WASHINGTON -- The Super Bowl champion New England Patriots were honored Wednesday by President Donald Trump at the White House on a day when quarterback Tom Brady stayed behind for "personal family matters" and owner Robert Kraft and head coach Bill Belichick didn't address questions about? the death of former player Aaron Hernandez.
In all, 34 players were present for the afternoon ceremony on the South Lawn, a total similar to the team's past visits in 2004 and 2005 but noticeably fewer than in 2002 and 2015.
Trump commended Kraft for building a "culture dedicated to winning" and noted that "he started it with his coach," Belichick.
"It takes hard work, dedication and commitment by everyone on a team to work together in pursuit of the ultimate goal, a goal that very few people achieve. You've achieved it five times," Trump said, then referencing Belichick's "no days off" chant from the victory parade in Boston and saying it applies to his job, as well.
Trump mentioned eight players specifically, starting with third-year long-snapper Joe Cardona of Navy. Receivers Danny Amendola and Julian Edelman, defensive end Trey Flowers, offensive lineman Marcus Cannon and core special-teams players Matthew Slater and Nate Ebner?also were referenced by Trump.
Later, 24-year-old receiver? Malcolm Mitchell said he was "almost brought to tears" by having the president mention his name.
As for Brady, he said in a statement earlier in the day, "I am so happy and excited that our team is being honored at the White House today. Our team has accomplished something very special that we are all proud of and will be for years to come. Thank you to the President for hosting this honorary celebration and for supporting our team for as long as I can remember. In light of some recent developments, I am unable to attend today's ceremony, as I am attending to some personal family matters. Hopefully, if we accomplish the goal of winning a championship in the future years, we will back on the South Lawn again soon."
Brady's mother, Galynn, who attended just one game last season (Super Bowl LI in February) as she battled cancer, was visiting Boston on Wednesday. Brady seemed to reference the visit in an Instagram post.
Regarding Hernandez, who was found dead in his prison cell early Wednesday, neither Kraft nor Belichick took questions from reporters after the ceremony?to share their thoughts.
Their remarks on Wednesday were limited to the ceremony, in which Kraft said, "It's a distinct honor for us to celebrate what was unequivocally our sweetest championship with a very good friend and somebody whose mental toughness and strength I greatly admire."
Belichick offered his take on the event.
"Along with the parade and ring ceremony, the opportunity and privilege to come to the White House is one of the great things about winning the Super Bowl, so we're very privileged to be here," the coach said.
Of the 34 players who were present, only six had played with Hernandez and none of them spoke with reporters after the ceremony.