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Massarotti: Patriots, Goodell In High-Stakes Game Of Chicken

BOSTON (CBS) -- And so on and on it goes, this back-and-forth between the NFL and Tom Brady, between Roger Goodell and Bob Kraft, that is, at once, fascinating, frustrating, smart, stupid, moral, political and, dare we say, eternal.

Tell you what: on the public side of this, let's agree to disagree. You think Brady and the Patriots are innocent. I don't. Most of us agree that the punishments, particularly as they pertain to Brady, are excessive. We aren't going to change our minds at this stage. Unless there is some new or undisclosed piece of evidence that alters the landscape and tilts the scale we're all going to believe what we want to believe.

But Brady, the Patriots and the NFL don't have that luxury in a power struggle that has grown so territorial and downright foolish that is now feels as if the entire hierarchy of the NFL rests on it.

Every time the Pats take a little air of the football, the NFL puts it back in. Or vice-versa. It all feels like a marriage that has been deteriorating for years, ultimately buckling over something as trivial as laundry soap.

Does anyone really believe this about the PSI of footballs, anymore?

Give us your phone. Get a subpoena.

Admit your guilt. I want an attorney.

Here is your penalty. I'm going to appeal.

Hello, Jeffrey Kessler. Shake hands with Roger Goodell.

And on and on it goes.

That last exchange, of course, all took place in the last couple of days, during which Brady summoned antitrust mercenary Kessler before, last night, commissioner Goodell appointed himself – as allowed under the NFL collective bargaining agreement – as the decisive body in Brady's appeal of a his four-game suspension. Think about that. Brady has a high-powered lawyer now. So the NFL claimed the judge.

As such, Brady's role in this is rapidly decreasing in significance, arguably the greatest quarterback of all-time now devolving into nothing more than a pawn. Of course, maybe Brady was a pawn from the start. The relationship between Kraft's Patriots and Goodell's NFL has been under great scrutiny for months now – if not longer – and at question is the throne that presides over the multibillion-dollar empire that is the NFL.

So what do you think?

Is this Goodell's league?

Or is it Kraft's?

If that sounds like a dramatization, it really isn't. Boys will be boys, after all, and we know that most all disputes between men are rooted in one thing: power. (Often this comes in the form of women; often it comes in the form of money.) The simplest truth is that the NFL believes the Patriots act as if the rules do not apply to them, act bigger than the league in which they reside, choosing which rules to stretch and which rules to honor, defying both the spirit of fairness and good faith.

Again, let's look at the simplest case, as detailed in the both The Wells Report and The Wells Report in Context, the latter the online rebuttal to which the Patriots tweeted a link yesterday. (No formal release. Just a tweet. Does anyone else find that odd?) Wells asked for a second interview with Jim McNally. The Patriots, citing terms of the investigation agreement, refused. New England stuck to the letter of the law, showing no willingness to cooperate in the interest of a resolution, whether favorable to them or not.

So what is the league doing now? Sticking to the letter of the law, at least as it pertains to Brady. The NFL Players Association yesterday asked for an independent arbiter to rule Brady's appeal. It would clearly be the fairest way to hear the case. But Goodell, citing terms of the contract that is the collective bargaining agreement, has decided to stick to the letter of the law. No willingness to cooperate.

Put that in your pipe and smoke it.

And on it goes.

Where does it end? Excellent question. One cannot help but think that both Brady and the Patriots would prefer to avoid court, albeit for different reasons. In the case of Brady, doing so might require greater disclosure as to his involvement, however limited, in any deflation of footballs. In the case of Kraft, he would almost certainly alienate the other 31 owners with whom he comprises the most powerful sports league in the world. And so what we have here is a very high-stakes game of chicken that started over the amount of air in a football, sending millions of us scurrying to opposite sides of the battle line.

You stay on your side, I'll stay on mine.

In the meantime, we can wonder how some very smart people can all look so positively childish and stupid.

Tony Massarotti co-hosts the Felger and Massarotti Show on 98.5 The Sports Hub weekdays from 2-6 p.m. Follow him on Twitter @TonyMassarotti. You can read more from Tony by clicking here.

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