patriots’ 34-28 win over Atlanta on Sunday, which doubles as the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history.
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That’s when Goodell was forced to plaster a smile on his face and hand the trophy to Patriots owner Robert Kraft, who — with blue and red confetti raining down — proceeded to shake Goodell’s hand, smile broadly and perform The Rich NFL Owner’s Rendition of Deion Sanders’ end zone strut, or Ken Griffey Jr.’s swagged-out home-run follow-through.
“Two years ago, we won our fourth Super Bowl down in Arizona, and I told our fans that was the sweetest one of all,” Kraft began. “But a lot has transpired during the last two years.”
That inspired a huge cheer from the Patriots fans in attendance, and Kraft — a master of the moment by now, having won five Super Bowls as the Pats’ owner — paused for a second to let those words sink in before continuing.
“And I don’t think that needs any explanation.”
“But I want to say to our fans, our brilliant coaching staff, our amazing players who were so spectacular, this is unequivocally the sweetest.”
With that, Kraft passed the trophy off to coach Bill Belichick, who didn’t feel the need to dive into the muck. Same goes for Brady, as both men parried questions that could have led to stick-it-Goodell-type answers with time-worn “football talk” cliches.
But even Brady, Mr. Perfect, managed to get his jab in, via a timely, pretaped commercial for Shields Health Care that ran after the game.
In it, Brady removes four Super Bowl rings and hands them to an attendant, who places them in a safe. Then, when asked if he has any more jewelry, Brady adds another one to the mix, commenting that “it’s kind of new.”
The attendant proceeds to tell him he’ll need a bigger locker, and Brady smiles and delivers the knockout blow:
“Roger that,” he says.
It was a poignant and amusing commercial, one that few football fans outside of New England — many of whom have long grown weary of the Patriots’ dominance, and sufficiently jealous of the city’s 10 titles since 2000 — care about.
But then again, nothing about their constant refusal to let “Deflategate’ die was about people outside of their city.
And on Sunday, what millions witnessed was a victory that satiated both the need for validation and revenge for the Patriots, one that long-suffering fans in other cities — including Kansas City, whose Chiefs were docked some draft picks for tampering a year ago (which prompted a strong-worded rebuttal from clearly-annoyed chairman Clark Hunt after a failed appeal) — can only hope to replicate one day.