HOUSTON – This can be an odd-looking city because it doesn’t have traditional zoning laws.
It has, according to its Department of Planning and Development, guidelines for how property can be subdivided. But the guidelines don’t address how the land can be used.
So you see skyscrapers sprouting next to residential neighborhoods. You see a strip club next to a Dillard’s. You see a crematorium next to an apartment complex.
And come Sunday night, you just might see the NFL’s most awkward pairing of them all: a Roger Goodell next to a Tom Brady.
It will happen if Brady’s New England Patriots beat the Atlanta Falcons at NRG Stadium in Super Bowl LI. Yes, the season that began with Brady legally and finally surrendering to the NFL Commissioner’s four-game suspension for the “Deflategate” kerfuffle from two years ago would end with Goodell awarding a fifth Lombardi Trophy to Brady, Patriots coach Bill Belichick and owner Robert Kraft.
As they say, “AWK … ward.”
Or maybe not, according to Goodell, who was asked Wednesday if the awkwardness of the situation is why he attended back-to-back playoff games in Atlanta rather than going to the AFC Championship Game in Foxborough, Mass.
“I would tell you it’s not awkward at all for me,” Goodell said during his Super Bowl news conference at the George R. Brown Convention Center. “We have a job to do. There was a violation. We applied process and discipline and came to the conclusion that was supported by the facts and the courts.
“We understand fans who are loyal and passionate would object. I totally understand that. That’s not an issue for me. And I was in Boston two seasons ago for two consecutive playoff games, like I was in Atlanta [this season]. That happens. So, from our standpoint, this is about making sure we take care of business and do what is right and for the integrity of all 32 teams.”
Kraft has criticized Goodell for how he was advised on and handled Deflategate, the scandal that arose when Brady and the Patriots were alleged to have had footballs deflated to provide a better grip during the AFC Championship Game two years ago.
Goodell said he wasn’t given bad advice, adding, “We had a violation. We went through a process, applied the discipline in accordance with our process. It was litigated extensively and validated by the Second Court of Appeals. So we’re moving on from that. It’s part of our history, but it’s something that we’re comfortable with. We’re focusing on the game now.”
Goodell fielded five Deflategate-related questions during the 45-minute news conference. One of his interrogators wanted Goodell’s reaction to the notion that public trust in him from fans and the media is eroding.
“I think something you have to do every day is earn that trust, earn that credibility,” Goodell said. “Be transparent. Make sure people understand the decisions that you make. I don’t expect for one second people to agree with every decision I make or we make as a league.
“Those are always difficult, sometimes contentious and sometimes less than perfect decisions. But you do them in the best long-term interests of the game and the NFL. I think we do that. I will always seek to do things better.”
Kraft and Goodell once were viewed from the outside as close friends. Perhaps too close. That’s not the case anymore.
Asked how his relationship has changed with the Patriots, Goodell said nothing has changed.
“I continue to respect and admire Robert, Jonathan [Kraft] and the entire organization,” Goodell said. “They are an extraordinary organization. And they’re extraordinary people, so I have a very deep and close relationship to them.
“But that doesn’t change that we have to compartmentalize things that we disagree on. But I have to be honest with you, I have disagreements with probably all 32 of our teams. I’m not afraid of disagreements. And I don’t think disagreements lead to mistrust. They’re just disagreements. It’s not all personal in nature. I know people like to make it that way.”
Yes, they do. And you can bet the Patriots fans in Houston will make that loud and clear should a Goodell be standing next to a Brady when the confetti flies come Sunday night.
Mark Craig is an NFL and Vikings Insider.