The New England Patriots begin their quest for a sixth Super Bowl tonight at home against the Kansas City Chiefs. Their real opponent, though, won’t be on the field but rather perched somewhere high above Bill Belichick’s sideline.
Roger Goodell, NFL commissioner and persona non grata in the Northeast, is the Patriots’ true rival. This is a testament to New England’s greatness and routine invincibility. Pats fans believe the only defense the rest of the league has is Goodell stepping in and harming Bob Kraft’s franchise with capricious punishment.
Spygate and Deflategate have pitted these two foes against each other. Tom Brady is the victim of Deep State-ish, underhanded ploys in the eyes of many Patriots fanatics. The animus on their side is white-hot, persistent, and likely permanent.
It’s grown hotter as the commissioner time and time again passed up trekking to Foxboro. The narrative that he was avoiding the area like the plague grew larger, every week that passed providing further evidence in support. With the day that many thought would never come now here, Patriots fans are aiming to make Goodell’s return to New England as painful as possible.
There will be chants. There will be inflammatory signs. There will be up to 70,000 towels depicting Goodell as a clown, if Barstool has anything to say about. For a franchise so accustomed to playing in Super Bowls, tonight will be different.
Tonight is the Revenge Bowl.
One element of the Patriot Way is to adopt an us-against-the-world mentality. Truly buying into it while crushing the competition required some cognitive gymnastics. But Goodell has perfectly filled a role as big, bad villain. Tonigh’ts about sticking it his eye, spiking the football, and honking that perceived clown nose.
No other adversary engenders as much passion. During the Patriots’ prolonged run of excellent, the main football rival has been the Pittsburgh Steelers. The New York Jets and New York Giants have had their turn holding that spot on occasion. Goodell, meanwhile, has remained a constant source of frustration.
It would be a misuse of power if the commissioner reciprocated the feeling. But not all rivalries are built on mutual or equitable distaste. That Goodell is not anti-Patriot in reality has had no bearing on the fans’ fervor. They see what they want to see.
And tonight, as the NFL season kicks off, they’ll finally get to see the commissioner. He’ll also see them, vitriol and all. Bitterness will be in the air and it will have nothing to do with the visiting team.