Can Tom Brady and Roger Goodell mend "deflategate" rift?

New England Patriots’ season will reach its final stop in Houston on Sunday for their Super Bowl 51 matchup against the Atlanta Falcons. The big game also brings together two of the biggest names in the NFL who have largely avoided each other following one of the most unusual controversies in league history: Patriots quarterback Tom Brady and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.

At last week’s AFC Championship game, the season for Brady looked a lot different than how it started. Brady served a four-game suspension to start the football year, the end of a tortured sports saga known as “deflategate,” in which the Patriots were accused of tampering with footballs. Brady always maintained his innocence, both in courts, and ads.
 
“Just because something is great year after year doesn’t mean anything is going on,” Brady said in a Foot Locker ad that aired last November.

After the Patriots beat the Steelers to advance to the Super Bowl, Brady denied being driven by revenge.
 
“Extra motivation for you this year to go to the Super Bowl again and to win it?” Jim Nantz asked him after they won the AFC Championship.

“Nah, this is my motivation right here, all these fellas right here in front of me,” Brady said. “That’s why we’re here.”

Notably not there? NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.
 
“Where is Roger?! Where is Roger?!” fans chanted inside the Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Massachusetts.
 
He remains slightly unpopular in New England.


 
Brady’s father, Tom Brady Sr., echoed those sentiments to San Francisco TV station KRON this weekend.

“What Roger Goodell constantly lied about is beyond reprehensible,” Brady Sr. said.
 
Goodell defended Brady’s punishment on “CBS This Morning” in April.

“There was an independent investigation on this. And an independent report that was presented to me. And that’s what we based the judgement off of,” Goodell said.

Goodell said he would not be uncomfortable handing Brady a trophy this weekend.
 
“Tom Brady is one of the all-time greats. He’s an extraordinary player, great performer, and a surefire hall-of-famer. So it would be an honor,” Goodell said last week on “The Herd with Colin Cowherd.”
 
“This is going to be a big bowl of awkward anyway you look at it if the Patriots win,” Boston Globe
 sports columnist Dan Shaughnessy said.

“Winning the Super Bowl would obviously demonstrate to the nation that, one, he doesn’t need to cheat to win, which he doesn’t, and, two, they tried to really hurt the Patriots with these penalties, and if they win the Super Bowl, how much did you hurt them?” Shaughnessy  said. “So that would be some sweet satisfaction I think for the ownership, the coach, the quarterback and especially for the fans of New England.”

As this storyline plays out, no one is ignoring Falcons’ quarterback Matt Ryan. Characterized as low-key and under the radar, Ryan is likely the NFL’s MVP this year and perhaps the Falcons’ best chance to beat the Patriots.