NEW ORLEANS - Patriots owner Bob Kraft attended NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue’s press conference Friday afternoon, but he wasn’t as focused as he should have been on the topics of the day.
That’s because Kraft and his son Jonathan couldn’t take their eyes off the championship trophy that was conveniently placed next to the commissioner.
’’Neither one of us touched it,’’ Kraft said last night, still basking in the afterglow of his franchise’s first Super Bowl victory. ‘’But now that I’ve held it, I’ve got to tell you: this trophy is a lot lighter than I thought it would be.’’
The satisfaction of realizing his lifelong dream - first, to own the Patriots, then to bring a championship home to New England, where he has lived all of his life - is just as weighty as he expected.
His football team has completed the most unbelievable season in Boston sports history, surpassing the Impossible Dream Red Sox for one simple reason: his club won it all, and ended a 16-year drought of ultimate sports celebration in our fair city.
Kraft certainly did his part to capture the Super Bowl trophy, as light as it may be. He built a new state-of-the-art stadium, with millions of dollars of his personal wealth. He hired Bill Belichick, at the cost of a first-round draft pick, then sat back and seethed as the doubters dubbed him a fool for paying so much for a head coach so unproven.
Yet Kraft had connected with Belichick during the disappointing flight home from the team’s last trip to the Super Bowl, in 1997, when the Packers bullied his Patriots, and his coach, Bill Parcells, skipped town. Ask Kraft what he regrets most, and it would probably be that he didn’t give Belichick the head job right then and there, choosing instead to give Pete Carroll a shot at making New England football history.
’’I always had a feeling about him,’’ Kraft said. ‘’One of the reasons I hired Bill was because he had a system. He had a plan that I agreed with.
’’Bill told me last year at the beginning of the season that it would probably be a rough year. He wasn’t getting his message across, and he didn’t have the personnel he needed to get this done. He never said anything like that to me at the beginning of this season.’’
Even when the team was 0-2, Kraft said, he knew there was no need to panic. The offensive line had not yet jelled. The free agents Belichick brought aboard, like Mike Compton, running back Antowain Smith, defensive end Anthony Pleasant, and linebackers Mike Vrabel and Roman Phifer had not yet completely acclimated themselves to the coach’s complex schemes.
The joy of watching this Patriots team come together has been indescribable for the owner. He purposely stayed in the shadows as his football players blossomed, and his coach’s reputation grew. He let his team remain the story.
Last night before the kickoff, Kraft made a brief visit to the Patriots locker room to test the mood of his team.
’’I only talked to Bill for a couple of minutes,’’ Kraft said, ‘’but when I walked out of there, I knew we were going to win the game.
’’Bill didn’t tell me that or anything, but I could just feel it in the locker room. Bill was calm. The players were calm. They had that look.’’
With the Patriots leading, 14-3, at halftime, Kraft instructed his wife, Myra, and his four sons to take the exact same seats for the second half. When the lead was 17-10 with a little more than two minutes left in the fourth quarter, Kraft’s son David urged him to begin heading toward the field for the celebration of a lifetime.
’’My dad wouldn’t go,’’ David said. ‘’He’s been around the NFL too long. He knows what can happen in these games.’’
What Kraft and his family have never known until now is what it feels like to be on the top of the sports world. He can tell you now it makes everything feel lighter than air - even the piece of hardware they had toiled so hard to hold in their arms.
’’It hasn’t sunk in yet,’’ Kraft acknowledged long after the game had ended. ‘’I don’t expect it will for a while.’’
He straightened his lucky red tie, adjusted his good-luck blue shirt with the white collar, and walked off with two of his sons.
’’Hey,’’ he asked the Patriots security men, as they escorted him out of the Superdome. ‘’Where’s the trophy?’’