Robert Kraft’s hurt still runs deep
A Super Bowl XLVI victory over the New York Giants would cap a magical season for the New England Patriots.
And it still wouldn’t patch the hole in Robert Kraft’s heart.
The franchise dedicated its 2011 campaign to the memory of Myra Kraft, the woman that her still-grieving husband affectionately refers to as his “sweetheart” before choking up.
Such breakdowns happen frequently every day. This time, Kraft became emotional just 21 seconds into a Thursday interview at the Patriots’ team hotel in downtown Indianapolis. The response was triggered by copies of New England’s weekly fan publication strewn across coffee tables outside makeshift Super Bowl offices.
On the cover is a touching photo of Kraft looking upward and pointing to the sky after last month’s AFC Championship Game win over Baltimore.
The headline underneath: Myra-culous.
Myra was Robert Kraft’s miracle. The two were married for 48 years before her death last July from cancer at age 68.
Part of Kraft died, too.
“I had my sweetheart taken away, but in every other way I’ve been blessed,” Kraft said shortly after regaining his composure. “I’ve got four great kids and eight grandchildren who have all been supportive and wonderful. The (condolence) letters I’ve received have been so emotionally strong and have helped me through this.
“I don’t know what’s going to happen when this week is over.”
Kraft spends free time with his children and grandchildren, eats dinner out ever night and attends other Boston sporting events to try and fill the void. But it’s the Patriots — the franchise he purchased in 1994 only after receiving Myra’s blessing — that provide his biggest support group.
They wear MHK decals on their jerseys. Running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis pointed to it after scoring a touchdown against the Ravens.
They presented Kraft with an oil painting before the regular-season finale. Players in a huddle are pointing skyward at Myra’s initials hovering above.
“She is a woman who has been smiling down on us over the course of this season,” Patriots quarterback Tom Brady said earlier this week.
If there is indeed something “Myra-culous” at work, Myra Kraft herself deserves some of the credit. Even as she became progressively sicker, Myra encouraged Robert to continue his key role in last summer’s labor negotiations between the NFL and NFL Players Association. Kraft has drawn universal praise for helping the two sides reach a 10-year Collective Bargaining Agreement after the player lockout had brought football to a halt.
“I know selfishly if I ever lost my wife and the NFL for a season . . .” Kraft said before trailing off.
Kraft also knows he’s not the only one who would be devastated had the NFL lost regular-season games like the NBA or even an entire year of play.
“If I look at this selfishly, I think all this despair and confusion sort of helped the NFL,” he said. “The fact we were able to settle and do a long-term deal and give stability, it allows people to bond with us emotionally. I would hope the NFL is a good marker of how we should run this country.”
This is something else Kraft feels passionately about. Kraft’s sense of patriotism — no pun intended — was heightened during the CBA negotiations and Myra’s cancer battle.
A long-time Democrat, Kraft now describes himself as “sort of an independent” in his leanings.
“I probably give more money to Democrats than Republicans, but I just want good people,” Kraft said. “I’m not a party guy. I’m an America guy. I want what’s right for America. What’s happening makes me sad.
“What bothers me is both sides of the aisle in Washington. Not being respectful. Not listening to one another. They’re not doing the things that put America and team first. It’s selfish, parochial interests. The country is being hurt by this.”
His opinions reflect a man looking at life, and his legacy, differently.
He would rather focus on the charity work that marked Myra’s legacy. Kraft said that “whatever money I make I give to charity or the government in taxes from here on in.”
Kraft credits Myra with being the reason that all Patriots players are contractually committed to appear at 10 community/charity events each year. But Kraft also hopes his roster is moved on its own to perform mitzvahs like he does every morning in Foxborough by treating whoever is behind him in line when buying his morning Dunkin’ Donuts coffee.
“The one time I speak to the team in a non-football way is Thanksgiving morning,” Kraft said. “One of my messages is that we play in the greatest business and sport in the world but we have a responsibility to have random acts of kindness and to help create them. I want my players to do that.”
Most of those players will soon be going back home for the offseason. They can relive how the Patriots caught fire this season after a 5-3 start. They may even get to brag about winning the franchise’s fourth Lombardi Trophy under Kraft’s ownership tenure.
Kraft doesn’t have that option. The 70-year-old never imagined he would outlive his sprier spouse.
“I go home alone and I can’t share this with the person I love more than anything,” Kraft says before breaking up again.
Kraft is still seeking diversions to help ease the pain. He will take a quick vacation in Los Angeles next weekend after accepting an invitation by CBS President/CEO Les Moonves to attend the Grammy Awards. After that, Kraft acknowledges that “I’ve got to find a way” to pass the time in his personal life until the Patriots start gearing up for the 2012 season.
“It’s a big problem,” he said.
Until it’s solved — if it ever is — the tears will continue to flow.