From the first pages of the Wells Report, it's clear that Tom Brady was in the NFL's crosshairs. It took a logical stretch, but Mr. Wells was sure to hang that "more probably than not... generally aware" label on old number twelve, opening the door for Troy Vincent and Roger Goodell to slap him across the teeth with a good, hard punishment.
The suspension itself proves that Brady must be guilty, some people say. Why would Roger Goodell go after Tom Brady, maybe the most recognizable face in the NFL, a man who has done nothing but promote good sportsmanship and class for the past decade and a half? Why would he punish him so severely, unless he had no choice?
The answer is deceptively simple, and you're on the right track with the "no choice" bit.
The outcome of this case was determined at 1:15am on the morning of January 19, 2015, just a few hours after the AFC championship game ended, and it was no more in doubt than the 45-7 final score. The Patriots were being investigated for tampering with their footballs, Bob Kravitz wrote, and just like that, an entire nation made up its mind. The Patriots were cheating. Again.
It's pretty funny how we Pats fans talk about "evidence" and "due process", as if this were America or something. Most of us fail to realize the condition the rest of the football world is in when it comes to our Patriots.
Here in New England, the Patriots deserve to be innocent until proven guilty. They deserve to have a neutral party carefully study the facts and draw reasoned conclusions.
Here in New England.
In anyplace but New England, it's no longer the United States. It's not even the Wild West. In the Wild West, at least you could carry a gun, and if you went down in a hail of bullets, you could take a few of the bad guys with you. We're way past that.
Non-New England football fans live in an alternate universe. Patriot haters have undergone more systematic abuse than Buffalo Bill from Silence of the Lambs. Brady has a winning record against every single team in the NFL. He collects AFC East titles the way the rest of us collect 5-cent deposit cans. He seems to be in the Super Bowl every couple of years, and has already tied Joe Montana for the most championships by a QB, ever. And, most horrifyingly of all, he seems not to have gotten the memo that he's supposed to be in wind-down mode.
In short, Tom Brady simply refuses to stop winning.
There's no weakness, no chink in the armor, nothing for a spiteful adversary to sink his teeth into. He's got the chiseled features of a Hollywood actor, and his wife, the woman he falls asleep next to every night, has appeared about 10,000 times in the Victoria's Secret catalogs that every high school boy hides under his mattress.
So no, when it comes to Tom Brady, there will be no due process. There will be no reasoned conclusions. There will be no logic. Now that they finally smell blood, there will only be Hell to pay.
The facts are irrelevant. The evidence was gathered in 2001, 2003, 2004 and 2014. The irrefutable proof lies in Brady's four "rings", which look more like WWE championship belts. Unless you're a Patriots fan, January 19th felt like Christmas morning to you--and when you rip that package open, you're not going to settle for an argyle sweater from grandma.
This presents a problem for our pal Roger, who's got all the swagger of a substitute teacher. He couldn't persuade you to jump in a pool if your socks were on fire. He's not an innovative thinker or an engaging speaker. About all he can do is find out which way the wind is blowing and point his sails accordingly.
After the January 19 story, Goodell had to find the Patriots guilty. If he looked into it for three days or a week, then said,"Everything's fine--nothing to see here!" there would've been a tsunami of criticism:
"Goodell went easy on Ray Rice--now he's doing it again with the Patriots. He's gone soft on us!"
"Roger's burying another scandal for his BFF, Bob Kraft!"
...and so on.
He had to put the wood to the Patriots to satisfy the masses, and once he committed to that, he had to do the same to Tom Brady. How would it sound if he said, "Well, the Patriots were tampering, but Brady, the guy who handled the footballs on every play, knew nothing about it"? Again, the angry mob would never go for it.
Goodell's smear campaign against Brady was really just typical NFL media relations at work: Nothing is more important than getting the first headline. Striking first in the media allows you to set the narrative, to control the storyline. Maybe he didn't intend to harm Brady, but that was most definitely the result.