An overflow gathering of local, regional, and national media gathered in Gillette Stadium's press box Wednesday morning. They came expecting to engage in a question-and-answer session with Bill Belichick on the eve of the first practice of Patriots 2015 training camp and just one day after the NFL upheld the four-game suspension of Super Bowl MVP Tom Brady.
Belichick, the Super Bowl champs' head coach, eventually took his place behind the podium, but in a somewhat surprising development, Patriots owner Robert Kraft arrived with Belichick and stepped up to address the media first. Kraft said he wanted to take the opportunity to address what he called an "unfathomable" decision by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell not to reduce Brady's punishment for his alleged role in what has become colloquially known as "DeflateGate" – the supposed plot to use underinflated footballs during the AFC Championship Game against Indianapolis this past January.
"I, first and foremost, need to apologize to our fans," Kraft began, "because I truly believe what I did in May – given the actual evidence of the situation, and the league's history on discipline matters – would make it much easier for the league to exonerate Tom Brady. Unfortunately I was wrong."
Kraft was referring to his announcement at the NFL's spring meeting in San Francisco two months ago that his club would cease its effort to reduce the team's DeflateGate penalty – a $1 million fine and the loss of two draft choices (including a first-round selection in 2016).
Kraft's unscheduled appearance Wednesday was noteworthy because it appeared as if the organization had made its position known when it released a statement late Tuesday after the Brady appeal ruling was made public.
"Six months removed from the AFC Championship Game," Kraft continued, "the league still has no hard evidence of anybody doing anything to tamper with the PSI levels of footballs. I continue to believe and unequivocally support Tom Brady.
"Yet, for reasons that I cannot comprehend, there are those in the league office who are more determined to prove that they were right rather than admit any culpability of their own or take any responsibility for the initiation of a process and ensuing investigation that was flawed.
"Back in May, I had to make a difficult decision that I now regret. I tried to do what I thought was right. I chose not to take legal action. I acted in good faith and was optimistic that by taking the actions I took, the league would have what they wanted. I was willing to accept the harshest penalty in the history of the NFL for an alleged ball violation because I believed it would help exonerate Tom. Personally, this is very sad and disappointing to me."
Brady, meanwhile, plans to pursue the matter in federal court, with the help of the NFL Players Association, the union which represents NFL players. However, it seems the league has beaten Brady to the punch by reportedly filing a preemptive lawsuit against him in a Manhattan court.
"Which is a tactic that only a lawyer would recommend," Kraft said of the NFL's legal move.
"After this," added Kraft, "I will not be talking about this matter until after the legal process plays itself out and I would advise everyone in the organization to do the same and just concentrate on preparation for the 2015 season."
On three separate occasions, the owner apologized to Patriots fans before finally turning the microphone over to Belichick. The head coach chose to steer clear of any Brady-related questions, saying numerous times, "That's already been addressed."
"We've got all the players back today for the start of training camp. Right now we're in a long step-by-step process as we head into the beginning of the 2015 season. So we're just going to take it one day at a time. I think Robert took care of the other situation. Tom has already had a statement [via Facebook]. So, [there's] nothing really to talk about there. I won't really be dealing with that at all, just trying to get the team ready and prepare for the regular season as we always do and as we did all spring. So there's no change for us on the football team."
The first Patriots training camp practice of the summer starts at 9:15 Thursday morning here at Gillette Stadium.