Several storylines surround Sunday’s Super Bowl LI between the New England Patriots and the Atlanta Falcons. The Patriots are going for their fifth Lombardi Trophy while an Atlanta victory will give them their first.
After the commercials, the halftime and, of course, the game, even more intrigue possibly awaits viewers still sober enough to care. Just the mere ritual of handing off the trophy could be yet another contest.
If the Falcons prevail, Commissioner Roger Goodell and owner Arthur Blank will have a photo op full of smiles showing natural elation for Blank and relief for Goodell. If it’s the Patriots, owner Robert Kraft will surely exult in taking the trophy from the man who prosecuted the Patriots and quarterback Tom Brady through the Deflategate controversy.
New England fans may want this trophy more than the other four. They believe, as does Kraft, that the team and Brady did nothing wrong and were unfairly punished.
They want to see Goodell squirm as he hands off the expensive hardware before hundreds of millions of viewers around the globe. This presentation is usually between the Commissioner, the owner, and the coach, but no one will be surprised if Kraft brings Brady to the ceremony should New England prevail.
There is precedent. In the 1980s, Raiders’ owner Al Davis and then-Commissioner Pete Rozelle grew to loathe one another.
Davis wished to move his team from Oakland to Los Angeles, but Rozelle and fellow owners blocked the move. Davis sued the NFL, but despite losing the lawsuit, wound up in LA a few years later.
While the Kraft/Goodell disagreement abides by the Marquis of Queensbury rules, Davis and Goodell feuded in public.
As the 1981 Super Bowl between the Raiders and the Philadelphia Eagles approached, Oakland players were obsessed with seeing Rozelle in their locker room handing over the trophy to Davis.
“I want to see Rozelle in this locker room,” said Hall of Fame lineman Gene Upshaw. “I guarantee when he walks in our locker room, he’s going to get booed. And I will lead it.”
The Raiders swamped the Eagles 27-10 leading to the iconic Associated Press photo of Rozelle doing what he did not wish to do. Davis can be seen with a clenched fist totally relishing the moment.
New England is not only thinking about the post-game locker room, they have next year’s season opener on their mind. They want to force Goodell to attend their season opener to be played on a Thursday night in Foxborough, Mass. The Commissioner traditionally attends the Super Bowl Champion’s first game the following season.
If Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, Devonta Freeman and company do their thing, all of this will be moot. As for the Patriots, winning another ring is solid motivation, but they will be playing for that extra motivation of seeing Roger Goodell in their locker room after the game.
Should that happen, much more commentary will come from that exchange instead of any of the Doritos or Budweiser commericals.