When Rob Gronkowski playfully swiped Tom Brady’s Super Bowl LI jersey during Opening Day ceremonies at Fenway Park, the crowd roared with approval.
Brady tracked down Gronkowski in a matter of seconds with a not-so-picture-perfect tackle (perhaps Patrick Chung can give his quarterback some pointers). It was a lot less complicated a procedure than what it took to track down Brady’s jersey the first time it was swiped.
The recovery took six weeks with a multinational effort, with multiple law enforcement agencies — and one precocious teenage Patriots fan — combining to get the job done.
When Patriots owner Robert Kraft went about thanking “the FBI, the Mexican authorities, and the many different agencies that were involved in the investigation and ultimate recovery of Tom Brady’s [jerseys],’’ it highlighted just how many departments had a hand in the operation.
James Norton, who served as Deputy Assistant Secretary of Homeland Security from 2003-08, said cooperation between branches has improved in post-9/11 America.
“Especially in a place like Texas where there are a lot of issues along the border, like drugs, and other things coming across the border,’’ said Norton, a Sandwich native. “It’s not unusual for the Houston Police Department, the Texas Rangers to have really good relationships with the FBI because they’re dealing with international crime all the time. So I think it was pretty natural for them to talk about potential suspects and them reaching into Mexico.’’
When a case has so many cooks working the broth, order must be established to avoid things spoiling. The first question is, who takes the lead?
“It starts locally,’’ said Norton, who now teaches courses on Homeland Security and cybersecurity at Johns Hopkins University. “Houston PD is going to take the lead since it was a local crime. Once they determined that this might be someone that was out of their jurisdiction, there are liaisons around the country with the Houston PD, the FBI, the joint terror task force, etc., for different jurisdictions. They would reach out to work on cases. Doesn’t always work perfect, but I think in this case, they seemed to work closely and kick it up the chain and get things going.’’
Department liaisons have been key in streamlining cooperation between agencies. They break down walls and improve communication.
“There’s always going to be bureaucracy when you’re cutting across jurisdictions,’’ said Norton. “One of the challenges post-9/11 and one of the recommendations of the post-9/11 Commission Report was looking at some of those jurisdictional challenges. Something as simple as ‘Do police and fire get along? Do they connect and share information?’ Information sharing has been a pretty big push across the [law enforcement] community.’’
One of the keys to the Brady jersey recovery moving so swiftly was that many professional sports teams have former police officers and FBI employees working on their security teams. In lots of cases, cross-departmental relationships are already in place.
Of course, it didn’t hurt that the alleged perpetrator, Mauricio Ortega, was so brazen in his attempt to sell the stolen goods — particularly to 19-year-old Patriots fan Dylan Wagner, who is being credited with helping bring down Ortega, who was a credentialed journalist with Mexico-based La Prensa at the time of the crimes.
With the memorabilia recovered — Brady’s jerseys were just part of Ortega’s stash according to Wagner, who saw pictures of the collection — the next step is determining prosecution decisions. Who brings charges?
“There’s two options here,’’ said Norton. “The state attorney or city attorney for Houston certainly would have an opportunity to bring charges. And the federal prosecutor can look at bringing charges.’’
This is where a balancing act comes in. Is it worth the time and money to extradite Ortega for his crimes? Doing so also wouldn’t deter people from staging similar crimes.
“As far as extradition and a process, I think that’s TBD as to what they want to do,’’ said Norton, who, despite living on Capitol Hill, still maintains his Patriots season tickets. “But I’d go back to the NFL and it goes back to security from their standpoint and what kind of message do they want to send to people that think they can take advantage essentially of credentials or take advantage of access to things like a Super Bowl, behind the scenes at a stadium and ensuring that there isn’t any other types of fraud going on.’’
The possibility exists, said Norton, that no charges come of this heist.
“I’m not inside it, maybe they made a deal with this person to say, ‘Hey, turn over the jerseys and we’re just going to move on,’ ” he said.
Among the suggestions Norton has for the NFL for preventing copycat crimes include greater scrutiny in terms of access points at the stadiums for people other than fans and better vetting of people that have locker room access.
NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said the league always reviews its procedures “and will do so again this offseason.’’
If you want to get a gander at Brady’s recovered jerseys, they’re currently on display at the Patriots Hall of Fame.
Criticism of TE a bit over the top
Rob Gronkowski’s hijinks at Fenway Park came just a few hours after he stole the show at WrestleMania 33 at the Citrus Bowl in Orlando.
Gronkowski looked in fine football form just months removed from back surgery as he lined up in a three-point stance before laying a shoulder hit into Jinder Mahal, who moments earlier had fired a drink into Gronk’s face. Gronkowski helped secure a victory for Mojo Rawley (a Gronk pal outside the ring — as is everyone named Mojo) in a battle royal tribute to the late Andre the Giant.
Gronk the Giant has taken some heat for participating in the event as he continues to rehab from surgery.
The criticism seems a bit out of place. This is Gronk. This is how he rolls — full speed ahead.
Nobody knows their body better than Gronkowski, and if he felt 100 percent ready to step in the ring, shouldn’t Patriots fans take this as a positive sign that the hours of rehab have been paying off? Team Gronk always errs on the side of caution, so the big tight end must be feeling pretty chipper.
With the offseason program set to begin in a little over a week, it will be interesting to see if Gronkowski is a full participant. If he’s a no-go, expect the criticism to come back tenfold.
The guess here is that he will be.
Romo showed he talks good game
Super Bowl XLIX will always be remembered as Malcolm Butler’s coming-out party. The then-undrafted rookie free agent made a life-changing interception to secure New England’s 28-24 win over Seattle.
As it turns out, Butler wasn’t the only one building his résumé that weekend in Arizona. Recently retired Tony Romo did, too. Neither had any idea what was in store for them after chance meetings.
Butler bumped into Ricardo Lockette and it altered his history. Romo bumped into Sean McManus and David Berson to alter his.
McManus, the chairman of CBS Sports, and Berson, the president of CBS Sports, had briefly met Romo previously, but this encounter at a Friday night league party was different.
“I said to Tony, ‘What do you think about the game?’ I didn’t realize I was going to get an audition with Tony for about 10 minutes,’’ McManus said last week. “He broke down the entire game.’’
McManus and Berson were captivated.
“What does New England need to do to stop Marshawn Lynch? What should [Tom] Brady do against that incredibly successful and talented Seahawks secondary?’’ were just two of the topics McManus remembered Romo covering.
McManus then joked that Romo even foreshadowed Butler’s big interception.
“The fact that he broke down the game in such an incredibly good way for 10 minutes, I walked away from that conversation and said to David, ‘Someday that man is going to be a lead analyst for somebody,’ ’’ McManus said. “We didn’t know it was going to be CBS, but I had a really strong feeling he was going to be a lead analyst.’’
Romo recalled the conversation but didn’t really consider it an audition at the time because to him, it just felt natural.
“The weird part is when I start talking football . . . I’ve probably been auditioning most of my life,’’ he said. “Because I just get excited and passionate talking about the game. I enjoy the detail of it. I enjoy the subtleties.’’
As CBS’s lead color analyst, Romo will be in line to work a lot of Patriots games — the network’s top tandem is always good for a handful per season. It’s clear he’s already pretty familiar with the Super Bowl champions despite playing against them just twice during his 13-year run in Dallas.
Last week Romo highlighted what he thought was a huge key to New England’s dramatic win over Atlanta in Super Bowl LI in February. It’s the kind of observation he hopes to pass on to his viewers.
“There are millions of little scenarios within the game. [Look at] the adjustment that took place in the Super Bowl,’’ he said. “Bill Belichick runs a Bear front defense, which means he basically puts three D-linemen right over the center and guards. Well, guess what Atlanta does? They run wide, and they gash them in the first half.
“Well, how smart is Bill Belichick? He comes right out and runs a completely different front in the second half. They get one [good] run. Well, it’s a really intelligent move, and that’s the kind of stuff you have a chance to communicate if you get out there and recognize it and communicate it to the general public.’’
Romo, who will be paired with Jim Nantz, replaces Phil Simms, a favorite target (literally and figuratively) of Patriots fans. Who could forget Simms getting nailed by a snowball in the final game at the old Schaefer/Sullivan/Foxboro Stadium?
Long, Bennett will be missed
Two guys who will be really missed in the Patriots locker room are veterans Chris Long and Martellus Bennett.
Both players made their marks in the NFL long before arriving in Foxborough and added to their legacies by helping the Patriots to their fifth Super Bowl title. It was the first ring for both players.
Neither Long nor Bennett were the centerpiece of their units and they didn’t put up gaudy numbers (Long had four sacks and 10 quarterback hits, Bennett had 55 catches), but both were dependable, reliable, and accountable. Both suited up for every game.
Long, now an Eagle, didn’t always get to the quarterback but he always made him uncomfortable. Bennett, now a Packer, wasn’t always the No. 1 target, but if he wasn’t he was blocking his butt off.
Their contributions on the field will be missed, but so too will their presence in the locker room, where they were a reporter’s dream.
I don’t think Long ever turned down a request for a chat. He was polite, thoughtful, respectful, and insightful. He was a newcomer in New England but he established himself as a leader from Day 1.
Bennett’s Thursday musings were a must-follow and reporters staked out his locker as soon as the room opened. It was always a mob scene. He was honest and hilarious.
Bennett turned down interview requests on Fridays, but it was often when he was at his best. “I don’t talk on Fridays,’’ he would say, before spouting his philosophies on life and football to anyone and everyone.
He would always shout a parting shot on his way out the door. “Don’t drink and drive, you don’t want to end up in your own papers,’’ he told reporters one week.
The Patriots’ loss is the Eagles’ and Packers’ gain and their new coaches are excited to have them aboard.
“[Chris] is a guy that we feel can add some depth and leadership,’’ said Philadelphia coach Doug Pederson at the recent owners meetings in Phoenix. “I know just from watching him from afar he’s explosive, he’s aggressive, and he’s got a little bit of that bulldog in him. Those are the kind of guys you want to acquire.’’
Packers coach Mike McCarthy is thrilled to have another weapon at Aaron Rodgers’s disposal.
“He was a very productive player in an outstanding offense,’’ McCarthy said of Bennett. “We had him in our cut-ups this year, so I got to see him play a lot of football. To me, he’s one of the best, or potentially the best, tight end in the National Football League and it’s my job to make sure I create those opportunities for him to succeed.’’
Seeing Patriots owner Robert Kraft give LeGarrette Blount a big bear hug at the Celtics-Cavaliers game Wednesday night added fuel to the speculation that the big back will return to Foxborough this season. It’s seems like a no-brainer. Blount, who is wildly popular with his teammates, loves it here, the staff loves him, and he’s a perfect fit to round out the New England’s running back corps. He’s big (6 feet, 250 pounds), he knows the offense, and he has a nose for the end zone. Look for a new deal to get done sooner rather than later . . . In case you missed it, Brandon Bolden’s new deal with the Patriots is for one year and $885,000. That means Dion Lewis, James White, Rex Burkhead, and Bolden will all be free agents after the season. D.J. Foster is the only running back on the roster signed past 2017 . . . One of the more intriguing free agents/reclamation projects on the market is defensive end Dion Jordan, the third pick in the 2013 draft by Miami. He’s played in just 26 career games because of multiple violations of the NFL’s substance abuse policy and multiple injuries. The 27-year-old was recently cut by the Dolphins after a failed physical, but if he can get healthy and get his act together he could help a team . . . Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger announced Friday that he is not retiring. Not sure what the more shocking news out of Pittsburgh was this month, Big Ben’s news or the fact that Sidney Crosby has immunity to chop and spear his way through the NHL . . . It’s been a busy offseason for Chris Hogan, who along with his fiance, Ashley Boccio, welcomed twins late last month. On Friday, Hogan dipped back into his lacrosse days (seriously, Hogan played lacrosse in high school and college) by signing a one-day deal with the New England Black Wolves of the National Lacrosse League. Hogan is friends with Black Wolves defender Bill O’Brien. I don’t know a ton about Black Wolves, or lacrosse for that matter, but I know the Black Wolves’ team logo is pretty sweet.
End of the line
A pair of the game’s most feared pass rushers announced their retirements DeMarcus Ware and Robert Mathis. Both registered more than 120 sacks and played in fewer than 200 career games. Only six other players can say the same.
Jim McBride can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @globejimmcbride. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.