- Associated Press - Monday, January 26, 2015

CHANDLER, Ariz. — New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft demanded an apology from the league once the Patriots are found to be not guilty of breaking any rules regarding using under-inflated footballs in the AFC championship game.

It’s a conclusion Kraft is certain will occur.

In an unscheduled appearance, Kraft strongly defended his team’s actions and integrity Monday night.

“I believe unconditionally that the New England Patriots did nothing wrong in this process that was in violation of NFL rules,” Kraft said at the team’s first meeting with reporters in Arizona in advance of Super Bowl XLIX on Sunday.

“If the [Ted] Wells investigation is not able to definitively determine that our organization tampered with the air pressure in the footballs, I would expect and hope the league would apologize to our entire team, and in particular to coach [Bill] Belichick and Tom Brady, for what they’ve had to endure this week,” Kraft added, at times sounding angry.

“I’m disappointed in the way this entire matter has been handled and reported upon. We expect hard facts rather than circumstantial leaked evidence to drive the conclusion of this investigation.”

The NFL has said evidence shows the Patriots used under-inflated footballs during the first half of the AFC title game victory over Indianapolis. The league is still determining why the balls were under-inflated.

NFL Executive Vice President Jeff Pash and Ted Wells of the law firm of Paul Weiss are leading the probe. Wells was the investigator in the Miami Dolphins bullying scandal and has said the current investigation could last a while.

Belichick and Brady followed Kraft to the podium, but basically left any comments on the investigation to their boss.

When asked if he was upset by the accusations and jokes of which he was the subject, Brady said: “I’ve moved past those initial feelings and I want to move forward.”

But moving away from the deflated footballs theme will be particularly difficult on Tuesday, which is media day, when just about any question has been fair game in the past.

Thus, Kraft came out swinging before then with a speech tinged with emotion — and with fire.

Tom, Bill and I have been together for 15 years. They are my guys,” said Kraft, who has three Super Bowl titles and three other trips to the big game since 2001.

“They are part of my family. Bill, Tom and I have had many difficult discussions over the years. I’ve never known them to lie to me. That’s why I’m confident in saying what I just said.

“It bothers me greatly their reputations and integrity — and by association that of our team — has been called into question this week.”

This hardly is the first time the Patriots have been under such scrutiny. In 2007, their undefeated regular season, it was revealed that New England videotaped New York Jets coaches’ signals during a game — actions that resulted in a $500,000 fine for Belichick, a $250,000 fine for the team and the revocation of its first-round draft choice.

During this year’s playoffs, Ravens coach John Harbaugh accused the Patriots of being deceitful with some alignments on offense. The NFL exonerated Kraft’s team of any wrongdoing.

Now, Kraft has taken the offensive.

“I, and our entire organization,” he said, “believe strongly in the integrity of the game and the rules of fair play are properly, equitably and fairly enforced.”


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