Patriots are Trump’s guests of honor at White House
WASHINGTON — The Patriots officially wrapped up their Super Bowl campaign Wednesday at the White House, and they did it the way they started it — without Tom Brady.
The Super Bowl MVP was a late scratch from the festivities, releasing a statement through ESPN that he was “attending to some personal family matters” and wouldn’t make it to the South Lawn celebration.
Brady’s mother, Galynn, has been battling an illness and was in Boston Wednesday. Brady recently posted pictures on social media of his mother holding his daughter and another of his parents’ wedding photo.
Brady, who started the 2016 season by serving a four-game suspension for his role in the controversy that came to be known as “Deflategate,” was not mentioned Wednesday in remarks made by President Donald Trump, Patriots owner Robert Kraft, or coach Bill Belichick.
Brady, who for a time during the 2015 season had one of Trump’s “Make America Great Again” caps in his locker, is a longtime friend and occasional golf partner of the president.
Patriots long snapper Joe Cardona, speaking after the ceremony, said of Brady, “I just know he has a family [matter], so you know . . . but it would have been nice to have him here, yeah.’’
President Trump did single out a few players during his remarks, including Cardona, who was dressed in his Navy blues, thanking him for his military service.
The commander-in-chief also called out Matthew Slater, Marcus Cannon, Trey Flowers, Julian Edelman, Malcolm Mitchell, Danny Amendola, and Nate Ebner for their contributions during the season and in the Super Bowl LI victory over Atlanta.
He even put Ebner, a member of the US Olympic rugby team, on the spot, asking him, “Which sport was tougher?’’
The diplomatic Ebner said with a smile, “I don’t know.’’
All of those players were present on the South Lawn except for Amendola, which appeared to catch Trump by surprise as he turned and asked, “Where’s Danny? Where’s Danny?”
In all, 34 players attended the team’s second White House trip in two years and fifth overall.
“No team has been this good for this long,’’ said Trump.
Among those who attended were Jabaal Sheard and Barkevious Mingo, both of whom are no longer with the team, having signed with the Colts.
Coincidentally, 34 players opted to skip the trip. In addition to Brady, other notable absences were Devin McCourty, Martellus Bennett, Alan Branch, Dont’a Hightower, Chris Long, LeGarrette Blount, Patrick Chung, Dion Lewis, James White, Duron Harmon, and Logan Ryan.
Some of the players, including McCourty, Bennett, and Long, indicated they wouldn’t come because of political differences with Trump. Others simply had scheduling conflicts. Ryan, for instance, is in the process of moving to Tennessee, having signed with the Titans.
With the team as his backdrop, Trump spoke to a group made up largely of Patriots fans and a larger-than-normal media contingent. Several veteran White House wags commented that it was the biggest showing of media they ever remembered for such an event.
Trump, hosting a championship team for the first time since ascending to the Oval Office, was effusive with praise of the franchise and the remarkable comeback victory.
“The Patriots are an incredible organization, and this Super Bowl victory was a complete team effort,’’ he said. “That’s the beauty of what they do — they win as a team.’’
Perhaps thinking back to his own campaign, Trump then took a shot at the nonbelievers.
“With your backs against the wall, and the pundits — good old pundits, boy, they’re wrong a lot, aren’t they?’’ he said to laughter. “Saying you couldn’t do it, the game was over, you pulled off the greatest Super Bowl comeback of all time, one of the greatest comebacks of all time — but the greatest Super Bowl comeback of all time.
“And that was just special. I think I looked at odds and they gave you less than one-half of 1 percent of winning the game.’’
Trump also praised Kraft and Belichick, repeating several times that he has been a longtime friend of the owner and mentioning the letter of support the coach wrote him before the New Hampshire primary.
Kraft thanked Trump and also drew parallels between the Super Bowl comeback and the president’s victory.
“This year’s championship was achieved after falling behind by 25 points — a deficit so great that in the 97-year history of the NFL, over 20,000 games, that deficit had only been overcome seven times,’’ said Kraft.
“In that same year, a very good friend of mine for over 25 years, a man who is mentally tough and hard-working as anybody I know, launched a campaign for the presidency against 16 career politicians, facing odds almost as long as we faced in the fourth quarter. He persevered to become the 45th president of the United States.’’
Kraft and Belichick presented Trump with a white Patriots jersey with the No. 45 and a Super Bowl helmet.
Trump said Mitchell “handled the pressure of the Super Bowl like an absolute true veteran,” and the rookie was blown away by the shout-out.
“It almost brought me to tears,’’ he said. “As a child growing up, I would have never thought a president would’ve said my name by any means. But it’s just a representation of hard work that the team put in. I was just lucky enough to be a part of it.’’
Tight end Rob Gronkowski, normally the life of every party, was subdued during the ceremony but did steal the show earlier in the day, crashing the briefing by White House press secretary Sean Spicer.
“Sean, you need some help?’’ Gronkowski said.
A surprised Spicer, a noted Patriots fan, responded, “I think I got this, but thank you.’’
“You sure?’’ said the tight end.
“Maybe,’’ said Spicer. “All right, thanks man. See you in a minute.’’