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Deflategate descending into dark comedy

On Thursday, the sports world was abuzz over the predictable news that the NFL players union had appealed Tom Brady’s four-game suspension for his role in “Deflategate.”

Do you know who else’s appeal hit the news that day? Aaron Hernandez, whose attorneys contended that the jury used “improper speculation, conjecture and guesswork” when it found the former Patriots tight end guilty of first-degree murder last month.

It was an eerie coincidence, one that barely registered with fans who were too consumed with the latest in “Deflategate” to care that the NFL’s most despicable felon had gone through the motions of an appeal.

This is a good thing for Roger Goodell and his league. Sure, the Patriots’ situation is an unholy mess, one that promises to become even more troublesome for Goodell as Pats owner Robert Kraft, his former pal, continues to challenge the commissioner’s authority.

But at least we’re talking about deflated footballs, not mayhem. Every day that goes by without news of domestic abuse, concussions, illegal drugs, DUI or players crashing their cars into light poles is a good one for the commish.

Women’s groups aren’t picketing. No one is talking about the scandal of underpaid cheerleaders. Mark Cuban and Sen. John McCain aren’t predicting the eventual demise of the fat, happy NFL.

If last year was the “Season From Hell” – as GQ called it in a profile of Goodell last winter – this might go down as the “Silly Season,” when the big question is why a Patriots ball boy made a 90-second stop in the bathroom last January.

Maybe I’m worn down by the NFL, and can’t see anything diminishing its soaring wealth and popularity. But the cynic in me doesn’t believe the Brady scandal will do lasting harm to the league. It might even help. The NFL isn’t really a sports league, it’s the country’s most popular miniseries. It’s a lurid, mesmerizing spectacle, a TV show. It’s “Game Of Thrones” without the beheadings, a collection of fiefdoms scheming for ways to seize power.

Lately, it’s been more of a comedy. The Patriots’ 20,000-word rebuttal to the Wells Report was an expensive way for Kraft to fight back against the NFL while raising our great national crisis to a more ridiculous level. As always in such matters, the lawyers profit most.

The Pats claim that Jim McNally called himself “The Deflator” not because he routinely underinflated balls for Brady, but because he was a heavy guy who needed to lose weight. Maybe Kraft should sue the NFL for slandering the nation’s sizable obese population.

There’s an actual website: WellsReportContext.com, which lays out the perceived flaws in Ted Wells’ 243-page report. Wells was sensitive enough about criticism that he took questions on a league conference call.

Give the lawyers credit for imagination. They suggested that the Pats’ footballs might have become underinflated because they had the ball more than the Colts in the first half of the title game. Could it be, they asked, that the balls were “crushed under the weight of players being tackled?”

The Pats’ rebuttal also argued that McNally stopped in the bathroom for the usual reasons, not to take air out of the footballs. They said 100 seconds is how long it requires for “a gentleman to enter a bathroom, relieve himself, wash his hands, and leave.”

I’m wondering if the lawyers actually conducted tests to find out if 100 seconds is the precise average for a male bathroom stop. Did they include hand washing and drying? Towel or air blower? Did every man in the law firm participate? Did Kraft?

Sorry to make light of a major issue, one that will give Brady’s opponents the trump card on the “best of all time” argument. But this is hilarious. The late-night guys must be loving it. Everyone is laughing, except Goodell and Kraft, that is.

This represents a serious rift in their relationship. Kraft had been one of Goodell’s main allies among the owners. He rallied the support of his fellow owners when Goodell came under fire during the Ray Rice fiasco.

According to GQ’s Gabriel Sherman, Kraft was a fervent defender of Goodell’s $44 million annual pay. Sherman said one NFL source said Kraft had so much influence with Goodell that he called him “the assistant commissioner.”

Things aren’t so cozy now. But having Kraft and Goodell at odds isn’t so bad for business. Goodell is all over the place on discipline. But by hammering Brady and the Pats, he at least made himself appear more independent.

It’s the Patriots who are Public Enemy No. 1 these days. They’ve been a reviled franchise for years, but now Bonnie and Clyde, I mean, Brady and Kraft, have become the most notorious couple in the sport.

It’s amazing to think Bill Belichick might be the third-most loathed member of the Pats’ triumvirate.

Hey, a sport needs a strong, identifiable villain, right? The Yankees served that role for years under George Steinbrenner. They gave baseball fans a bad guy, someone who won all the time and didn’t care who got in his way. It made the game more compelling.

The Yankees are yesterday’s villain. Alex Rodriguez is easy to hate, but compared with Tom Brady, he’s a cuddly old slugger. The haters abandoned LeBron James when he went back to Cleveland. You can’t hate Tiger Woods if you can’t find him on Sunday in a major.

People thought the NFL might suffer from its many scandals. But ratings and profit continued to soar. The league is a $10 billion enterprise and will continue to rise. Goodell wants it to reach $25 billion, and that’s why the owners employ him.

Maybe Kraft will rally the other owners against Goodell. I wouldn’t count on it. The other owners are sick of seeing the Pats win every year. They’re probably winking at each other and taking pleasure in seeing the defending Super Bowl champions get their comeuppance.

The plot thickens, and the drama will build from now until the 2015 season. It will not surprise me if next year’s NFL opener is the most watched Thursday night game in history. Even without Brady.

Sports fans will be tune in as always, eager to see the evil Patriots toppled from their throne.

email: jsullivan@buffnews.com

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