For the first time since the AFC Championship game in January 2015 — and the aftermath of the Deflategate controversy — Roger Goodell returned to Gillette Stadium. The NFL commissioner was one of thousands in attendance at New England’s preseason opener against the Jacksonville Jaguars on Thursday night.
Not only was Goodell spotted chatting in Patriots owner Robert Kraft’s box, but he was also seen walking down the stadium ramps. Brian McCarthy of the NFL shared a photo of the 58-year-old with three attendees dressed in Patriots jerseys.
— Brian McCarthy (@NFLprguy) August 11, 2017
— Marco ? ???? ??♥️? (@Anto4799) August 11, 2017
Others speculated the image was actually from a few years ago, while some insinuated the league had paid the trio to take the photo. All conjecture was put to rest, however, when New Hampshire-native Jon O’Hara revealed two of the individuals in question had purchased his tickets for Thursday night’s contest.
— Jon O’Hara (@JonOcomedy) August 11, 2017
O’Hara — a diehard Patriots fan — told Boston.com he was unable to make it to Foxborough because he was vacationing on Martha’s Vineyard. He sold his seats to an old classmate from high school, Josh Bisson, who attended the game with their other friends, John Miller and Spencer Shea.
According to Bisson, the trio was originally seated in the 300-section before deciding to scavenge for better seats in the second quarter. As they were walking down the ramp to the lower levels, he said they noticed a posse of four or five people dressed in formal attire. Once one of the strangers asked if they were enjoying the game, Bisson said he realized it was Goodell with, what he presumed to be, his public relations crew.
“He asked us how our seats were,” Bisson said. “We had like 15 seconds of normal stadium talk before he asked if we wanted to take a quick picture.”
The three posed for the photo, which was later shared on Twitter by McCarthy. Although the backlash has been fervent—with some even calling for a lifetime ban from Gillette Stadium — Bisson and Miller stand by their decision.
“We were obviously not going to beat the guy up, but we know everybody wanted us to,” Bisson said. “Everyone can say what they want to say, but they weren’t in the situation themselves. It’s easy for someone to say, ‘Oh I would’ve punched him,’ or ‘I would’ve thrown my beer on him,’ but when you’re actually in the situation, it’s totally different.”
One of their critics was none other than the friend who had sold them his tickets. O’Hara told Boston.com he has been waiting for this moment since the fallout of the Deflategate controversy.
“I would’ve at the very least just been yelling stuff about Brady,” he said. “I probably would’ve been chanting ‘Where are our draft picks? Where are our draft picks?’ I would’ve made it miserable for him to be there.”
While many Patriots fans, like O’Hara, still harbor animosity towards Goodell for the four-game suspension he levied against quarterback Tom Brady, Bisson said he thinks it’s time for everyone to move on.
“I don’t really have any negative feelings,” he said. “It’s easy to say something behind someone’s back, but the past is the past. We won the revenge tour, he had to hand over the trophies, and I think that kind of buries it. If we didn’t win, it might be a different story.”
Even if people won’t accept what happened as water under the bridge, Miller said he doesn’t think the picture should be that big of a deal.
“It’s a photo. People can get over it. It’s a photo,” he said.
The negative responses aren’t going to stop the pair from going to more home games this season, as they said they already have tickets to three or four. Bisson said he hopes for another successful season and wants people to “focus on the team we have.”