Here’s how I want to see St. Louis’ season of revenge come to an end:
Patriots 28, Falcons 24.
Super Bowl LI was a thriller. But the best part plays out on the stage as the confetti falls.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell attempts to mask his rage as he congratulates Patriots quarterback and Deflategate survivor Tom Brady. New England fans, the most obnoxious species, stop slurring the chorus of Dropkick Murphys’ “I’m Shipping up to Boston” and start booing Goodell. Brady, beaming, turns and hands his latest Lombardi Trophy to defensive MVP Chris Long, the man who returned a fumble for a touchdown, then sacked the Falcons’ quarterback Matt Ryan to end the game.
Long lifts the trophy into the air. He thanks his dedicated supporters back in St. Louis.
“It’s a great football city!” he shouts.
Goodell goes green.
“Hey Rog,” Brady says. “You’re looking a little flat.”
A guy can dream, right?
It’s now been more than a year since Rams owner Stan Kroenke picked up his football and went west — thanks in large part to Goodell’s nonstop quest for increased revenue, regardless of the damage done in its pursuit. The silver lining is the progress St. Louis is making toward welcoming an MLS expansion team, plus the fact that the Rams face-planted upon their return to Los Angeles. Finally, the nation saw the disaster St. Louis attempted to support.
Somehow the Rams turned a 3-1 start into a 4-12 record. They traded for the first overall pick to draft a quarterback who faltered. They were forced to fire their failing coach before he became the NFL leader in regular season losses. And now they have to share their turf with the more-competent Chargers. Hiring one of the youngest head coaches in NFL history surely will sort things out.
It’s turned into a pastime here, rooting against the Rams. Some will do it forever. Others set a one-year limit. Regardless, why not give Goodell one more dose of relocation reckoning in the season’s finale? He deserves it.
“In just a short amount of time, you’ve got two NFL franchises, you’ve got a Super Bowl, and hopefully an Olympics on the way,” Goodell told reporters the day the Chargers moved to Los Angeles. “And it’s all because of this great (stadium) development and the vision of Stan Kroenke.”
The commissioner can crow about Kroenke’s success in everything but fielding a winning football team, but he can’t escape awkwardness if Brady and Patriots coach Bill Belichick claim their fifth championship together.
Some wrote off the Patriots after Goodell handed Brady a four-game suspension to start the season, the result of the quarterback’s alleged participation in the deflating of footballs to gain a throwing advantage in the 2015 AFC championship game. Goodell made a point to hammer an organization that too often gets caught in the rule book’s gray area.
But many independent scientists backed Brady, saying the league’s investigation and Goodell’s conclusion didn’t add up. Brady fought back until a judge upheld Goodell’s decision. The quarterback’s punishment then turned into fuel for the team and its fans. Up against Goodell, the league’s most polarizing team became borderline likable.
The Patriots went 3-1 without Brady. They’ve gone 13-1 since he returned. Meanwhile, Goodell hasn’t been to Gillette Stadium for a Patriots game since the scandal made headlines.
“Where is Ro-ger?,” chant the fans. They’ve made signs that show him wearing a clown nose. If he did the right thing, why hide?
“For what the league did to him and what Roger Goodell constantly lied about is beyond reprehensible as far as I’m concerned,” Brady’s father recently told a San Francisco TV station.
Goodell can’t hide anymore. The Patriots are coming to him.
And then there’s Long.
After the move, the Rams released their longest-tenured player and St. Louis fan favorite. He agreed to a team-friendly, one-year deal with New England because he wanted to feel what it was like to win. He had played 114 games in eight seasons since the Rams drafted him second overall in 2008.
His record? 33-80-1. No playoff appearances. No more than seven wins in any season. Yes, the Patriots have won more games in a row this season (nine) than Long won in any season as a Ram.
How many times after one of those losses did Long shoulder the blame? How many times did he play hurt, then thank fans for their support while the people running his organization were preoccupied with stadium plans elsewhere?
Pulling for the Patriots is no easy task. Rooting for Long is a no-brainer.
“Playing in an AFC championship (game) was, on a scale from 1 to 10, a 12 for me,” Long recently told reporters. “So I’m already in the extra numbers. It’s all far beyond anything that I’ve done before.”
“What about Atlanta?” you could ask. The Falcons are a fine and deserving team. Their defense is questionable against New England. Their high-powered offense could pull it off. Ryan and his teammates have been compared to the “Greatest Show on Turf” of the Rams. GSOT members would encourage Atlanta to scour Houston’s NRG Stadium for Patriots spies before the walk-through, and perhaps introduce some bogus red-zone plays in case a camera looms.
But this is bigger in St. Louis than Spygate, Deflategate and Super Bowl grudges from 15 years ago. It’s bigger than the Falcons. This is about the proper ending to the first year without the NFL, a season that further exposed thin-skinned Goodell and his goons, a season that taught St. Louis the same message Long learned about the Rams.
You’re better off without them.