CHANDLER, Ariz. — Robert Kraft made a surprise appearance Monday, trying to take the air out of “Deflategate.”
Reading from a statement he wrote Monday on the Patriots’ charter flight to the site of Super Bowl XLIX, the Patriots owner swore to the innocence of his coach and quarterback and demanded an apology from the NFL if, as he suspects, his team is eventually cleared of wrongdoing.
The Patriots are accused of playing the AFC Championship game with underinflated footballs, spawning a weeklong controversy that the owner simply called “the air pressure matter.”
A visibly angry Kraft said Monday that coach Bill Belichick, quarterback Tom Brady and the Patriots were not at fault.
“I want to make it clear that I believe unconditionally that the New England Patriots have done nothing inappropriate in this process or in violation of NFL rules,” he said. “Tom, Bill and I have been together for 15 years. They are my guys. They are part of my family. And Bill, Tom and I have had many difficult discussions over the years, and I have never known them to lie to me.
“That is why I’m confident in saying what I just said. And it bothers me greatly that their reputations and integrity — and by association, that of our team — has been called into question this past week.”
Attorney Ted Wells is investigating the accusation that the Patriots had all but one of a dozen footballs under-inflated for the AFC Championship game. Wells said in a statement Monday the investigation will take “at least several more weeks,” while a Fox Sports report said a locker room attendant was being eyed.
“If the Wells investigation is not able to definitively determine that our organization tampered with the air pressure on the footballs, I would expect and hope the league would apologize to our entire team — and, in particular, coach Belichick and Tom Brady — for what they have had to endure this past week,” Kraft said.
“I am disappointed in the way this entire matter has been handled and reported upon. We expect hard facts as opposed to circumstantial leaked evidence to drive the conclusion of this investigation.”
Kraft’s defiance was an interesting public relations move. In challenging the league, he volleyed the issue back to his good friend, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, whose trustworthiness has just taken a season’s worth of abuse.
The Patriots seemed to take their owner’s statement as the final word on the issue.
Belichick dodged “Deflategate” questions Monday, but said he had a “great relationship” with Kraft. Brady said he heard of his owner’s comments second-hand, but praised the Krafts for being “like family to me.”
“Any time you face adversity, there’s ups and downs personally and professionally, I think there’s a lot of people that you really stick by and you can rely on and love you and support you,” Brady said. “It’s a challenging week but it’s also been a great week in that sense.”