FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Nathan Raymond’s motorized, mobile cooler was already pretty cool, what with the LED lights, Bluetooth speakers and customer trailer.
This being the New England Patriots season-opener though, an occasion marked by the raising of the franchise’s fifth Super Bowl banner and a long-awaited Foxborough appearance from NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, he knew he needed to step it up.
So he went to a sign shop near his home in Danielson, Connecticut, and had them “do some vinyl and wrap it all up.”
That included a Patriots helmet and a scoreboard that depicted the final of last February’s Super Bowl. It featured a “[expletive] Goodell” sign and a picture of the league commissioner wearing a clown nose, an image that was seemingly everywhere in and around Gillette Stadium on Thursday.
“I think it’s all in good fun,” Raymond, 37, said. “I think it would be hysterical if he himself, Roger Goodell, wore one of the clown shirts and got in on the joke. Or put the clown nose on his face. And realized, he made some mistakes.”
None of that was going to happen. Self-deprecation is not a Goodell strong suit, even though he’ll occasionally bask in boos during draft night.
The Commish walked out onto the Gillette Stadium field about an hour before the game, at 7:32 p.m. wearing a dark suit and surrounded by security and other league officials. The majority of the stands were still empty.
He stood in a corner of one end zone, trying to casually chat with Kansas City Chiefs owner Clark Hunt, as the fans who had arrived early booed, heckled and chanted, in sing-song fashion, “RAH-ger, RAH-ger.”
There was no clown nose or shirt, at least not on him.
At one point Tom Brady ran down to that end zone and saluted the fans with a fist pump. Whether he knew Goodell was in the area or not is unknown.
At 7:46 p.m., Goodell walked off the field. He waved to one fan screaming at him. That was expected to be his last public appearance of the night. At least one report questioned whether he would stick around for the entire game.
For Patriots fans, 14 pregame minutes tucked in one end of the stadium probably wasn’t what they wanted. It certainly wasn’t the in-game, Jumbotron appearance that could have allowed 60,000-plus to mock him in unison. Or at least laugh the last laugh that they’ve always wanted.
“The Pats fan base, we don’t hate him … much,” Raymond said with a laugh.
If nothing else, this should defuse a situation that was overdue for détente. Goodell and the NFL’s handling of deflate-gate was a travesty. They never conclusively proved that the footballs that night were unnaturally deflated, let alone that Brady had anything to do with it. Instead they suspended Brady via heavy-handed investigative tactics and science-ignorant conclusions. The case was so absurd, yet it laughably reached federal court in Manhattan.
Still, it’s time for New England to move on. Most fans actually have. This wasn’t so much venom as theater. Goodell, with his massive salary, blow-dry looks and born-on-third-base persona is a fun target of scorn.
Revenge is a dish best served with a Lombardi Trophy though and that’s really all that mattered. Brady as a “cheater” lost most believability when he won two titles after the scandal. Last year’s, after sitting for a month, was the sweetest. At one point during the pregame, the Gillette Stadium scoreboard read: Atlanta 28, New England 3 – the score before the Pats mounted the largest comeback in Super Bowl history.
It was that kind of night here. Or put it this way, the Patriots needed to reorganize where they hang their Super Bowl banners here because they had too many. They have little to complain about.
Goodell certainly should have made an appearance here by now. Slipping into town, unannounced for a 1 p.m. game sometime last year would have ended this. He did make it for a preseason game this year, but didn’t take the field. Instead his absence became a rallying cry.
Barstool Sports used it as a promotional tool, handing out some 60,000 towels with Goodell wearing the clown’s nose this week. They were everywhere in the sprawling parking lots here. So were signs and stickers and other jokes. Mostly though, it was something to laugh about, something to toast, something to keep an edge for a fan base that has won so much, complacency can become common.
“It keeps the beers cold,” Raymond said of his mobile cooler as he made it do circles via remote control.
He could have been talking about mocking Roger Goodell too.