SAN FRANCISCO — Gone was all the bluster from Bob Kraft’s Super Bowl press conference when he demanded an apology from the NFL. We heard none of the throwdown rhetoric from Kraft’s defiant interview with Peter King that was released Monday.
There was no fight left in Kraft when he stood behind a podium just after 10 a.m. Pacific time, on the second floor of a swank hotel at the NFL’s spring meetings Tuesday.
“I don’t want to continue the rhetoric that’s gone on for the last four months,’’ said a somber Kraft. “I’m going to accept, reluctantly, what he [commissioner Roger Goodell] has given to us and not continue this dialogue and rhetoric, and we won’t appeal.’’
Boo. Kraft caved. He took the (gulp) high road. And then he took no questions. He wimped out, and left combative Patriot fans spitting out pieces of their broken luck. He chose to honor the NFL Shield. He opted to keep his seat at Goodell’s head table. Or maybe (best case for Patriot fans) Kraft cut a deal with the commissioner and managed to get Tom Brady’s four-game suspension reduced.
If Brady’s entire punishment is stricken from the record, Patriots fans might be able to turn this into a victory, but anything short of that makes Kraft’s capitulation a big loss for the New England franchise.
The battle is over, Patriot fans. And the war has been lost. The Patriots have been found to have cheated twice in eight seasons. They have accepted the loss of first-round draft picks twice in eight seasons. They have accepted the biggest fine in NFL history.
Despite their 20,000-word rebuttal to the Wells Report, and their continued public position that they did nothing wrong, the Patriots have chosen not to fight. Kraft is never going to get the apology he demanded when he arrived at the Super Bowl. Instead, he goes down in sports history as a somewhat tragic figure — a guy who presided over a franchise that won (at least) four Super Bowls, but was caught cheating twice.
Kraft continued to dispute the charges, but his acceptance of the penalty speaks volumes. Clearly, he wasn’t ready for a fight that he couldn’t win. The Patriots can forever claim this was a witch hunt and continue to poke holes in the report, but that doesn’t mean much now, does it? The team has accepted its punishment.
You can assign nobility to Kraft’s gesture, but deep down we all know that by accepting these sanctions — despite Kraft’s claim that “there was no hard evidence and everything was circumstantial” — the Patriots are admitting that they are at least a little guilty in the systematic deflation of game-day footballs.
In New England, we know that this decorated team has won its championships on merit and smarts, but the tarnish of a second cheating scandal will stick with the franchise. The legion of haters (jealous folks who have been getting their butts kicked for 15 years) will always have a hammer to use against the four-ring champs from Foxborough.
Why did Kraft do this? He reasoned, “at no time should the agenda of one team outweigh the collective good of the full 32 . . . believing in the strength of the partnership and the 32 teams, we have concentrated the power of adjudication of problems in the office of the commissioner.
“Although I might disagree with what is decided, I do have respect for the commissioner and believe that he’s doing what he perceives to be in the best interest of the full 32.’’
Baloney. If the Patriots thought they could win an appeal or successfully sue the NFL, they’d start the process immediately. Kraft spent time with Goodell Saturday. Once he arrived in San Francisco, he had three days to take a straw poll of fellow owners. He could not have liked what he heard.
New England’s “Wells Report in Context,’’ did not play well around the country. Maybe it was a blunder to sell the preposterous notion that “The Deflator” was just an overweight guy trying to drop a few pounds.
I polled folks from three organizations early Tuesday, and it did not sound good for the Patriots.
“There isn’t much support for the Patriots,’’ said an owner of a vaunted NFL franchise. “I’ve been hearing all the claims of Patriot fans and folks poking holes in the Wells Report, so I read it again last night. You know what? The league has enough on them.’’
By the time he took the podium, Kraft no doubt knew this.
He spoke of two polarized audiences: Patriots fans and “fans that feel just the opposite.’’ He said the two sides will never agree. He is correct. And the split is going to be more defined than ever as things move forward.
Big loss for the Patriots Tuesday. And for their fans. The weird science and Ideal Gas Laws are all out the window now. Fans have nothing left to fight for except the reputation (and the suspension) of the man Bob Kraft never mentioned . . .
Dan Shaughnessy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org