CHANDLER, Ariz. — Maybe there is a more elegant interpretation of the blunt-force message Patriots owner Robert Kraft delivered to the National Football League Monday night, a message that was a bolder reiteration Bill Belichick’s impromptu, science-is-our-alibi Physics 101 lesson Saturday.
But damned if we can find it. And I don’t know that we want to find it. Because this was a situation in which the rough interpretation, though perhaps too crude for certain corners of the internet, stands just fine on its own. It went a little something like this:
If you think you have something on us, bring it. But you don’t. So leave my coach and quarterback alone. And to anyone who isn’t in this organization, this locker room, this huddle, you leave us the bleep alone too. You’re done with us. More important, we’re done with you.
Of course, that’s not exactly how he worded it. Kraft was more eloquent if no less pointed. For posterity’s sake — and just to appreciate owner’s slightly overdue but still admirable got-your-back-fellas attitude, here are his actual words:
“If the Wells Investigation is not able to definitively determine that our organization tampered with the air pressure in the footballs, I would expect and hope that the league would apologize to our entire team, and in particular Coach Belichick and Tom Brady for what they have had to endure this past week,” said Kraft.
“Tom, Bill and I have been together for 15 years. They are my guys. They are part of my family and Bill, Tom and I have had many difficult discussions over the years and I have never known them to lie to me. That is why I am confident in saying what I just said. It bothers me greatly that their reputations and integrity, and by association, that of our team has been called into question this past week.”
Kraft didn’t just throw down the gauntlet. He spiked it Gronk-style, surely causing said gauntlet to deflate by a couple of PSIs. All that was missing from making the speech an instant classic in Patriots lore, one that would be worthy of being played on an endless loop at the Patriots Hall of Fame, was a Mona Lisa Vito reference. Belichick still has him there.
The ritzy Sheraton Wild Horse Pass Resort & Spa, where the Patriots held their media availability shortly after arriving in Arizona Monday, would hardly seem the setting for such beautiful defiance from an owner who has been pelted with accusations that he is some combination of bobo, adviser, enabler, and consigliere for commissioner Roger Goodell.
Instead, he challenged the NFL to bring it, challenge that apparently will now include a photo of a Gillette Stadium toilet as circumstantial evidence. If the league has nothing — and a tale of a ballboy taking 24 footballs into the bathroom for 90 seconds is the absolute epitome of nothing — then the sorry commissioner is going to have to say he’s sorry to one of his presumed allies. How rich is that?
It’s tempting to suggest Kraft also brought the Patriots together, emboldening them with that us-against-the-world mentality that often has been a precursor to gridiron vengeance in the Brady/Belichick era.
Is Deflategate a distraction? No. I mean, it’s a nuisance that has gone on too long, sure. Too much time and way too many words have been spent on this nonsense, which at worst is a bit of common gamesmanship exaggerated by enemies out of envy. But it’s not a distraction. If anything, Belichick will use it to unify this organization into a tighter, focused football family.
Perhaps Belichick lost a few moments of preparation for the truly daunting Seahawks while he was measuring air pressure on footballs of various temperatures in hopes of a coveted Science Fair ribbon. But I seriously doubt it; he’d use his mad science skills to find a way to extend a day to 25 hours before he’d willingly give his team a single second of a short-shrift in terms of preparation. And the gain he gets in using all of this garbage to motivate his team is invaluable.
I’ve said it before this week,and I’ll say it again a few more times before we get to Sunday. This is going to backfire on those who want to see the Patriots fail. This is only making them stronger.
I’m convinced part of the reason Belichick and Kraft — and Brady to a lesser degree — have spoken so adamantly and passionately about this is because … well, foremost because they are pissed off that they have to deal with this nonsense when so much is at stake. But also because there seems to be a heightened awareness that legacies will change, will become even further entrenched in NFL lore, if they win that fourth Super Bowl. And as I’ve watched all of this unfold this week, my belief that they believe they are the superior team in this matchup has only increased.
Brady was a smiling stoic during his availability, praising the Seahawks and then praising them again, though he did briefly allow for a big-picture moment of nostalgia that suggested he too appreciates that there’s more at stake beyond a Lombardi Trophy.
“To have an opportunity to play in this game is really unbelievable,” said Brady, whose fourth Super Bowl victory would tie him with Terry Bradshaw and Joe Montana for the most of any quarterback. “I never thought I’d have the experience to play in one of these. To think that it’s my sixth time, I can’t imagine that I’d think I’d ever play anything professionally. Certainly to make the Super Bowl is a pretty amazing experience. To do it once and then six times is very, very special.”
Belichick, who followed Kraft to the podium and preceded Brady, seemed remarkably relaxed. He joked with an Australian reporter, suggesting he traveled almost as far as the Patriots did to get to Arizona.
And when ESPN Brasil reporter Johnny Mitchell, a former Jets tight end whose time in New York was slightly longer and considerably less eventful than Belichick’s hours as HC of the NYJ, asked a meandering question that included the line, “I want to celebrate you as a coach,”
Belichick broke up the room with a perfectly deadpan response: “Thank you. I think we have an opening on our staff …”
When Deflategate was mentioned, Belichick did not cringe, grumble, or snort. Instead, he offered a calm if standard reply that was some variation of “this week it’s all about Seattle” or “our attention is totally focused on the Seattle Seahawks.”
Football-specific questions, well, they were welcomed with a filibuster that tended to mention every positional grouping on the Seahawks’ roster. I would not have been surprised if he delved into a historical compare-and-contrast on the relative merits of legendary Seahawks safety Kenny Easley versus legend-in-the-making Kam Chancellor.
But it stuck with you when Belichick weaved in sometimes unsolicited words of genuine praise for his football team. “I like this team and I like the way they’re going about their job,” he said at one point. The antenna always goes up when Belichick does this, because he is not one to offer such plaudits without purpose. He’s not one for false praise.
No, he did not betray the actual specifics of what he liked about his team’s preparation this week. But that’s no surprise. The Patriots aren’t betraying anything or anyone this week.
Especially each other. The ranks have closed. The circle has tightened. It’s Brady, Belichick — and the owner too — all of them against the world.
Don’t know about you, but I cannot wait to see what their unleashed vengeance against the rest of us looks like come Sunday.