The New England Patriots visited the White House on Wednesday, where they presented President Trump with an official Super Bowl LI jersey and helmet.
The president lobbed compliments on the team, including on owner Robert Kraft, who supported Trump’s presidential campaign, comparing Kraft to late New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner and lauding him for building “a culture dedicated to winning.”
Trump also gave accolades to Coach Bill Belichick, whom he called a “special man.”
“It’s called the ‘Patriot Way,’ and that really starts with Coach Belichick,” Trump said.
It wasn’t just the team that heard nice words on Wednesday. So did the president after he turned the mic over to Kraft, who compared the Pats historic win over the Atlanta Falcons to that of his “very good friend” Trump’s electoral victory in November.
“Overcoming long odds … is the foundation of everything that is great about this country,” Kraft said at the ceremony from the South Lawn of the White House.
“This year’s championship was achieved after falling behind 25 points … that deficit had only been overcome seven times,” he continued. “In that same [manner], a very good friend of mine for over 25 years … launched a campaign for the president … facing odds almost as long as we faced. He persevered to become the 45th president of the United States.”
The day didn’t begin with such gravitas, however. When the team arrived, one of the first things hard-partying tight end Rob Gronkowski did was crash White House news conference to ask spokesman Sean Spicer if he needed any help.
— Bradd Jaffy (@BraddJaffy) April 19, 2017
Spicer took the joke in jest, retweeting a Fox News clip of the incident that described the incident as “lighthearted.”
Gronkowski, meanwhile, also took in some of the White House sites, including the red room, and the Oval Office, where he posed for a picture with his teammates alongside Trump.
On hand for the festivities was also Belichick and Kraft, both known supporters of Trump.
Conspicuously absent from the bunch, however, is the star quarterback who announced on Wednesday morning that he’d skip the New England Patriots’ trip, despite that the White House is now occupied by his friend, Trump.
While Brady only cited “some recent developments” and “personal family matters” in his original statement explaining his absence, the 39-year-old later indicated on Instagram that he would be spending the day celebrating his parents’ 48th anniversary with his family.
In his initial statement, Brady thanked the president “for hosting this honorary celebration and for supporting our team for as long as I can remember.”
Brady added: “Hopefully, if we accomplish the goal of winning a championship in future years we will [be] back on the South Lawn again soon. Have a great day!”
Brady made no mention of the suicide of former Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez in a Massachusetts prison that occurred earlier in the day. Meanwhile, the Patriots have said they will have no comment on his death.
That Brady is choosing to spend the day with his parents is not entirely a surprise. Earlier, ESPN’s Mike Reiss reported Brady’s mother, Galynn, was visiting the family. Galynn Brady has been undergoing treatment for cancer for the last couple of years and was able to attend only one game last season — until Super Bowl LI. Brady shared a photo of her with his daughter, Vivian, last week on Instagram.
There is also precedent for Brady’s absence. The quarterback famously skipped the trip to the Obama White House after the Patriots won Super Bowl XLIX.
“Everybody has their own choice,” Brady said in February. “There’s certain years, like a couple years ago, I wanted to go and didn’t get the opportunity based on the schedule. We didn’t get told until I think like 10 days before we were going, and at that point, I had something I’d been planning for months and couldn’t get there.” That “something” was, in part, an endorsement appearance for Tag Heuer.
This time, it was believed that Brady might make the trip. During Trump’s campaign, he was spotted with a “Make America Great Again” cap in his locker and said he and the president was a friend, a loyal Patriots supporter and a golfing buddy. Although he didn’t divulge which candidate he voted for, he did say that it was possible to have friends with whom one disagreed.
Five of Brady’s teammates have also indicated they will not attend the ceremony on Wednesday. They include: running back LeGarrette Blount, defensive end Chris Long, tight end Martellus Bennett and safety Devin McCourty, whom have all decided to boycott the event because of political differences. Meanwhile, two other players, defensive tackle Alan Branch and linebacker Dont’a Hightower, have previously indicated that they would remain at home. Branch previously said he wanted to spend his off time with his family, while Hightower, who visited the White House in 2015, simply said he doesn’t need to go because he’s been before.
In addition to the players who made announcements prior to skipping the event, wide receiver Danny Amendola, cornerback Malcolm Butler, and running backs Dion Lewis and James White also appear to be a no-shows. It is unknown why.
A total of 34 players, however, did attend the festivities, according to the Boston Herald, including Gronk, star wide receiver Julian Edelman and backup QB Jimmy Garoppolo.