On Wednesday, the New England Patriots made their much-anticipated trip to the White House to celebrate their Super Bowl victory.
Tom Brady, the legendary quarterback of the Patriots and friend of Trump, announced at the last minute that he wasn’t going to make the trip, citing family matters. He was hardly alone — only 34 Patriots players made the trip to Washington, D.C.
The New York Times compared Wednesday’s attendance with the turnout in 2015, and even though the Trump administration isn’t the best with crowd estimates, the difference is stark. (The Patriots have since denounced the accuracy of this comparison. Their rebuttal is in the update at the bottom of this post.)
— NYT Sports (@NYTSports) April 19, 2017
Trump, Patriots owner Bob Kraft, and Patriots head coach Bill Belichick all made speeches during the short ceremony, and there were plenty of comparisons drawn between Trump’s presidency and the Patriots’ success on the field.
“With your backs against the wall, and the pundits — good old pundits,” Trump said. “Boy, they’re wrong a lot, aren’t they — (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.”
The president later added that whether “you’re trying to win a Super Bowl or rebuild our country, as Coach Belichick would say, there are no days off.”
Kraft, who has been incredibly outspoken about his friendship with Trump, took the overcoming odds narrative to the extreme.
[E]very time that we have the privilege of coming here to the White House, I think about the long odds that were faced by our country’s forefathers who fought for our freedom and independence.
Overcoming long odds through hard work, perseverance, and, most importantly, mental toughness is the foundation of everything that is great about this country.
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. In that same year, a very good friend of mine for over 25 years, a man who is mentally tough and hardworking 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. (Applause.)
Seven Patriots, including Brady, had previously announced they would skip the ceremonial White House visit. Running back LeGarrette Blount said he doesn’t “feel welcome in that house,” a feeling echoed by safety Devin McCourty.
Last week, McCourty appeared in a video along with his teammate Chris Long to explain why they weren’t traveling to the nation’s capital.
“My son grows up, and I believe the legacy of our president is going to be what it is, I don’t want him to say, ‘Hey dad, why did you go when you knew the right thing was to not go?’,” Long said in the video.
In his typical off-the-cuff style, Trump offered shoutouts to many of the players who did make the visit, and offered a wholly unnecessary recap of the game as well.
The fourth down conversion by Danny Amendola — where’s Danny? Where’s Danny? (Applause.) Way to go, Danny. The big sack by Trey Flowers. Big sack. Where’s Trey? Come on, put your hand up, Trey. See, he’s shy, a little bit. (Applause.) You weren’t shy when you hit that guy, were you? You weren’t shy about — he didn’t mind hitting. Thank you, Trey. Great job. The incredible catch by Julian Edelman. (Applause.) What a catch. We all said, no, that ball was dropped. Isn’t that good? You know, in the old days, they might have said that was dropped. Those replays are good. You’re starting to like the replay, right? (Laughter.) Great going, Julian.
Trump also shared the behind-the-scenes story of the famous (infamous?) letter Belichick sent him during the campaign that he read the day before election day. (You know, the one that Belichick insisted wasn’t an endorsement.)
Apparently Trump gave Belichick a heads up that he was going to read his letter aloud in a “very big and important state,” and Belichick actually rewrote his letter to be even more flattering of Trump.
And just a quick story about the coach. So I had won the primaries, and I’m now in this rather heated election that a few of you have read about. And he wrote me this beautiful letter after the primaries. “Congratulations,” he said all sorts of things that were really good. I mean, it was really a beautiful letter. And it was very close to going before the election. And I called up, and I said, Coach, do you mind if I read the letter tonight to a stadium full of people in a very, very big and important state? And he said, “You know what? I’d rather not have you do that. Could you send it back to me? I’m going to give you another one.” I said, no that’s okay. “Nope, I want to give you another one.” Now, immediately to me, that means he’s going to tone it down because what he said was so nice. And you know what he did? He toned it way up. It was much better. It was much better. He made that the greatest letter, and I did very well in that state. Thank you, Coach. That was very good.
The visit comes on the same day that The Daily Beast reported that Patriots owner Bob Kraft contributed $1 million to Trump’s inaugural committee. In fact, Trump got quite a bit of love from the NFL community — eight NFL owners combined to donate $7.25 million to his inauguration, nearly seven percent of the $107 million in total contributions he received.
“It’s a distinct honor for us to celebrate what was unequivocally our sweetest championship with a very good friend and somebody whose mental toughness and strength I greatly admire,” Kraft said on Wednesday.
UPDATE: The Patriots took to Twitter on Wednesday night to dispute the accuracy of the New York Times’ photo comparison. To prove their point, they chose a photo from the Patriots’ White House visit in 2004, back when George W. Bush was the president.
These photos lack context. Facts: In 2015, over 40 football staff were on the stairs. In 2017, they were seated on the South Lawn. https://t.co/iIYtV0hR6Y
— New England Patriots (@Patriots) April 20, 2017
— New England Patriots (@Patriots) April 20, 2017
UPDATE: Patriots say # of players was smaller this year than 2015 (34 vs. 50) but total delegation was roughly the same. pic.twitter.com/Ij77Def8z5
— NYT Sports (@NYTSports) April 20, 2017
Also on Wednesday night, the Washington Post reported that Tom Brady’s wife, Gisele Bündchen, tweeted, and later deleted, a link to the People’s Climate March, an anti-Trump march planned for April 29 to protest Trump’s environmental policies.
Patriots beat reporter Doug Kyed provided a full list of the Patriots players who skipped the White House visit:
Here's the full list of players who skipped the Patriots' White House ceremony. pic.twitter.com/jAxI8KqLh4
— Doug Kyed (@DougKyed) April 19, 2017
Meanwhile, the New York Times sports editor has taken responsibility for the controversial tweet.
NYT Sports editor gave me a pretty effusive statement on that Trump/Patriots-crowd-size-comparison tweet: pic.twitter.com/yrvyuCPybp
— Colin Campbell (@colincampbell) April 20, 2017
And, of course, Trump has weighed in.
Failing @nytimes, which has been calling me wrong for two years, just got caught in a big lie concerning New England Patriots visit to W.H.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 20, 2017