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Super Bowl LI: Two years after Deflategate, Robert Kraft able to dial it down

New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft answers questions

New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft answers questions during opening night for the NFL Super Bowl 51 football game at Minute Maid Park Monday, Jan. 30, 2017, in Houston. Credit: AP / David J. Phillip

HOUSTON — Two years ago, Patriots owner Robert Kraft stood at a podium in a hotel ballroom outside Phoenix and offered a vigorous defense to anyone who questioned Tom Brady’s alleged role in what would come to be known as Deflategate. It was an impromptu moment for the longtime owner, one born of conviction about the importance of staying together at such a contentious time.

“When you’re accused of being involved in something that was mishandled and inappropriate, it became a big distraction,” Kraft said at Monday’s Super Bowl Opening Night at Minute Maid Park. “Leadership is about stepping up when it’s the appropriate time and then making sure everyone knows they’re all on the same page.”

The Patriots went on to beat the Seahawks, 28-24, in one of the most breathtaking Super Bowl finishes in history, but there would be 18 months of court battles before Brady ultimately decided to serve his suspension during the first four games of the 2016 season. The Patriots already had been fined $1 million and had to surrender first- and fourth-round draft picks months before Brady gave up his court fight.

It was a far more tranquil Kraft who spoke to reporters at the Patriots’ first media briefing this year as his team prepares for Super Bowl LI against the Falcons. It is the eighth Super Bowl appearance for the team under Kraft’s ownership, and the Patriots are trying to win their fifth Vince Lombardi Trophy.

“Sometimes when there are complicated situations in a business, people start pointing fingers,” Kraft said of what happened in the run-up to the Super Bowl two years ago. “We wanted to assure everyone that we’re all together.”

Kraft then cited a passage from the Old Testament in describing how the controversy that flared two years ago ultimately worked out best for the team.

“When tough times come, there’s nothing bad that happens that doesn’t have good associated with it, if you manage it properly,” Kraft said. “I think in a way, that galvanized our whole team. We came very close last year in Denver [in the AFC Championship Game], not getting to this game. We’re real ly pleased to get to this game. It’s been sort of a peaceful year, and we hope we have the privilege of winning it on Sunday.”

Kraft declined to address his support of Donald Trump in the presidential election, saying that “there are appropriate times to talk about that. I’m so privileged to be here in this hallway in this Super Bowl city. There is a time and a place to talk about politics. This is a time I’m going to keep focused on the joy.”

Kraft said he thought back to a piece of advice he offered to Falcons owner Arthur Blank about the Super Bowl experience when the two owners spoke a few days ago.

“I said, ‘Don’t let anyone ruin these two weeks, because there will be a lot of things coming on and pressure, and anyone who starts piercing the bubble of happiness, get ’em out of your life.’ We’re just going to focus on how lucky we are to be here and do whatever we can to help our team win the game.”


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