The day is coming when NFL owners won't have enough faith in Roger Goodell's judgment to let him order lunch.
At his current pace, that won't take long. Counting Thursday's ruling in the so-called ''Deflategate'' case, the commissioner who staked his reputation on being a disciplinarian is now 0-for-his-past-five disciplinary decisions.
In a sometimes-scathing, 40-page opinion released Thursday, U.S. District Judge Richard Berman didn't even try to tackle the questions of whether there was enough air in the footballs the New England Patriots used to beat the Indianapolis Colts in a playoff game nine long months ago, and who knew what about it when.
Instead, he vacated quarterback Tom Brady's four-game suspension and echoed the conclusions of the arbiters who overturned the commissioner in each of the four previous incidents - namely that Goodell arbitrarily handed out punishments and appeared to be making up the justifications for them as he went along.
''Industrial justice'' is how Berman summed up that decision-making process at one juncture; then ''fundamentally unfair'' at another.
But just to make sure Goodell and Co. understood how bankrupt their argument was, the judge also put quote marks around the word ''independent'' in five separate references to the investigative report prepared by attorney Ted Wells - whose firm provides counsel to the NFL - and paid for by the league at a cool cost of more than $2.5 million. Then Berman set about shredding it.
If the report was ''independent,'' he asked, why was NFL general counsel Jeff Pash allowed to edit it? And why, he continued, weren't Pash and Wells' notes on the investigation made available to Brady's defense?
Berman had plenty of relevant questions on other matters as well, many of them pertaining to why Brady was never even told what level of punishment he faced. And we may yet have those answered, because the NFL immediately announced it planned to appeal.
In a statement, Goodell said, ''The commissioner's responsibility to secure the competitive fairness in our game is a paramount principle, and the league and our 32 clubs will continue to pursue a path to that end.''
Of course, those same folks could have saved themselves a lot of aggravation - not to mention money - simply by ensuring that fairness was part of the disciplinary process on the front end. But that's not how the league office works since Goodell took over as sheriff. No matter how many times he's been rebuffed, he continues to believe it's his way or the highway.
Starting with ''Spygate,'' when the Patriots were caught filming opposing teams' practices, Goodell has acted as judge, jury and executioner. After handing down a hefty punishment back then, he went ahead and choked off any inquiries into the deliberative process, then unilaterally had the evidence destroyed to make sure there was no review.
Bet Goodell wishes now he'd done the same thing in the ''Bountygate'' case involving the New Orleans Saints back in 2012, which wasn't resolved until former Commissioner Paul Tagliabue stepped in and came up with a face-saving compromise. Ditto for the already-reduced suspensions of Ray Rice, Adrian Peterson and Greg Hardy, whose suspension was cut from 10 games to four and is reported to be considering an appeal to have it reduced further.
You don't have to be an NFL owner to scan Goodell's blueprint in disciplinary matters. The moment a player gets in trouble, he tries to read public sentiment. Next he presides over an investigation that, like the Wells report, is usually hurried and often shoddy. Finally, he sets out - sometimes unscrupulously, occasionally employing misinformation or leaks - to gin up indignation before bringing the hammer down.
But upon further review, as the league's referees make a point of saying in on-the-field disputes, once the facts emerge and the extent of Goodell's overreaching becomes apparent, the call is overturned. And so it was once again.
One NFL analyst compared losing this case to a team blowing a 35-0 lead. That's apt as far as it goes, because courts very rarely overturn arbitration decisions in disputes where the terms are set out in collective bargaining agreements. Remember, too, that it was the NFL that chose to make a federal case out of ''Deflategate,'' and even sought a jurisdiction where it was more than likely to get a fair hearing.
The league did in this case. Yet what the judge concluded at the end of his review is that the NFL's presentation of ''facts,'' piled one atop another, wasn't substantial enough to make a decent baloney sandwich. The only way the rebuke could have been more stinging is if he warned Goodell, when considering future cases, hold the mustard, too.
Jim Litke is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at jlitke(at)ap.org and follow him at Twitter.com/JimLitke.