Tom Brady's biggest victory

There is no victory during Tom Brady's 15-year NFL career that compares with the one he scored in court Thursday. Reason: he did more than win a game. He preserved his reputation.

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(Photo courtesy of the New England Patriots)

By Clark Judge

Talk of Fame Network

Well, well, well.

Of all the victories Tom Brady produced in his 15 years in the NFL none was more complete, more resounding, more meaningful and more satisfying than the knockout he just scored over Roger Goodell and the NFL in court.

Because this one was about something bigger than a game, a division championship or another Super Bowl. This was about Tom Brady’s name, and not only did Brady go to the mat to preserve a reputation the NFL sought to damage.

He won.

He challenged the league to prove that it had the right to suspend him for allegedly cheating. He challenged it to prove it has the right to suspend him for allegedly lying. And he challenged it to do it on a neutral field, where he believed he had his best chance for a fair decision.

And it couldn’t.

Tom Brady won. The NFL lost. And Brady’s four-game suspension was vacated.

But Thursday’s decision goes way beyond a month off for Brady. It strikes at Brady’s legacy and how he will be remembered after his career is over. Had Brady lost, that legacy would’ve been tarnished – with critics alleging that his accomplishments were the residue of cheating.

But with Thursday’s victory, Brady preserved his name now … and, hopefully, forever. So that when his name is presented to the Hall of Fame’s board of selectors in the next 10 years, we can cut straight to the chase. The representative from New England (our Ron Borges?) can pull an Ira Miller and follow the former San Francisco Chronicle reporter’s cue when in 2000 he introduced Joe Montana to the Hall’s voters.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” Miller said, “Joe Montana.

Then he sat down. There was no speech. There were no supporting statistics. There were no colorful stories or letters of recommendation. There were simply those two words: Joe Montana. Now that same process can be repeated when Brady’s name is submitted for consideration.

Ladies and gentlemen, Tom Brady. Nothing more. Nothing less.

There should be no discussion of cheating, and there should be no discussion of lying because U.S. District Judge Richard Berman told us there can’t be. OK, Tom Brady did, too. By steadfastly refusing to accede to the league’s demands he admit guilt to a crime it could not prove and by hiring a legal team to shoot down a case with more holes than Clyde Barrow, Brady forced the NFL to prove that it had the right to crush him for allegedly cheating and, worse, lying.

And it couldn’t. Instead, Goodell dug in his heels, hiding behind his right not only to enforce punishment but to uphold it on appeal and daring someone, anyone to say he was wrong.

Only Judge Berman just did.

He didn’t say Goodell didn’t have the right to punish Brady. He does. The CBA that players signed gives him that power. What he did say, however, was that he doesn’t have the right to suspend Tom Brady for non-cooperation or obstruction. He also said the NFL inquiry screwed up by not making legal counsel Jeff Pash available for cross-examination, as well as not providing the NFL Players Association with documents from the Wells Report.

In short, he said the NFL never should’ve pushed this case as far as it did, and, frankly, that’s what I don’t get.

“DeflateGate” never had to happen. It could’ve been resolved quickly and easily. All Brady had to do was say he didn’t know footballs were under-inflated, agree to cooperate and suffer what consequences the league deemed appropriate. In all likelihood, there would have been a negligible fine, and the matter would have disappeared.

But, according to the NFL, Brady resisted. And the more he resisted, the more the league determined the penalty would be severe. So, when the Ted Wells Report deemed Brady culpable for “general awareness” (huh?) of deflated footballs, Goodell jumped at the chance to drop the hammer with a four-game suspension. Then, after an unsatisfactory meeting with Brady, he refused to back down from what Judge Berman called Goodell's "own brand of industrial justice," and the war was on.

Well, be careful what you wish for.

A smart man once said you better know when to hold ‘em, and know when to fold ‘em, and the NFL did not. Despite repeated warnings from Judge Berman that its case leaked like the Costa Concordia, the league refused to budge – even after Brady offered to take a one-game suspension for his failure to cooperate.

Instead, hubris got in the way of a settlement. The league was so determined to prove it was right and Brady was wrong, it would settle for nothing less than an admission of guilt. Brady refused, of course, and we know what happened: Tom Brady scored the biggest victory of his career. Only, unlike others, where this one had drama it wasn’t particularly close.

Brady carpet-bombed Goodell, Ted Wells and all the king’s men.

Now, of course, the league says it will appeal Berman’s decision, a move that could take months, and good luck, guys. When the NFL first took this case to an appeals court in New York, a pre-emptive strike that kept it out of the hands of NFLPA-friendly judge David Doty in Minnesota, the move was supposed to guarantee a slam dunk. After all, appeals in cases like this – or in cases outside of Judge Doty’s domain -- seldom have been overturned.

Except this one was. And it wasn’t by Judge Doty, and it wasn’t in Minnesota. Which tells you … yep, which tells you the NFL didn’t have a case, after all, and shame on it for not knowing. The league pays its commissioner and lawyers a lot of money to make smart decisions, and trying to make this case against Tom Brady was not smart.

"As I have said during this process and throughout his career, Tom Brady is a classy person of the highest integrity," said Patriots' owner Robert Kraft. "He represents everything that is great about this game and this league. Yet with absolutely no evidence of any actions of wrongdoing by Tom in the Wells report, the lawyers at the league still insisted on imposing and defending unwarranted and unprecedented discipline. Judge Richard Berman understood this, and we are greatly appreciative of his thoughtful decision."

I don’t know what happens to Goodell or Wells or league lawyers after this. Regrettably, this matter is not over. But I do know what should happen to Tom Brady. He should be remembered as one of the best quarterbacks of all time and the best of his generation.

Period.

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