FOXBOROUGH — I came in peace. Truly.
I like and respect Bill Belichick. Like most of you, I think he might be the greatest football coach who ever lived.
But I just had to ask.
And to the surprise of no one . . . he had no answer. He didn’t want to go there.
So it looks like we might never know why Malcolm Butler didn’t play in Super Bowl LII. It’s become one of the unsolved mysteries of all time, along with the lost city of Atlantis, Stonehenge, and who killed JFK. There are theories all over the place, but we still have no definitive answer.
One week after the Super Bowl, the Butler question greeted me at spring training in Florida. And every day since. Alex Cora wanted to know why Malcolm Butler didn’t play. David Price wanted to know. Dustin Pedroia. I think even David Ortiz wanted to know, but Big Papi isn’t speaking to me so I was spared another question that had no answer.
Tommy Harper wanted to know. Jim Lonborg. Lenny Clarke. Joe Abboud. Bobby Orr. Danny Ainge. Cam Neely. A-Rod. Bob Cousy.
My mailman and physician. The butcher, the baker, and the candlestick maker.
It’s become a New England parlor game. Working on a mystery without any clues.
Why didn’t Malcolm Butler play in the Super Bowl?
In this spirit, I trekked down to Fort Foxborough at the hideous hour of 8:30 a.m. Wednesday to be there for Bill’s first news conference of training camp. It’s a must-see local event on a par with the Pops on the Esplanade on July 4, and the L Street Brownies taking their New Year’s Day plunge in Dorchester Bay.
I had attempted to get Bill one-on-one earlier in the week, but he respectfully declined, leaving me no choice but to take his news conference to a place he never wants to go: the past.
So there we were Wednesday morning in the bowels of Gillette as Bill delivered his 2018 inaugural address.
Four minutes in, NBC Sports Boston’s Kevin Walsh asked Bill about Tom Brady’s and Rob Gronkowski’s contracts.
“There’s never any contract news,’’ Bill sniffed. “We don’t talk about contracts. It’s a personnel matter.”
When Walsh followed by asking if the coach was bothered that the two stars were not at OTAs, Bill shifted into Obtuse Obfuscation Overdrive.
“Right now we’re getting ready for the start of training camp so everything that happened last year and in the spring and all that I’m not focused on any of that. I’m focused on what we need to do in training camp . . . That’s where my focus is.’’
This was the Butler window. It was now or never. I pounced.
Me: Bill, I know you’re all about this year and we all understand that. Good luck this year.
Bill: That’s right.
Me: I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t ask about last year.
Bill: Last year is last year. I’m not focused on last year.
Me: What about the fact that everywhere we go, folks want to ask about Malcolm Butler? Sports coaches, players, universally. You’re a sports fan.
Bill: Yeah, we talked about that. That’s multiple months ago.
Me: Is there going to be any more explanation about why he didn’t play?
Bill: I’m focused on training camp.
Me: Would you do it any differently?
Bill: Training camp? We’re getting started. We’re working on that right now. We’ll do the best we can.
Me: Does it matter to you? Do you care that fans want to know more about this?
Bill: I’m focused on doing the best that I can for the 2018 New England Patriots. That’s my job. That’s what I’m going to do. That’s what I’ve always done in the past. Every day that I’ve coached here I’ve done the best that I could for this football team and I’ll continue to do that. And right now my focus is on the 2018 season. Not 2017, not 2014, not 2007, not 2004, not 2001, not 2000. I’m not focused on any of those seasons. They’re done.
Me: And for this season — for this season’s team — is it important for you to address the Malcolm Butler thing with your team?
Bill: It’s important for me to have a good season in 2018. I’m going to do everything I can to do that. I’m going to do the best that I can for our football team. That’s my job and that’s my responsibility and that’s what I’m going to try to do. Hopefully you can respect that, but maybe not.
Me: Thank you.
That was it. One minute and 32 seconds of nothing.
We have plenty of respect for Belichick. But we will have no answer to the Butler question.
We’re on to 2018.