Super Bowl bad guys don't take long to circle the wagons
CHANDLER, Ariz. (AP) Those bad guys from New England finally made it out West, and it didn't take long for them to begin circling the wagons.
An angry Robert Kraft led the way on a rainy Monday night in the desert, reading from a defiant speech crafted at 35,000 feet on the way out. It came straight from the heart, the owner of the New England Patriots said, because someone other than Bill Belichick and Tom Brady had to stand up for truth, justice and the American way.
Actually, someone just had to explain what happened to those deflated balls in the AFC championship final, but that wasn't going to happen. Not here and certainly not now, with the Super Bowl just days away and the Patriots desperate for a way to turn the controversy over deflated balls to their advantage.
That, really, was what all this was about. If Belichick was struggling to rally his players around their collective wounded pride, their owner wasn't going to let any more time pass before taking his shot.
Kraft was nothing but all in, declaring that his coach and players had way too much integrity to engage in any kind of shenanigans. To even suggest so, he said, was so offensive that someone really ought to be apologizing, and he wasn't just talking about Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman.
''If the (Ted) Wells investigation is not able to definitively determine that our organization tampered with the air pressure in the footballs, I would expect and hope the league would apologize to our entire team, and in particular to coach Belichick and Tom Brady, for what they've had to endure this week,'' Kraft said.
If his righteous anger was a bit overboard, Kraft certainly had his reasons for taking the podium at the team hotel before Belichick and Brady faced the assembled media for the first time since arriving a few hours earlier.
Clearly, he was looking to take some heat off of Belichick and Brady, who by now have already claimed ignorance about the deflated balls in so many ways that even the media seems tired of asking the questions. But ask they do, because it's Super Bowl week and even the slightest hint of controversy is like raw meat to the insatiable appetite of television and the Internet.
So Kraft tried to turn it to an advantage by declaring his love for both Belichick and Brady, rallying the troops with the classic ''us against them'' mentality that coaches love to use to motivate their teams.
''Tom, Bill and I have been together for 15 years. They are my guys,'' Kraft said. ''They are part of my family. Bill, Tom and I have had many difficult discussions over the years. I've never known them to lie to me. That's why I'm confident in saying what I just said.''
It didn't take long for Belichick to get on the podium and pay his owner back. Dressed for success in coat and tie instead of the traditional hoodie, he said he was forever indebted to Kraft for working out a trade to get him from the New York Jets, had a great personal and professional relationship with the owner, and loved everything about the organization.
Oh, and he wished Patriots fans well in the massive snowstorm hitting the New England area, saying they have the kind of toughness and teamwork to get through it just like the football team they cheer for would get through its own ordeals.
As for those deflated balls? Well, the owner had already had his say, so there was nothing left to add.
''I appreciate the questions, but I've covered everything that I can cover in the previous week and my attention is focused on the Seattle Seahawks,'' he said. ''Our job is to get ready to play this game Sunday and that's where it's going to be from here on out.''
Brady followed in lockstep, proving if nothing else that the Patriots had a game plan for the media this week and are sticking to it. By then, the assembled media seemed exhausted and barely brought up the controversy in a passing reference to one of the greatest passers ever.
Brady did manage to mention, though, how much he loves his owner, too.
''I've been fortunate to play 15 years and it's a privilege to play for this team,'' he said. ''Mr. Kraft, Jonathan (son of Robert Kraft), they're family to me and I'd love to go out and play my tail off and play as best as I possibly can and try to go win a Super Bowl for him.''
On Sunday, the Patriots just may do that, and with properly inflated balls, to boot.
Then maybe the talk will not be about deflated balls or cheating coaches. Instead, it will be about how the guys who are supposed to be so bad can be so good.
Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at tdahlberg(at)ap.org or http://twitter.com/timdahlberg