Goodell: Despite Deflategate, friendship with Robert Kraft 'was never strained'

Before the Deflategate melodrama became an all-consuming affair that dragged on for more than a year, Patriots owner Robert Kraft and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell were close friends.

It was no secret that Kraft had been a long-time defender of Goodell, dating back to 2006 when he helped Goodell get elected commissioner. Five years later, it was Kraft who reassured skeptical players that Goodell could be trusted during contentious CBA negotiations. And it was Kraft who supported Goodell publicly during the Ray Rice scandal. But when Goodell suspended Tom Brady for his role in Deflategate, the friendship with Kraft suffered, perhaps permanently.

"I don't know if it will ever be the same, but in order to do what is best for the Patriots franchise long-term, I believe it is best to compartmentalize and move on," Kraft said in February. "Like our quarterback, I am trying to remain positive and look to the future rather than dwell on the past. As a native New Englander, that's easier said than done, but I am doing my best to put the matter behind me."

But on Tuesday, Goodell was in Jerusalem for the inauguration of the Kraft Family Sports Complex and reiterated that his friendship with Kraft remains strong.

"Robert is very important to me personally ..." Goodell told The Jerusalem Post's Allon Sinai, via NFL.com. "My friendship with Robert was never strained. We both understand that we have jobs. ...

"I know how important this is for him," Goodell continued. "My respect and admiration for him has never waned. We believe our best days are ahead."

That may be Goodell's experience but the reality is that Kraft, the Patriots organization and their fans were unhappy with the commissioner's handling of Deflategate. These frustrations were on full display during the Patriots' Super Bowl parade, which turned into an impromptu anti-Goodell rally.

But all's well that ends well, as they say. In fact, Goodell, who didn't make a single appearance at Gillette Stadium during the Pats' 2016 postseason -- and hadn't shown his face at the venue since the January 2015 Colts-Pats game that first introduced the world to Deflategate -- plans to be in Foxborough for the Sept. 7 regular-season opener.

CBS Sports Writer

Ryan Wilson has been an NFL writer for CBS Sports since June 2011, and he's covered five Super Bowls in that time. Ryan previously worked at AOL's FanHouse from start to finish, and Football Outsiders... Full Bio

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