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Malcolm Butler, Donald Trump, Alex Guerrero: Controversy takes over in ninth "The Dynasty" installment

"The Dynasty" author Jeff Benedict says the Kraft family did not have editorial control over Patriot
"The Dynasty" author Jeff Benedict says the Kraft family did not have editorial control over Patriot 06:09

BOSTON -- A Donald Trump rally featuring a letter from Bill Belichick, an ominous entrance for Alex Guerrero, the weight of national anthem protests, and the mysterious Super Bowl benching of Malcolm Butler. The ninth episode of "The Dynasty," titled "Breaking Point," is not lacking in dramatic elements. To say the least. 

Watching the episode, which includes some things we've known but some perspectives we haven't heard, makes one wonder how on earth the team managed to win a Super Bowl just one year after what was by all accounts a painful, miserable year for a whole lot of Patriots.

The episode, which debuted Friday on Apple TV+, sets the stage for the final chapter of the dynasty days of Patriots football. And it's a doozy.

Given the range of larger topics, it's best to break this one up into sections.

The Malcolm Butler Benching

For anyone hoping that this series would offer a definitive, complete explanation of why Malcolm Butler played zero defensive snaps in the Patriots' Super Bowl LII loss to the Eagles, we've got some bad news: It doesn't happen.

We do, however, get this explanation from Robert Kraft.

"What has been told to me is that there was something personal going on between Bill and Malcolm that was not football-related," Kraft said. "I always felt that every decision Bill had made had been to put what was in the best interest of the team first, and put emotion aside. But with Malcolm, he did just the opposite."

What was the "personal" matter between the coach and the cornerback? That's not explored or explained.

Belichick was asked directly why Butler didn't play in that Super Bowl.

"Yeah, Matt, we've talked about that," Belichick replies to director Matt Hamachek.

The director then says, "I didn't ask you about it."

Belichick then holds a staring contest with the camera, glaring silently into the lens for almost 10 seconds, clearly bothered by the line of questioning.

As for Butler himself, he said he doesn't fully understand why he was benched.

"I was very emotional, man. I didn't feel like I was being treated right. Because I didn't find out until the game that I wasn't gonna play," Butler said. "People still ask me to this day, why you didn't play in the Super Bowl? I'm like, 'I don't know, man. Coach's decision.' But the thing about it, I really don't know. I really don't. Just to like leave me watching my team suffer when I know I could help them, like not one rep? Not one rep."

The Fallout Of Butler's Benching

Tom Brady threw for a Super Bowl-record 505 yards in that Super Bowl, and the Patriots scored 33 points. Yet the New England defense -- without Butler -- allowed Nick Foles and the Eagles to score 41 points and rack up 538 total yards en route to the upset victory.

Fans and media have debated the moment ad nauseam, with some folks claiming that Butler would not have made any difference. Players on the team do not agree with that assessment.

Matthew Slater: "As players, I know we all felt strongly that Malcolm should have been out there. But that's not our call. And at the end of the day, we trust our coach. ... Seeing how the game was transpiring, it was like, well man, we kind of need him in there right now. I mean, can we get him in there to stop the bleeding?"

Danny Amendola: "I remember walking off the field that night just really confused. That was the biggest game of our lives at the moment and Malcolm's not on the field? That s--- kind of pisses me off still today. I mean, we played our asses off, Tom threw for 500-plus yards, which in a Super Bowl had never been done. We're out there literally putting our bodies on the line, our heads on the line, for our friends, our family, our teammates, and to not get an explanation? Like, I feel like we got cheated a little bit, honestly. And I don't feel bad saying that." (Amendola caught eight passes for 152 yards in the game, leading all receivers.)

Devin McCourty: "If you would've told me going into the game that Malcolm Butler's not going in, do you think that helps you win? I would say no. For that year, 98 percent of the time, Malcolm was on the field playing with us on defense. And then three years before, in Super Bowl 49, he saves the game. ... I talked to coaches, other players, like none of us ever heard what happened or why it happened."

It would have been worthwhile for defensive coordinator Matt Patricia to be interviewed for this moment alone, but he didn't make any appearances in this series. Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels essentially pleaded the fifth, saying, "I don't have one bit of information about that to this day."

So in terms of a lack of closure, it seems as though the players and coaches involved don't have any more of it than the average Patriots fan. This episode didn't quite uncover the exact reason for Butler's benching, but it at least tried to get to the bottom of it.

The Donald Trump Factor

The episode begins with Donald Trump, at the time a nominee for President of the United States, reading a personal letter from Bill Belichick at a campaign rally on the eve of the 2016 election. Minutes later, a clip is shown -- from a postgame locker room speech in 2012 -- of Belichick shouting at his players, "You don't say s--- to the press. You get your s--- on, and get out of here. We don't need to hear anything from you." The dichotomy and hypocrisy was not lost on the players in the Patriots' locker room.

"I personally thought it was very hypocritical," Matthew Slater stated in no uncertain terms. "The Patriot Way, it starts with respecting the men you work alongside, and trying to put the team first. I mean, that's the foundation for this place. I just don't think he was connected enough with his players at the time to realize that that was gonna have an impact on the locker room."

"When the letter came out, I felt kind of like, man, we got kind of bamboozled," longtime defensive captain Devin McCourty said. "Bill always said things like we don't want to have to be in the media talking about these different things. Like I had some opinions I might've wanted to share, but out of respect to the team, I didn't."

As we know now, Trump won that election, and the Patriots won the Super Bowl at the end of the 2016 season. Yet those feelings in the locker room intensified as the 2017 season began, and when Trump ranted against national anthem protests in the NFL, emotions were certainly escalated.

McCourty, who took a knee with his teammates during the national anthem in Week 2 of that 2017 season, reflected on the period thoughtfully:

"The things that Trump would say, it made me angry. But here we were, we were seen as like Team Trump. Trump is either friends or friendly with the top three people of our organization. Kraft's relationship with him, they were friends. Tom had a hat in his locker. Bill wrote a letter to him. When the faces of the team support something individually that has nothing to do with the team, that gets thrown on the team. And we all have to take that. So, when Trump called us sons of bitches, the whole locker room is talking about what are we gonna do during the anthem?

"You felt the impact right away. You heard the boos. And like, this is what we think most of our Patriot fans feel, then they don't know us as players. Those men that they come and cheer for, jerseys they buy, they don't know us. Everyone went to work worn down, you were like man, this is hard. But the one thing is, when you play for the Patriots, like, every year we felt like we had an opportunity to win a championship. And when you feel like that, everyone says to themselves, like, let's just try to win a championship. You know what I mean, like, you do your job."

Belichick's comments in the series match those he made at the time, as he insisted that his letter to the man running for president was not meant to be political.

"Yeah, my relationship with Donald Trump isn't political," Belichick says in his interview. "I knew him long before he ever got involved in politics. So Donald was a friend, and yeah, I wrote a personal letter."

The locker room, as we know, saw it differently. 

Worth noting: Tom Brady, who had a "Make America Great Again" hat hanging in his locker after Robert Kraft gave it to him in 2015, didn't weigh in on anything Trump. The quarterback avoids most controversial topics in this series, and if he offered no comments like Belichick did quite often, they didn't make it to the final cut.

Alex Guerrero

The matter of Alex Guerrero getting banned from the locker room and sideline becomes a focal point in this episode as well. Guerrero was, of course, Brady's personal trainer. And as Brady became more impassioned about the pliability training espoused by Guerrero, it became a bigger problem for the Patriots' strength staff and training staff to have a unified message for the team.

Both Brady and Rob Gronkowski recalled their first moments of believing in Guerrero's methods.

"When I met Alex, for the first time, my pain went away in my elbow -- in my whole life! So I was like, how the f--- did you do that?!" Brady says of his 2005 introduction to Guerrero.

Gronkowski, meanwhile, was a step or two slower in 2017, when he was coming off back surgery. Gronkowski said that Belichick told him that he "looked slow" and "looked awful," leading Gronkowski to believe he was going to get cut. That's when he found Guerrero at the TB12 center.

"My back started loosening up, all the pain was going away," Gronkowski said. "When I hit the practice field, my speed was coming back. I was like, holy s---! That's magic! But there was something that by following Tom Brady's method that some people didn't like."

Everyone involved understood the issues that could stem from the conflicting messages being instilled in players, yet Belichick's decision to ban Guerrero entirely from the locker room, the sidelines, and team flights left Brady feeling miffed.

"The whole situation, it caused a lot of animosity. I mean, it was so stupid, because Alex is an amazing guy. He kept me healthy," Brady said. "I mean if I look at -- there's no way I play probably 12 years in the NFL without his commitment to me and our team. And then instead of getting credit for it, he got blamed. And I kept going, 'What the f--- is wrong with you people?'" 

Gronkowski echoed that feeling: "I just didn't even understand it. I'd be like, 'Tom why are you getting hounded, when you're 40 years old and you're putting up numbers like you're 23 years old? You're still the best quarterback in the league.' I just didn't get it. And he would never have an answer for me. He'd be like, 'You know, Rob, I don't know f----- either.'"

The Jimmy Garoppolo Trade

The selection of Jimmy Garoppolo being drafted in the second round of the 2014 draft was covered in an earlier episode, and this one touched briefly on the trade that sent Garoppolo to San Francisco during the 2017 season.

While some in the media have speculated that Kraft ordered Belichick to trade Garoppolo, Kraft says that's not entirely the case.

"I never asked him to do it," Kraft said. "I just told Bill that we weren't trading Brady ever. So, that made it a little awkward."

Overall Frustration

 Clearly, Patriots players didn't have a whole lot of fun during the 2017 season.

"That whole year, Tom and Bill, it was two parents fighting at each other. There was always so much tension," Gronkowski said. "It was like, right when you opened up that door, your a--hole is just super tight. Like, you're just walking around like clenching your buttcheeks. That's what it felt like. And I thought I was the only one that felt that. But then I asked other people."

Gronkowski later added: "When we lost to the Philadephia Eagles, I was like, I'm done. I remember, there were so many guys in the shower after the game like, 'Dude, I'm so glad the f------ season's over. I'm getting the f--- out of here.'"  

Malcolm Butler: "It was just weird. You could just feel it. It was just something you could just feel within people, within yourself, within the team."

Danny Amendola: "As a player on the team that year, I could feel the tension building."

Matthew Slater: "That was a trialing year, not just because of what's happening behind the scenes in the building but also what's going on socially all over the country. It felt like there was a tension everywhere."

Belichick was asked directly for his thoughts on why a number of veteran players said that 2017 was the most difficult season they had. He didn't offer up a thought, though.

"I don't know," Belichick answered with a light laugh and a half-smile. "Every year in the NFL is a challenging season. You'd have to ask them why they said that."

Tom Brady's Hand Injury Ignored

One of the parts of the book "The Dynasty" that got the most publicity was the details of the hand injury that Tom Brady suffered at practice leading up to the AFC Championship Game. That matter, though, was not mentioned once during the 2017 season episode.

It was a fairly significant story, not just because of Brady's performance (290 yards, 2 TDs, 0 INTs, 108.4 rating against the second-ranked Jaguars defense in the AFCCG, 505 passing yards in the Super Bowl) but also because Belichick seemingly didn't like fielding questions about the injury after the AFC title game victory.

"He's a tough guy, we all know that. All right? But ... we're not talking about open-heart surgery here," a perturbed Belichick said at the postgame podium that day.

It would have made sense to include the hand injury, if for no other reason than that moment of frustration from Belichick.

(As for the Super Bowl itself, Brady's strip-sack to essentially lose the game wasn't shown, and the presentation of the game was mostly as a chaotic back-and-forth affair -- which it obviously was.)

The Social Media Snark Was Intentional

You may remember Rob Gronkowski imploring Danny Amendola to "BE HAPPY" and "BE FREE" when the receiver left the Patriots in free agency. Tom Brady chimed in with a comment, saying, "Well said, Gronk!" People on the outside raised an eyebrow at that comment, and Gronkowski said in the series that his message was intentional.

 "It was kind of a shot, you know, at Coach Belichick a little bit," Gronkowski admitted. "Because it just didn't feel like you could be who you really wanted to be that whole entire year with the Patriots. It was weird, it was like, football's already stressful. Why are we adding more when we're already doing everything we possibly are doing? It's just so un-f-----necessary."

Some more clips from "Tom Vs. Time" followed, with Kraft ending the episode by setting up the finale.

"At that point, I don't think Tommy was himself," Kraft said. "Over the years, he made a lot of sacrifices to be with us. And I don't think he felt appreciated. I realized we were coming near the end. And I was just trying to hold it together the best I could."

You can read a review of the 10th a episode, "Breaking Point," here.

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