Roger Goodell has been conspicuous in his absence from New England over the last few weeks and, really, the last few years. The NFL commissioner won't be visiting the Patriots for the AFC Championship Game on Sunday, choosing instead to take a trip to Atlanta to see the Falcons and Packers play.
It's a curious decision based on his schedule, because Goodell has seen three out of the four teams remaining in the playoffs play this postseason.
He was in Atlanta last Saturday for the Seahawks-Falcons game, then traveled to Kansas City on Sunday for the Steelers-Chiefs game.
A league spokesman confirmed to Mike Reiss of ESPN that Goodell has decided he'll be hanging out for the NFC Championship Game in the final game of the Georgia Dome rather than venture to Foxborough.
Roger Goodell will attend the NFC Championship game in Atlanta on Sunday, per a league spokesman.— Mike Reiss (@MikeReiss) January 17, 2017
The obvious, large and pink elephant here is Deflategate. Goodell, per Jeff Howe of the Boston Herald, actually hasn't attended a Patriots home game since the entire thing went down.
Rather than attending his first game at Gillette since Deflategate, Roger Goodell will be in Atlanta on Sunday for back-to-back weekends.— Jeff Howe (@jeffphowe) January 17, 2017
Asked about the situation on WEEI's "Kirk and Callahan" radio show this Monday, Patriots quarterback Tom Brady said Goodell was more than welcome to come to Gillette Stadium.
"He's the commissioner, so obviously whatever he wants to do, he can do. If he wants to come, that would be ... yeah, he could come," Brady said.
Of course, Brady doesn't actually feel that way. He was suspended four games by Goodell to start the season and was engaged in a protracted legal battle with the NFL that took up nearly two years and clearly drained him.
Asked on 98.5 The Sports Hub about Goodell attending the game, team president Jonathan Kraft also chose his words carefully.
"I'll let you ask the league office about that," Kraft said. "I don't know how they pick where he goes. They don't call the teams and say, 'Hey.' That's not the way it works. The league office determines where he goes, and I don't know the factors that go into that."
It doesn't really sound like Goodell is all that welcome, to be honest. And you can't blame him for not wanting to go -- there are probably a few Patriots fans who would have choice words for him if he was walking around the stadium.
There's been an air of vengeance in New England for several months now, and there's a strong lingering possibility that Brady and Goodell end up on the podium together after Super Bowl LI ends. It's going to be delightfully awkward if that happens.