Tom Brady Sr. broached the subject with his son about a month ago, only in passing, personal curiosity regarding an unusual national fascination. “So,” he said, “I guess the league didn’t find your jersey.”
Even by that point, roughly two weeks after an alleged thief had brazenly stolen his jersey out of the New England Patriots’ victorious Super Bowl locker room, Tom Brady knew different. He told his father what had been relayed to him: Investigators had identified a culprit.
“The only thing I knew is that they had a lead on the guy for the last month,” Brady Sr. said Tuesday in a telephone interview. “He told me they kind of know who the guy is, and they have him under surveillance.”
On Monday, the curious case of Brady’s pilfered jersey neared a conclusion. Police in Houston, the site of Super Bowl LI, announced the jersey — along with another stolen Brady jersey, from Super Bowl XLIX — had been recovered in Mexico following an investigation that also involved the Texas Rangers, the FBI, NFL security and the Patriots. The haul also included, it would later be learned, the helmet Von Miller wore in Super Bowl 50.
The NFL said the gear had been found in the possession of a credentialed member of the “international media.” The Mexican tabloid La Prensa identified the suspect as Mauricio Ortega, the newspaper’s director. Houston Police Chief Art Acevado said he would “fully anticipate charges being brought,” and that the charges could include transporting stolen goods across state lines and out of the country.
Law enforcement officials have not publicly named Ortega. The case remains under investigation, and no charges have been filed, said Jennifer Lowery, an executive assistant at the U.S. attorney’s Office in Texas’s Southern District.
The case began in the moments after the Patriots overcame a 25-point deficit to win the Super Bowl on Feb. 5, the fifth title of Brady’s career. Video taken by Yahoo Sports in the aftermath of the Super Bowl showed Brady furiously rummaging through a duffel bag for his jersey, then exclaiming to an official it had been stolen.
The Houston Police Department’s major offenders division spearheaded the investigation. Acevedo used “a handful” of detectives and told those working the case not to “burn the midnight oil,” he said, not wanting to devote too many resources to finding, essentially, someone else’s laundry. But he also believed the case carried meaning. Houston had hosted the biggest sporting event in the United States, and the missing jersey represented the biggest glitch.
“You don’t come to Texas and embarrass us here on our home turf,” Acevedo said in a news conference.
Houston police combed through video, some of which Fox Sports obtained and showed Monday. They interviewed many close to the situation, including Brady himself. A tip led the investigators to Mexico, and from there police cooperated with the FBI and Mexican authorities. On March 14, Ortega resigned from La Prensa, citing family issues, according to a statement the newspaper’s parent company released.
Ulises Hadara, a writer at the Mexico-based NFL website PrimeraYDiez.com, had met Ortega a few times. Hadara viewed some of his actions as unprofessional, such as taking selfies with players. But when word spread he had stolen Brady’s jersey and he saw video of Ortega entering the Patriots’ locker room, “I was shocked,” Hadara said. He worried about the difficulty upstanding Mexican sports journalists may face in gaining access to future NFL events.
“The things this guy did, it’s only helps to fuel some fire,” Harada said. “It’s quite a delicate situation over there with immigration and Mexicans. Sometimes, the actions of one guy can be enough for people to see all Mexican journalists can be like this guy. And it sucks.”
For most in the United States, the missing jersey has become a comedic, harmless caper. It derived from an unsettling breach. Ortega walked into the locker room — and past NFL security — at a period when media members were not permitted. On the video, no one checks his credential, worn on a lanyard underneath his tie, or the backpack hanging off his shoulder.
“They really need to check their protocols and their efforts,” Acevedo said.
Brady’s jerseys were shipped Tuesday to the FBI office in Boston, which worked to authenticate them. Brady appeared bothered on the night of the Super Bowl, but Brady Sr. said he calmed down thereafter. Brady Sr. had yet to speak with his son, on vacation in Costa Rica, since the recovery of his jerseys. At least on the exterior, Brady is not showy with personal memorabilia.
“He’s got virtually nothing in his house,” Brady Sr. said. “The only thing I know is, he’s got his rings.”
At some future date, Brady Sr. surmises, the jerseys he wore in Super Bowls will hold great meaning to his son, especially the one from this year, given the way his season began with a four-game suspension and the deficit the Patriots faced in the game. For now, the elder Brady has a difficult time gauging precisely how much the quarterback cares about such mementos. He tends not to dwell on accomplishments, at least the ones already achieved.
“We ask him which ring is the most important, and he always says the next one,” Brady Sr. said. “That’s probably his take on jerseys at this point.”