With a trip to the Super Bowl on the line Sunday night at Gillette Stadium, Patriots fans across new England wouldn’t dare miss the action.
Well, most of them wouldn’t.
A vocal minority won’t be watching because Patriots owner Robert Kraft, coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady have shown support for President Donald Trump.
The presidential election exposed a passionately divided fan base.
Before the Patriots faced the Houston Texans in the divisional round of the playoffs last weekend, tailgaters braved temperatures near 20 degrees, burned burritos and political talk.
Patriots fans who support Trump take pride in sharing an apparent political preference with Kraft, Belichick and Brady.
“I do like the idea that they’re Trump supporters and I like the idea that they came out and said it."Patriots fan Barry Dwyer
“I do like the idea that they’re Trump supporters and I like the idea that they came out and said it because the atmosphere is totally wrong,” said Barry Dwyer, 62, of Millis. “You can be a Hillary supporter but you can’t come out and say you’re a Trump supporter in Massachusetts.”
Upon seeing a “Make America Great Again” hat in Brady’s locker way back in September 2015, Dwyer said he thought, “It looks like my locker. I have one also.”
Brady and Trump are golf buddies. And Brady has called Trump a “good friend.” Trump claimed Brady voted for him. But the quarterback has kept quiet about politics since the election, declining to answer Trump-related questions.
“I talked to my wife and she said I can’t talk about politics anymore,” Brady said during a press conference the day after the election. “So I think that’s a good decision made for our family.”
But some Trump-leaning tailgaters wouldn’t mind hearing Brady say more.
Now that Trump’s president, Jennifer Longshaw, 41, of Providence, believes he deserves support from everyone. She liked seeing Kraft visit Trump Tower days after the election. Still, Longshaw doesn’t think the politics of the Patriots, whether pro-Trump or pro-Clinton, should matter much.
"Everybody’s decision is their own,” Longhaw said. “And you shouldn’t be swayed no matter what the Patriots owner feels or what a celebrity feels. It’s how you feel and that’s how you make a choice.”
Trump, however, clearly hoped the support of key Patriots could sway voters. At a New Hampshire rally on election eve, Trump read aloud a letter from Belichick.
“So [coach Belichick] writes, ‘Congratulations on a tremendous campaign,' " Trump said at the rally. “ ‘You have dealt with an unbelievable slanted and negative media. And have come out beautifully, beautifully.’ "
But Belichick didn’t appear to enjoy his moment in the political spotlight.
During his press conference the day after the election, Belichick briefly discussed his letter to Trump.
“My comments are not politically motivated," he said. "I have a friendship and loyalty to Donald. A couple weeks ago we had Secretary of State [John] Kerry in our locker room. He’s another friend of mine. I can’t imagine two people of more different political views than those two. But to me, friendship and loyalty is just about that. It’s not about political or religious views.”
Despite that explanation, the letter was too much for Bethany Graham of Concord, Hew Hampshire.
“It was like a slap in the face, because there was no reason to write that kind of letter unless you really meant it,” Graham said.
And Graham isn’t the only Patriots fan boycotting games. Al Cantor, also from Concord, is another one.
“Had they all voted for Trump and kept their mouths closed that wouldn’t bother me,” Cantor said. “But they used their position and prestige and influence in a way that I thought was utterly inappropriate and left a terrible taste in my mouth.”
Both Graham and Cantor wrote to Kraft, criticizing Belichick. And both say they heard nothing back.
Graham and Cantor know other Patriots fans feel the way they do, though they suspect it’s a small minority that won’t be watching the AFC Championship game Sunday night.
And for Patriots fans who will be watching, it’s likely they’ll be joined by a new viewer in the White House.
This segment aired on January 22, 2017.