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Column: Brady’s stolen jersey saga proves grime doesn’t pay

  • Front pages of Mexican newspapers show headlines and photos about the Tom Brady Superbowl jersey that was allegedly stolen by a Mexican journalist, bottom left on a selfie with Brady, in Mexico City, Mexico March 21, 2017. The headlines read in Spanish "Super embarrassment" top right and "Was stolen by a Mexican," left. (AP Photo/Enric Marti) Enric Marti

  • Tom Brady’s Super Bowl LI jersey is seen after it was recovered by authorities in Mexico City this week. AP

  • FILE - In this Feb. 1, 2015, file photo, New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (12) celebrates during the second half of NFL Super Bowl XLIX football game against the Seattle Seahawks, in Glendale, Ariz. Brady's missing jersey from the Super Bowl has been found in the possession of a member of the international media. The NFL said in a statement Monday, March 20, 2017, that his jersey was found through the "cooperation of the NFL and New England Patriots' security teams, the FBI and other law enforcement authorities." Brady said his jersey went missing after the Patriots' 34-28 win last month over the Atlanta Falcons. The statement also said an ongoing investigation retrieved the jersey Brady wore in the Patriots' 2015 Super Bowl win against the Seahawks. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens, File) Kathy Willens

  • A man shields his face from the sun as he walks past the offices of tabloid newspaper La Prensa on Paseo de la Reforma in Mexico City, Monday, March 20, 2017. The mystery of Tom Brady's missing Super Bowl jersey led police all the way to Mexico, and authorities were investigating a former tabloid newspaper executive's possible role in the case.(AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell) Rebecca Blackwell

  • Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo speaks about the recovery of New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady's jersey during a press conference in Houston, Monday, March 20, 2017. Brady’s jersey that mysteriously disappeared after the New England Patriots Super Bowl victory was tracked to Mexico by Houston police determined to make up for the “only blemish” on an otherwise smooth Super Bowl experience, Chief Art Acevedo said Monday. (Elizabeth Conley/Houston Chronicle via AP) Elizabeth Conley



Associated Press
Thursday, March 23, 2017

A friend once explained the sports writing business this way: “We pretend to work, and they pretend to pay us.”

Martin Mauricio Ortega was okay with the first part, but apparently not the second.

The one-time Mexican media executive and part-time memorabilia dealer is the only suspect named so far in the overheated investigation into who stole Tom Brady’s Super Bowl LI jersey. When news broke, I figured it was the same guys accused of deflating his footballs, trying to make a buck after all the trouble that stunt caused them. But no.

There’s already plenty of damning video out there, much of it helpfully provided by NFL broadcast partner FOX. Clips show someone who looks like Ortega walking into the New England Patriots locker room after the game at NRG Stadium in Houston, then walking out almost 15 minutes later with a black plastic bag under his arm.

Maybe more damning still, Ortega spent the week leading up to the game showing off his collection of autographed helmets and jerseys up and down Media Row. He wasn’t even pretending to work.

Small wonder his co-workers were among the first to rat him out.

“He said that he was not there to work: ‘There are people to do that,’ ” recalled Ariel Velazquez, who covered the game for a Mexican daily.

Ortega worked as director and an occasional columnist for the popular tabloid La Prensa, and was credentialed by the NFL since at least 2005. That may explain how authorities who raided his home also solved the mystery of the disappearance of another of Brady’s jersey from Super Bowl XLIX and what is believed to be Denver defender Von Miller’s helmet from the Super Bowl 50.

By the time there was a knock at Ortega’s door, the Houston police, Texas Rangers and even the FBI – along with their Mexican counterparts – had joined the gumshoes from the NFL and the Patriots’ security departments in looking for him.

If that sounds like much to-do over a few glorified T-shirts and hard hats, well, you don’t know much about the sports souvenir trade. Brady’s game-worn, grass-stained 2016 model is valued at a cool half-million dollars.

Yet what vexed Lone Star State law-enforcement officials even more than the five-finger discount was that it happened at a danged football game, regarded by many of the locals as no less sacred a place than a church.

“It is important that history does not record that it was stolen in Texas,” Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick thundered in a statement soon after the jersey disappeared. “Whoever took this jersey” he cautioned at the end, “should turn it in. The Texas Rangers are on the trail.”

If only someone had thought of that back in 2005, when Russian president Vladimir Putin asked Patriots owner Robert Kraft for a look at his Super Bowl ring before deftly slipping it into his pocket. It hasn’t been seen outside of the Kremlin since.

Whether all that tough talk actually had an impact on this case isn’t known. Some facets of the investigation remain hush-hush. A Mexican government official, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the case, said only that an agreement was reached for an unspecified victim in the U.S. not to press charges in exchange for the jersey’s return.

From what we’ve learned about him thus far, though, Ortega was no wilting rose.

He ordered La Prensa staffers back in Mexico City to cover for him by writing at least six Super Bowl stories under his byline. He showed another reporter a jersey signed by Kurt Warner that he said he planned to sell back to the 2000 Super Bowl MVP for a tidy $8,000 sum.

Ortega also talked with a Denver dealer about auctioning off a jersey worn by the Knicks’ Patrick Ewing and cleats from San Francisco superstar Jerry Rice. Media reports said his basement was full of similar stuff. Perhaps hoping to head off any more questions about his collection, Ortega resigned from La Prensa on March 14, citing “difficulties related to the health of a family member” and dropped out of sight.

It’s a sad story, to be sure, but there’s still hope of a happy ending.

If nothing else, the whole episode reminded us that Brady, who works like a dog and gets paid like a sultan, is worth every penny. After a frantic search of his locker turned up no jersey and no clues, he didn’t pitch a fit. He coolly said he’d keep an eye out for it on eBay, then shrugged and added, “What can you do? I’ll take the ring and that’s good enough for me.”

Then, when he learned the jerseys were headed his way, Brady released a statement thanking the cops involved and vowing to “make something very positive come from this experience.”

We assume that means he keeps the shirts and some charities will benefit handsomely. Hard to come up with a more fitting conclusion than that.