The New England Patriots' historic come-from-behind victory over the Atlanta Falcons in Super Bowl LI — led by star quarterback Tom Brady — was especially sweet for one of the team's most vocal fans: President Donald Trump.
"What an amazing comeback and win by the Patriots. Tom Brady, Bob Kraft and Coach B are total winners. Wow!" the president tweeted late on Wednesday.
Trump had made the QB's purported support for him a talking point throughout his presidential campaign — although Brady has never publicly confirmed that he voted for him. Besides being one of Brady's regular golfing buddies, the president also enjoys a close personal relationship with the Patriots' owner Robert Kraft and he received a friendly note from the team's irascible coach Bill Belichick shortly before the November election.
Several recent news reports have confirmed that the now five-time Super Bowl champions' apparent coziness with Trump hasn't sat well with some fans in the deeply blue region of the country the team represents.
The president himself addressed the uproar during his headline-generating pre-game interview with Fox News' Bill O'Reilly.
“They’re taking a lot of heat. But you know what? They’re also getting a lot of popularity out of it. I think they’re going to do very well. Tom’s a winner,” he said.
Ironically, despite accurately predicting the Patriots would win, Trump reportedly ditched his own Super Bowl party at his International Golf Club in Palm Springs when the Atlanta Falcons jumped out to what appeared to be an insurmountable 28-3 lead over Brady's squad in the third quarter.
Vice President Mike Pence, however, was in attendance at the game in Houston, seated next to Kraft in his luxury box, despite the fact that he has personally trolled the Patriots in the past:
Over the past several months, Trump has offered up unsolicited defenses of Brady for his alleged role in the deflate-gate scandal (while taking NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell to task). He has also lamented the current state of professional football, complaining that the game has gotten too "soft" and that concussions, which have plagued the support for years, are nothing more than "a little ding on the head."
Trump also has a long history with professional football: He made a play in 2014 to purchase the Buffalo Bills and has suggested that, had he been successful, he might not have pursued a career as a politician. In the mid-1980s he did own a team in the now defunct USFL, and some critics have argued that his eagerness to pit that league against the NFL led to its premature demise.
Brady, who is basking in the glow of his record four Super Bowl MVP awards, has artfully dodged questions about Trump for months, telling reporters last fall that his wife, supermodel Gisele Bundchen, told him not to "talk about politics anymore."
However, one of his teammates, Martellus Bennett, isn't being coy about his position on the new commander-in-chief. Shortly after the game, Bennett was asked if he would accept the customary invite to the White House afforded to NFL champions.
“I’m not going to go,” he said. “It is what it is. People know how I feel about it. Just follow me on Twitter.”
Bennett tweeted in January, "America was built on inclusiveness not exclusiveness." The post appears to be a response to Trump's controversial travel ban affecting seven Muslim-majority countries.
He has also previously said he wouldn't attend a White House ceremony because "I don’t support the guy in the house.”
In an interview with ESPN's "SportsCenter" on Monday, Bennett said that he is sticking by his stance, although he doesn't want to "draw attention from my teammates." He called his decision to boycott a potential invite from Trump "a personal belief and a personal thing for me."
"Is it a big deal? I think so," he told ESPN's Hannah Storm. "I think for the people I represent and the culture I represent, it's huge."
While Bennett said that he would support any of his teammates choosing to go to the White House, he felt that it was important to show his solidarity with the people that are close to him who are being directly affected by the president's actions, although he did not provide specifics.
Athlete rejections of White House welcomes are not new. For instance, when the 1986 champion Chicago Bears were honored by President Barack Obama in 2011, former player Dan Hampton refused to attend because he opposed the Democrat's agenda. Three members of the undefeated 1972 Miami Dolphins did the same thing in 2013.
Iconoclastic NFL linebacker James Harrison has the rare distinction of having rebuffed two sitting presidents, refusing invites from President George W. Bush in 2006 and President Obama in 2009.
And in 2015, when Brady didn't appear at a photo-op with the Super Bowl XLIX championship team citing a family commitment, some viewed it as a politically motivated snub of Obama.
There is no word yet on whether or not any other Patriots players will also sit out the inevitable trip to Washington, D.C., although safety Devin McCourty has spoken out against Trump's immigration ban.
"I don’t want to get too into politics. We always say in the locker room don’t talk religion and politics," he told the Detroit Free Press late last month. "That’s how it gets a little crazy, but just my point of view, I don’t really think that’s necessary, I don’t think that’s the best decision. But no one elected me to make those decisions."
Bennett and McCourty were the only two Patriot players to show solidarity with San Francisco 49ers star Colin Kaepernick's silent protests during the National Anthem last year.