With your backs against the wall

Samuel Corum/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

Tom Brady and the Buccaneers are at the White House today and somewhat curiously he’s doing Trump bits. Say what you will about the guy but he’s normal as all hell. No denying that. Perhaps one of the most normal ones to ever do it.

I thought I’d revisit this piece I wrote back in 2017 when the Patriots — without Brady or many other big names from the Patriots for that matter — visited with Trump. It was depressing as hell.

Subscribe now

My room wasn't ready when I landed in D.C. Wednesday afternoon. It's something I mention not because the trivialities of someone else's travel complaints aren't de facto eminently fascinating, but because as I made my way along F Street to the White House, past the International Spy Museum, weaving through the roving gangs of Segway tourists, I felt something like a walking manifestation of the Trump administration itself: An asshole in a cheap suit who just emerged out of a sketchy restroom after a 30 second sink-shower with no idea where he's going.

It wouldn't be the last screwup of the day meant to have the festive air of a coronation—the recently elected president feting the most successful (and reviled) franchise in sports, the New England Patriots, for their Super Bowl win. The greatest comeback of all time! You needn't even resort to Trumpian hyperbole in this case. The atmosphere reeked of absence and emptiness, not least because of the dismal, overcast weather.

In a waiting area outside the Northwest gate to the White House, you could feel the disappointment in the air. A young boy in a bow tie and a Tom Brady jersey being ushered in by an aide seemed disinterested; he'd just heard his hero had decided at the last minute not to attend. Corralled inside a makeshift holding cell for Boston sports journalists waiting for our media escort to arrive, I watched the news wash over the kid's face. As 10 minutes stretched into 40, the area became something like a clogged waterslide as one Boston writer after another jammed in only to end up stuck like me. The only more ridiculous spectacle going on nearby was Rob Gronkowski crashing Sean Spicer's media briefing. Hard to imagine him doing any worse, to be honest.

The will-they-won't-they 'shipping of Brady and Trump—great friends in the president's telling—has been an unfortunately dangling plot line throughout the course of the last year, and yet somehow, Brady's abstaining from the team visit due to "family matters," as he announced Wednesday morning, wasn't the darkest cloud looming over the event. Aaron Hernandez, the former Patriots star tight end, and one-time recipient of a Super Bowl touchdown pass from Brady himself, had killed himself in prison. His relationship with the team has long since been severed, but there's little doubt the news was on the minds of coach Bill Belichick and owner Robert Kraft, who had once spoken in exceedingly glowing terms about Hernandez' character. (One wonders about Kraft's judgment when it come to friends; it was also announced Wednesday he had donated $1 million to Trump's inauguration fund.)

The proceedings on the South Lawn had a similar feel to that $107 million inauguration—not in the pomp and circumstance, but rather that barely anyone showed up. While it's not out of the ordinary for a good number of players to avoid events like these, and Brady himself infamously avoided the last trip as well under President Obama, this collection of players seemed less like a full team than a late-season episode of a long-running TV show. Roughly 34 of the active 53-man roster turned up to the ceremony, and of those there, a casual fan would've been hard-pressed to recognize anyone besides Julian Edelman and Rob Gronkowski.

Some absentees were expected, like LeGarrette Blount, Martellus Bennet, Dont'a Hightower, and Alan Branch, as well as Devin McCourty and Chris Long—who recently recorded a video explaining their decision not to go. Some abstained for political reasons, like Long, who said, "My son grows up, and I believe the legacy of our president is going to be what it is, I didn't want him to say, 'Hey, dad, why did you go when you knew the right thing was to not go?'" But the list went on and on. James White, Super Bowl hero, Malcolm Butler (last Super Bowl's hero), Patrick Chung, Dion Lewis, Danny Amendola. Nowhere in sight. (The Patriots remain defensive about the numbers.)

The last one was a surprise, at least to the president. Running through the big plays of the game, Trump singled out a half dozen players for applause: The sack by Trey Flowers, Edelman's catch, and the 4th down conversion by Amendola. "Where's Danny?" Trump asked, realizing too late that he wasn't there. "Way to go Danny," he said, practically pulling on his collar like a standup getting flop sweats. "Sheesh."

Curiously, one name that was never mentioned once throughout the entire ceremony was Brady. Perhaps, like Amanda Knox, he's now on the president's shit list.

In his praise of the team and their "historic win," it was hard not to hear praise for himself. "It's called the Patriot Way, and that really starts with coach Belichick," Trump went on. In the distance sirens wailed along the stretch of the mall, drowning out most of the sound.

"This Super Bowl victory was a complete team effort. That's the beauty of what they do. They win as a team." (They don't, it seems, travel as a team.)

"With your 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, that the game was over, you pulled off one of the greatest comebacks of all time."

Then, echoing a famous statement of Belichick's from the Super Bowl victory parade in Boston, Trump said, "No days off!" to muffled chuckles throughout the press pen.

Trump ceded the mic to Kraft, then Belichick in turn. Kraft, for his part, spoke of the founding fathers and fighting for independence, then did some 9/11 Remembering, as it was the year he first came here with the team after winning the Super Bowl in 2001. "A time in which our nation showed its mental toughness to rally together and to rebound from an unthinkable tragedy."

Trump, too—as mentally tough and hard-working as anyone he knows—faced odds almost as long as the Patriots faced in the third quarter, he said. Belichick soon arrived to produce a football helmet for Trump to brandish. He looked at it like he'd never seen one before.

After the ceremony petered out, I made the walk back in the rain along Pennsylvania Ave., past the protesters and the homeless, the tourists and the armed guards. After all of that, I really needed to take a shower.