Kevin Jairaj/USA Today Sports

Roger Goodell makes his return to Gillette Stadium

Kyle DaLuz
August 10, 2017 - 7:57 pm

FOXBORO - As Patriots fans awaited the opening kickoff of the preseason Thursday night at Gillette Stadium, most took to their usual tailgating spots they haven't graced since last season's AFC championship game victory nearly six months ago.

These fans are celebrating a fifth Super Bowl victory in the last 16 seasons for their Patriots, and the second in three seasons since the NFL attempted to put yet another black eye on New England's already damaged reputation in the court of public opinion back in January of 2015 with Deflategate, which would be the last time commissioner Roger Goodell attended a game in Foxboro.

Little did they know, the team's most hated villain would be among them.

Goodell, who was expected to return to Gillette for the opening kickoff against Kansas City on September 7, decided to instead make his first appearance in Foxboro during Thursday night's preseason opener against Jacksonville, unbenounced to fans in attendance.

After the team was hit with a $1 million fine and quarterback Tom Brady was suspended four games last season by the commissioner for his alleged role in the incident, it would be wise to assume that Goodell won't be receiving pleasantries from the fans tonight if shown to the fans or during September's regular season contest.

"The fans are definitely going to give him the boo - that's inevitable," Nick Howard, 33 of Blackstone, said, not knowing Goodell would be in attendance Thursday. "He just tried as hard as he could to not let us win and we came out without Tom Brady for the first four games and went all the way and took (Goodell) down."

Barstool Sports founder Dave "El Pres" Portnoy has ordered 30,000 towels with the famed image of Goodell looking like a clown to give out to fans in attendance on the night of the opener. Perhaps the commissioner caught wind of this news and tried to levy the anticipation for his September return.

"I don't trust him. I have no sympathy for the guy," said 43-year-old Mark Alves of Bridgewater prior to kickoff. "The fans here are great. They might boo - they have a reason to boo. The players are respectful, they won't do anything."

Despite his feelings for the commissioner, Alves himself said he will not boo Goodell.

Goodell has had ample opportunity to return to Gillette since Deflategate, namely the season opener in 2015 when New England unveiled its Super Bowl XLIX banner on opening night against Pittsburgh, or any of its three home playoff games over the past two seasons. Instead, the commissioner chose other venues, including consecutive playoff games in Atlanta last season, giving Patriots fans reason to think he was intentionally avoiding Foxboro.

"It's a shame, because (New England) is part of the organization that he's a part of and he hasn't shown respect for the team regardless of anything that was happening between him, Brady and the Patriots. It's still part of his organization," Paul Smith, 34 of Manchester, said. "At this point in the game, there is no perfect time for him to comeback. Going back for the first game of the season is probably the best of any time that he could pick."

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