CHANDLER, Ariz. — Super Bowl week has arrived for the Patriots, who beat the oncoming blizzard back home by flying out to Phoenix on Monday afternoon, as scheduled. The questions surrounding the underinflated football controversy greeted them in the warm Arizona desert upon arrival.
Not long after the team’s charter flight landed in Arizona, and before coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady took questions from a large media gathering at the team hotel, Patriots owner Robert Kraft unexpectedly took to the podium. Reading from a prepared statement and taking no questions during his address, Kraft strongly expressed his belief that no league rules were broken by anyone in his organization during the 45-7 win over the Indianapolis Colts in the AFC Championship Game at Gillette Stadium.
“I want to make it clear, that I believe unconditionally that the New England Patriots have done nothing inappropriate in this process to be in violation of NFL rules,” Kraft said. “Tom, Bill, and I have been together for 15 years. They are my guys, they are part of my family. Bill, Tom, and I have had many difficult discussions over the years, and I have never known them to lie to me. That is why I am confident in saying what I just said.
“It bothers me greatly that their reputations and integrity — and by association, that of our team — has been called into question this past week.”
Kraft said he welcomed the league’s investigation, but all but demanded an apology from the NFL if it clears the Patriots of any wrongdoing.
“I am confident that this investigation will uncover whatever the facts were that took place last Sunday, and the science of how game balls react to changes in the environment,” Kraft said. “This would be in direct contrast to the public discourse which has been driven by media leaks, as opposed to actual data and facts.
“Because of this, many jumped to conclusions and made strong accusations against our coach, quarterback, and staff. If the [NFL] investigation is not able to definitively determine that our organization tampered with the air pressure in the footballs, I would expect and hope that the league would apologize to our entire team, and in particular, Coach Belichick and Tom Brady for what they have had to endure this past week. I am disappointed in the way this entire matter has been handled and reported upon.”
Following Kraft’s comments, Belichick was next to the podium, and after opening with what one might expect — “It’s a great honor and privilege to represent the American Football Conference in this great game” — he began to take questions. They were immediately about the deflated football issue, and also a Monday report that the NFL has a “person of interest” they’re looking at. According to Fox Sports, a Patriots locker room attendant is accused of taking the footballs from the officials’ locker room and briefly bringing them somewhere else before they reached the field.
Belichick, no matter the question, gave some version of the same answer.
“I appreciate the question, but I spent as you know quite a bit of time at two lengthy press conferences about that,” Belichick said. “My attention is totally turned now and focused on the Seattle Seahawks and our game Sunday, and that’s where it’s going to stay.”
The team’s five available captains — Brady, Matthew Slater, Dan Connolly, Vince Wilfork, and Devin McCourty — also took questions from the media.
“It’s going to be a fun week, I’m excited for the challenge. It’s a big challenge for us,” Brady said. “I hope we can get focused on all the important things, and eliminate as many distractions as possible.”
The entire team will spend a full hour on Tuesday at the league’s annual Media Day, where they can expect to field even more questions about the football controversy from the largest press gathering of the week.
That’s yet to come. On Monday, the Patriots received a fan sendoff from City Hall Plaza, flew out before the snow arrived, and continued the build-up for Sunday’s Super Bowl against the Seahawks.
“I think we’re just very excited to be here,” Slater said. “You understand how hard it is to get to this game, you understand how hard you have to work. We’ve put that work in, and it’s paid off for us. We’re excited. We’ll enjoy our experience out here, but at the same time we’ll remain focused on the task at hand. Hopefully we can have a good week of preparation, and come Sunday we can go out and represent ourselves in the right way.”