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President Barack Obama plays host to New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick, team owner Robert Kraft, and the team during a reception to honor the Super Bowl champions on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington. (REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst)

Patriots honored by Obama at White House

The Super Bowl champion New England Patriots, minus quarterback Tom Brady, were honored by President Obama at the White House on Thursday.

Amid some jokes about deflated balls, coach Bill Belichick’s wardrobe and Rob Gronkowski, the President congratulated the Patriots for their sustained success and for their thrilling 28-24 victory over the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XLIX in February.

Obama, a noted fan of the Chicago Bears, said his White House staff and Congress have a disproportionate number of Patriots fans, and he cracked that he should have screened better when hiring.

He also pointed out that Secretary of State John Kerry, from Massachusetts, managed to clear his busy travel agenda to find a seat in the front row at the ceremony.

“The Patriots organization is as good an organization as there has ever been in professional sports,” Obama said, referencing the Patriots’ four Super Bowl titles under Belichick and owner Bob Kraft. “To be able to maintain that kind of consistent excellence is a rare thing in any field, including on the football field. It’s a testament to ownership; it’s a testament to a Hall of Fame coach.

“I’m particularly grateful that Coach decided to dress up today,” Obama joked about Belichick, whose game-day attire usually consists of a hoodie with cutoff sleeves. “We had some scissors if he wanted to cut the sleeves off. Formal hoodies are allowed.”

Obama then got in his obligatory jab over the Patriots’ underinflated-ball controversy: “I usually tell a bunch of jokes at these events; but, with Patriots in town, I was worried that 11 out of 12 of them would fall flat.”

After lots of groans, the President said, “All right, all right. That whole story got blown a little out of proportion.”

The President credited the Patriots for overcoming the distractions of that controversy as they prepared for the Super Bowl.

He mentioned a few Patriots by name, saying he told hard-partying tight end Rob Gronkowski “to keep his shirt on.”

He finished with mention of Malcolm Butler’s game-saving interception, saying with his best New England accent, “I think it’s fair to say that Malcolm has earned a lifetime of free drinks in every bah in Bahston.”

Kraft gave Obama a No. 44 jersey — representative of Obama’s standing as the 44th president in U.S. history — and a helmet signed by the Patriots.

Obama then introduced the reticent Belichick with the crack, “Coach Belichick has agreed to have a press conference. He’s going to go on forever.”

Belichick kept it typically short, though, calling it “pretty cool to be standing up here” and a “great honor.”

Brady was not present due to a previous family commitment.

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