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Inside what split the NFL and New England Patriots apart



SEVEN YEARS LATER, Robert Kraft took the podium on the first day of the Patriots' 2015 training camp and, with a mix of bitterness and sadness, apologized to his team's fans. "I was wrong to put my faith in the league," he said. It was a stunning statement from the NFL owner who has been Roger Goodell's biggest booster and defender.

Goodell had just upheld the four-game suspension he had leveled in early May against quarterback Tom Brady for a new Patriots cheating scandal known as Deflategate. An NFL-commissioned investigation, led by lawyer Ted Wells, after four months had concluded it "was more probable than not" that Brady had been "at least generally aware" that the Patriots' footballs used in the AFC Championship Game held this year had been deflated to air pressure levels below what the league allowed. Goodell deemed the Patriots and Brady "guilty of conduct detrimental to the integrity of, and public confidence in, the game of football," the league's highest crime, and punished the franchise and its marquee player.

Kraft was convinced Brady was innocent, but he "reluctantly" accepted the punishment, in large part because he was certain Goodell would reduce, or eliminate, his quarterback's four-game suspension, the way business is often done in the NFL. Kraft had good reason to believe Goodell might honor a quid pro quo: Throughout Goodell's nightmare 2014 season of overturned player discipline penalties, bumbling news conferences and a lack of candor, Kraft had publicly stood by the commissioner -- even as he privately signaled deep disappointment in Goodell's performance and fury at the judgment of his top lieutenants, according to sources. After Goodell had upheld Brady's punishment, on the basis mainly of his failure to cooperate by destroying his cellphone, Kraft felt burned and betrayed.

Now, the owner of the defending Super Bowl champions was publicly ripping the league. To anyone casually watching Deflategate, the civil war pitting Goodell against the Patriots and their star quarterback made no sense. Why were the league's premier franchise, led by a cherished team owner, and Brady, one of the NFL's greatest ambassadors, being smeared because a little air might have been let out of some footballs?

But league insiders knew that Deflategate didn't begin on the eve of the AFC Championship Game.

It began in 2007, with Spygate.

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Holy smokes, Roger Goodell destroyed evidence of the Patriots cheating on a massive scale?!

And I see neither Goodell nor the NFL denying the truth of this story.

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