A PRES­I­DEN­TIAL WEL­COME FOR PATS

Trump con­grat­u­lates Su­per Bowl cham­pi­ons

The Register Citizen (Torrington, CT) - - SPORTS - By Cather­ine Lucey and Jonathan Lemire

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump wel­comed the New Eng­land Pa­tri­ots to the White House Wed­nes­day, not­ing the par­al­lels be­tween his own up­set vic­tory and their stun­ning Su­per Bowl win — but avoid­ing dis­cus­sion of the ap­par­ent prison sui­cide of their for­mer team­mate Aaron Her­nan­dez ear­lier in the day.

As he ex­tolled the team’s virtues and saluted in­di­vid­ual play­ers, the pres­i­dent did not name star quar­ter­back Tom Brady, who no­ti­fied the White House that he was deal­ing with a “per­sonal fam­ily matter” and would not at­tend the cer­e­mony.

Trump hosted the five-time cham­pi­ons on the South Lawn and de­clared that “no team has been good this long.”

“It was a com­plete team ef­fort. That’s the beauty of what they do, they win as a team,” said Trump, who com­pared the team’s 25-point come­back against the At­lanta Fal­cons in Fe­bru­ary to his own po­lit­i­cal up­set. “Pun­dits, boy, are they wrong a lot, aren’t they? They said you couldn’t do it.”

More than two dozen Pa­tri­ots skipped the cer­e­mony. Sev­eral had said be­fore­hand that they would not show for po­lit­i­cal rea­sons. Shortly be­fore the event, Brady posted a photo of his par­ents on In­sta­gram, wish­ing them a happy an­niver­sary.

Cast­ing a pall over the cer­e­mony was the news about Her­nan­dez, who hanged him­self in a prison cell hours be­fore the White House visit, ac­cord­ing to Mas­sachusetts prison of­fi­cials. Her­nan­dez, who played for the Pa­tri­ots from 2010 to 2012, was serv­ing a life sen­tence for a mur­der con­vic­tion. Days ago, the 27-year-old for­mer tight end was ac­quit­ted of a dou­ble mur­der.

A team spokesman said the Pa­tri­ots were aware of the re­ports of Her­nan­dez’s death but the club wasn’t ex­pected to com­ment. Two play­ers were brought to speak to re­porters af­ter the White House cer­e­mony, but both said they had not known Her­nan­dez.

Wide re­ceiver Mal­colm Mitchell said he was moved by the White House cer­e­mony, say­ing it “al­most brought me to tears. As a child grow­ing up, I never would have thought a pres­i­dent would have said my name by any means.”

One player made an im­promptu ap­pear­ance at a White House press be­fore the of­fi­cial cer­e­mony. Tight end Rob Gronkowski stuck his head in the door of the briefing room as Press Sec­re­tary Sean Spicer was hold­ing a tele­vised briefing.

Gronkowski jok­ingly asked Spicer whether he needed any help. Spicer — an avid Pa­tri­ots fan — re­sponded: “I think I got this. But thank you.”

Trump has par­tic­u­larly close ties to the Pa­tri­ots, count­ing owner Bob Kraft and head coach Bill Belichick as friends. One of Trump’s sig­na­ture “Make Amer­ica Great Again” hats was spot­ted in Brady’s locker in 2015.

SU­SAN WALSH — THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump is pre­sented with a New Eng­land Pa­tri­ots jer­sey from Pa­tri­ots owner Robert Kraft, right, and head coach Bill Belichick dur­ing a cer­e­mony on the South Lawn of the White House in Wash­ing­ton, Wed­nes­day where the pres­i­dent hon­ored the Su­per Bowl Champion New Eng­land Pa­tri­ots for their Su­per Bowl LI vic­tory.

AN­DREW HARNIK — THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump, left, ac­com­pa­nied by Pa­tri­ots owner Robert Kraft, bot­tom cen­ter, Pa­tri­ots pres­i­dent Jonathan Kraft, bot­tom right and play­ers in­clud­ing tight end Rob Gronkowski, top sec­ond from right, speaks at a cer­e­mony at the White House.

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