- - Monday, July 18, 2016

Aside from the flock of lawyers clocking copious billable hours, perhaps no one was more disappointed than I when quarterback Tom Brady ended his epic battle against Roger Goodell. Although the NFL commissioner always holds the upper hand in these slugfests with players, he often exits with marks and bruises.

Watching him absorb punishment adds to the NFL’s entertainment value. Yucks are about the only thing Goodell is good for. Brady’s decision to forgo a Supreme Court appeal in Deflategate deprives us of more at the commish’s expense.

The NFL’s “case” isn’t any less laughable just because the future Hall-of-Famer decided enough is enough. Brady’s reluctant acceptance of a four-game suspension is still based on junk science, nebulous findings and a power-crazed NFL lifer whose tool kit contains a hammer and nothing else.

“The penalty imposed by the NFL was unprecedented, unjust and unreasonable, especially given that no empirical or direct evidence of any kind showed Tom did anything to violate League rules prior to, during or after the 2015 AFC Championship Game,” New England Patriots owner Roger Kraft said Friday in a statement.

Kraft is biased, but his analysis is spot on. He never should’ve accepted the suspension, the $1 million fine and the forfeiture of first- and fourth-round draft picks when Goodell initially ruled, in May 2015. Kraft later rescinded his support of the punishment, but at the time said he’d reluctantly go along to “not continue the dialogue and rhetoric and we won’t appeal.”

As we’ve seen throughout the 18-month ordeal, capitulation didn’t end the discussion any more than the Wells Report ended the debate. If anything, criticism of the process grew more intense as its many flaws became more evident. The courts eventually sided with Goodell’s power to issue his ruling, regardless of the flimsy reason for disciplinary action.

Brady’s quest to overturn his suspension actually did more harm than good for NFL players because the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals reaffirmed the commish’s role as absolute dictator. Taking his chances with the Supreme Court would’ve been a Hail Mary that put New England in the precarious position of possibly losing Brady’s services at any point during the season or playoffs.

“It has been a challenging 18 months and I have made the difficult decision to no longer proceed with the legal process,” Brady announced July 15 on his Facebook page. “I’m going to work hard to be the best player I can be for the New England Patriots and I look forward to having the opportunity to return to the field this fall.”

Goodell probably feels vindicated but he’s still a villain here. Deflategate has become his personal quest, the latest opportunity to recover from a string of defeats when he has overreached. Between indefinite suspensions being overturned, multigame suspensions being reduced and single-game suspensions being eliminated, Goodell is well acquainted with that losing feeling.

The most embarrassing setback was in 2012, when Goodell hired predecessor Paul Tagliabue to handle players’ Bountygate appeals and all four suspensions were overturned. That stinging indignity probably convinced him to never remove himself from the appeal process, no matter the conflict of interest.

Unfortunately for the players, Goodell’s power to be judge and jury on initial cases and appeal cases is part of the collective bargaining agreement, something they have to live with until the next round of negotiations. Winning the bogus Deflategate case only inflates the commish’s head and ego, with both already on the verge of exploding.

It’s one thing to put players under your thumb and press them unevenly and illogically. It’s another to insert yourself into dramatizations of NFL life and push creators to lighten up on reality. That’s the claim of Mark Wahlberg, executive producer of HBO’s “Ballers.” On ESPN Radio, he claimed “guys like Roger Goodell” called during the first season saying “‘You can’t do this.’”

The league denies that Goodell ever called Wahlberg.

Strong-arm tactics worked with ESPN, when the Worldwide Leader thought better of bringing back “Playmakers” for a second season against The Shield’s wishes. HBO doesn’t have to worry about broadcast rights for games, but it might want to be careful; otherwise, another network might be awarded “Hard Knocks,” the behind-the-scenes peek at training camp.

Brady will be at Patriots’ training camp next week as Jimmy Garoppolo begins his second consecutive summer as New England’s presumptive starter for a quarter of the season. Goodell has finally prevailed and Brady will sit out, as was supposed to be the case last year.

Bypassing the Supreme Court was the right call by Brady, giving his team a measure of predictability.

But Goodell still is a loser, even as he crosses the finish line in victory. As far as I’m concerned, both him and his donkey of a case belong in the glue factory.

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