WASHINGTON – During the Robert Kraft/Bill Belichick/Tom Brady era, visiting the White House as Super Bowl champions has become almost commonplace. But make no mistake… no visit to the seat of world power is ever ordinary; particularly this one.
Immediately after Super Bowl LI, Kraft dubbed his team's 25-point, come-from-behind victory "the sweetest" of New England's five titles, and without question, this latest trip to Washington, D.C. proved the most exclusive and hospitable the team had enjoyed in four prior celebratory visits.
Approximately half of the Super Bowl LI squad accepted the invitation to be honored by Donald J. Trump, America's 45th president. Brady was expected to be among them, but at the last minute, he announced that, due to an unforeseen family matter, he would be unable to join his teammates, coaches, and other Patriots staff in Washington.
Meanwhile, the team's charter flight landed at Reagan National Airport around 11:15 a.m. and passengers were bused directly to the White House, where, by noontime, the travel party was inside the East Wing. Upon entering, the United States Marine Corps Band – a.k.a. The President's Own – performed an orchestral version of Ozzy Osbourne's "Crazy Train," a nod to New England's intro music of choice whenever it takes the field on game days at Gillette Stadium. The musical Marines continued to entertain the guests with an eclectic song list while the Patriots enjoyed lunch and snapped photos in the East Wing's many lavish, historic rooms.
Trump's press secretary, Sean Spicer, made a guest appearance during this portion of the itinerary. Spicer, a Rhode Island native and unabashed Patriots fan, posed for numerous photos with players, coaches, and staff. He was comically upstaged earlier, however, by tight end Rob Gronkowski, who – in signature Gronk fashion – momentarily crashed Spicer's daily press briefing to the bewildement of reporters and White House staffers alike.
After lunch, the festivities moved to the Oval Office, where Trump met and greeted nearly every guest in person and posed for photos at the president's desk – a privilege normally not enjoyed by visiting championship teams.
Trump's longstanding and well-documented friendships with Kraft and Belichick were perhaps the reason for the expanded, exclusive access to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. The president made note of these relationships during his remarks at the official welcome ceremony out on the South Lawn.
"He's becoming a pretty famous guy for winning," Trump also said of Kraft. "Bob, I want to commend you for building such an extraordinary organization… No team has been this good for this long. This Super Bowl [LI] victory was a complete team effort. That's the beauty of what they do. They win as a team."
The president, while continuing to praise the Patriots' most recent championship performance, showed off his humorous side when he made a seemingly unscripted, veiled reference to his own odds-defying victory in the 2016 election.
"With your backs against the wall, and the pundits – good ol' pundits... Boy, they're wrong a lot, aren't they? – you pulled off the greatest Super Bowl comeback of all time, and one of the greatest comebacks of all time."
Kraft and Belichick were then invited to the podium to say a few words and present the commander-in-chief with a Patriots helmet and white Super Bowl LI jersey embroidered with the number 45 and TRUMP on the nameplate.
"Every time we have the privilege of coming here to the White House," the team's owner remarked, "I think about the long odds that were faced by our country's forefathers, who fought for our freedom and independence. Overcoming long odds through hard work, perseverance, and most importantly mental toughness is the foundation of everything that is great about this country."
Kraft then praised Trump – a "very good friend" – for winning the presidency after facing long odds similar to those his Patriots encountered in Super Bowl LI. Belichick took the opportunity to thank Trump and the president's staff for their overwhelming hospitality inside the White House, with access to areas normally unseen by teams feted there. The head coach drew the loudest applause when he acknowledged all the Patriots fans who were invited and in attendance.
"It's just been fabulous," a visibly impressed Belichick told the enormous crowd. "Coming to the White House is just one of the great things about winning the Super Bowl."
Traditionally, the tour ends at this point, but the Patriots were treated to the added luxury of visiting the U.S. Capitol building, where the Congress works and votes. Senators and Representatives remain on Easter recess, which helped give the team private tour access to such usually off-limits places as the House Floor (in the chamber where the president's State of the Union Address is annually given) and the Speaker's Balcony overlooking the Washington Mall across to the Washington Monument.
During that stop, several school groups and other tourists recognized the Patriots contingent and snapped photos of and sometimes with the players and coaches. Skies over the capital city were predominantly overcast on this day, yet the reception the Patriots received throughout their visit was overwhelmingly warm and sunny.
By 5:30 that same afternoon – slightly ahead of schedule – the team was back on its charter flight home to New England, after a whirlwind Washington daytrip that might rival its accompanying Super Bowl victory as the most memorable in team history.
The New England Patriots were honored for winning Super Bowl LI at the White House on Wednesday, April 19, 2017.