Tom Brady deserves this. He can't get away scot-free after foisting upon the world cellphone shenanigans, The Deflator, Donald Yee, a middle-school plea for Facebook sympathy and a million juvenile "droopy balls" jokes. He's either guilty or the guiltiest-acting innocent person ever. A four-game suspension is a little harsh, but the golden boy who gets caught with a smoldering cigarette at his feet and then drags the principal all the way up to the school board with the you can't prove it was mine defense is bound to get an extra-spiteful detention.
Roger Goodell deserves this, too. The Roman emperor wannabe who views due process the way a sausage maker views a meat grinder has conditioned a generation of sports fans to believe a splatter-attack of lame excuses and straw-man arguments more than they believe the commissioner of the NFL. Goodell deserves to be dragged to court for every minor point of order, because so many of his biggest decisions have been so completely out of order.
Brady and Goodell deserve each other because of the way they behaved for the last six months. They deserve to wrap their hands around each other's throats and leap into a litigation volcano together like pulp novel characters. There's no hero, there's no villain—just a couple of guys behaving badly.
But you deserve better. Fans deserve camp battles, not courtroom battles. Action, not injunctions. Fans deserve to see last season end and this one begin without a never-ending scandal churning in the background like malware.
Deflategate has been with us for six months and has provided zero satisfaction for any of the parties involved, least of all the fans. It loomed above the offseason like overcast at the beach. It tempered enthusiasm, ate up bandwidth and fed Internet trolls who thrive on tiresome, irrational arguments. It was a pall cast not by something unavoidable and important, like drug or domestic-violence issues, but by a series of escalating overreactions to a minor infraction, a speeding ticket barreling toward the Supreme Court.
Training camps are now opening, and we still can't make our Super Bowl predictions. We don't know how much to pay for a Patriots-Cowboys ticket on StubHub, don't even know if Jimmy Garoppolo is a "fantasy sleeper" to steal us a cheap win in Week 3. Football fans should be doing football fan things as training camp opens. You should be watching quarterbacks in red jerseys throw 7-on-7s and fretting over knee injuries. You should be feeling unabashed excitement.
Instead, you are forced to read 20-page NFL decisions—or listen to talk-show hosts distill the contents of 20-page NFL decisions that they probably didn't read. You must listen to Yee rant like he's portraying an agent in a Sharknado movie, the one who is representing the sharks. Instead of discussing whether Odell Beckham Jr. will get healthy or J.J. Watt can break a sack record, we breathlessly await news of whether Brady's case will be heard in New York or Minnesota, with each side dashing to get home-field advantage in a preferable jurisdiction.
A battle over venues. Pop some popcorn.
Deflategate is never going to end. Oh, it will reach a conclusion. An injunction might soon forestall Brady's suspension indefinitely, but that's temporary relief, like postponing a root canal. Brady and Goodell are playing suspension roulette with the whole season right now. A ruling could come during the playoff chase or in the playoffs themselves, suddenly altering the course of the season. Even a Dolphins fan anticipating a suspension-aided division crown should be careful what they wish for; the phrase "…and then the arbiter upheld a precedent" won't sound very epic in any future NFL Films documentaries.
Deflategate will reach a conclusion, but never a resolution. Many fans erroneously believe there will be some trial to determine Brady's innocence or Goodell's fitness to govern anything bigger than a used record store. That's not what will happen. There will be no dramatic Perry Mason episode, no surprise witnesses, shocking testimony, ill-fitting gloves or Jim McNally kicking down courtroom doors with sacks full of letters claiming Tom Brady is Santa Claus.
The Brady appeal will sift through details of the suspension and appeal process to determine if and when Roger Goodell violated the collective bargaining agreement. That's it: lawyers lawyering over law. If Brady wins, Boston won't throw him a Not Enough Evidence to Warrant a Suspension Parade. (Probably.) If Goodell wins, he gets to be Inspector Javert from Les Miserables, wasting his career over a few tenths of a pound-per-square-inch of pressure instead of a stolen loaf of bread. Brady will look shifty and Goodell strident, forever and ever.
If neither Brady nor Goodell can truly "win," fans don't stand a chance. The only victory for fans would have been a settlement: some back-channel negotiations, a shortened suspension, an agreement to act like grownups, then cue Hank Williams Jr., we're ready for some football. A few days ago, it looked like that would happen. But Brady was too busy dropping his cellphone into the woodchipper to budge, and Goodell lapsed into Angry Pharaoh mode when his ring was improperly kissed. So now we get to suffer untold months of official NFLPA statements and courtroom dispatches that leave every pregame show, water-cooler conversation and Twitter scroll with a sour aftertaste.
We might as well make football cards for Jeffrey Kessler and Ted Wells now, create a fantasy league for Yee, Judge David Doty (it's not his case yet, but it wouldn't be an NFL legal boondoggle without him), DeMaurice Smith and Troy Vincent. The lawyers and labor leaders will be getting as much attention this season as Russell Wilson or Dez Bryant. There will even be passionate rooters on both sides, football fans who have forgotten that they are supposed to watch games, not Court TV. Maybe we should fill stadiums and sports bars to watch legal debates.
No, that's a bad idea. Taking sides when mom and dad are fighting only makes things worse. Fans cannot salvage this situation, but we can stop pretending that one side is good and the other is evil. Stop pretending that Brady is being martyred, that Goodell is some Bond villain or the Patriots are WWE bad guys. Accept that if a 20-page legal document can't settle this case, then neither can your Twitter argument—and that anyone over the age of 16 who regularly types "Cheatriots" needs to take more long walks in the sunshine.
Even lifelong Patriots fans, who of course want all-Brady, all the time, might want to take a second listen to some of his I don't know how that Playboy got under my bed excuses and acknowledge that the quarterback could have made this championship offseason a little more glorious with just a smidge of honesty. Deflategate has been hardest on Patriots fans, and not just because they don't know who is quarterbacking when. Instead of fun Brady-versus-Montana debates, they have spent six months bickering over the Ideal Gas Law.
Let's close the door and let Brady and Goodell fight, tune them out while they gulp down their own litigious medicine. They have sentenced each other to scores of hours of nitpicky legal wrangling. May they feel every headache, every hassle and inconvenience. Sorry Gisele, I can't take the kids to the movies today. I have to give a deposition. Sorry, Stevie Biscuits, I can't come down for golf and crab cakes this weekend. We're stuck in fact-finding.
You robbed us of our joy, fellas. Now steal some from each other.
Mike Tanier covers the NFL for Bleacher Report.