The New England Patriots are the professional sports team most closely associated with President Donald Trump, so it was fitting that they were the first championship team to visit Trump in the White House.
Many of them visited on Wednesday, anyway. Many others skipped the trip.
Perhaps the most awkward moment of a fairly routine speech by a president to a winning team – including owner Robert Kraft presenting Trump with a No. 45 Patriots jersey and coach Bill Belichick giving him a helmet – came when Trump mentioned receiver Danny Amendola for his fourth-down catch in Super Bowl LI. Amendola was one of the players who skipped the trip.
“The fourth-down conversion conversion by Danny Amendola, where is Danny?” Trump said, looking back to the players behind him for Amendola before apparently being told Amendola wasn’t there. “Way to go, Danny.”
Trump seemed to go out of his way to avoid mentioning players who weren’t on the White House trip, which made the Amendola moment stand out. He praised Trey Flowers for a Super Bowl sack, but didn’t mention Dont’a Hightower, whose strip-sack was probably the biggest play of the game. Hightower wasn’t at the White House. Trump mentioned lesser-known players like Matthew Slater, Nate Ebner, Marcus Cannon and the offensive line, but didn’t mention James White, who scored the game-winning touchdown in overtime of the Super Bowl. White reportedly wasn’t at the White House visit.
And, notably, Trump never mentioned quarterback Tom Brady, undeniably the team’s biggest star. Brady didn’t go to the White House, citing a family situation. Brady and Trump are friends, but Brady has avoided talking about Trump for months.
A significant part of Trump’s speech focused on Kraft and Belichick, who are Trump supporters. Trump said that not only did Belichick send him a letter before last November’s election, but when Trump asked Belichick if he could read the letter at a rally in New Hampshire right before the election, Belichick sent him an improved letter to read.
“He said, ‘You know what, I’d rather not have you do that [read the original letter], could you send it back to me? I’m going to give you another one,'” Trump said. “I said, ‘No, that’s OK.’ [Belichick said} ‘No, I’m going to give you another one.’
“Immediately to me that means he’s going to tone it down because what he said was so nice. You know what he did? He toned it way up. 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. He’s just a special guy.”
Mark Daniels, a Patriots beat writer for the Providence Journal, studied a photo posted by the Patriots from their Snapchat account and counted 34 players who were missing. It’s possible Daniels couldn’t see a player who was in the picture or they were at the White House and there was a reason they were not in the photo, but a significant portion of the team was not on the trip.
From that photo, it looks like these are the Patriots players not at the White House pic.twitter.com/GmQ1BCCNFZ
— Mark Daniels (@MarkDanielsPJ) April 19, 2017
NFL Network’s Kimberly Jones reported that 34 Patriots players were part of the party that traveled to the White House, but she said that wasn’t unusual for the team. She cited two previous White House visits by the Patriots, in which 36 Patriots came to a 2004 visit and 27 Patriots players were on the 2005 trip. In those seasons, the Patriots were coming off their second and third Super Bowl wins in four years. Last season’s Patriots won their second Super Bowl in three seasons. The NFL Network said the Denver Broncos had nearly full attendance for their Super Bowl championship White House trip last year when Barack Obama was president. That was the Broncos’ first Super Bowl win since the 1998 season.
Some Patriots players said they wouldn’t attend this year due to political reasons, others said they weren’t going but it had nothing to do with politics.
Trump talked about the persistence of the Patriots and their tremendous success through the years, and like most presidents greeting a championship team, he found a way to include some humor.
“With their backs against the wall and the pundits – good old pundits, boy they’re wrong a lot, aren’t they? – saying you couldn’t do it, the game was over, you pulled off the greatest Super Bowl comeback of all time,” Trump said.
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