FOXBOROUGH — Every time a Patriot scores a touchdown at Gillette Stadium, Bon Jovi’s “This Is Our House” starts reverberating through the facility’s sound system at deafening levels, whipping the denizens into a frenzy.
Often times, the gigantic scoreboards will zero in on the owner’s box where Robert Kraft — sometimes with Jon Bon Jovi by his side — is rocking along with the fans who have consistently packed the seats under his stewardship.
Bon Jovi wrote and performs the familiar theme, and when you listen closely, it sure sounds like the New Jersey rocker wrote it for the New England owner.
“This is our house
These are my people, listen, this is my town
This is our house
Ain’t nobody know we’re gonna knock it down”
Kraft took over the Patriots organization 25 years ago, purchasing the club from absentee owner James Busch Orthwein, who had purchased the club in 1992 with the intent on packing up and moving to St. Louis.
But Kraft, a fan, season ticket-holder since 1971, and owner of the old Schaefer/Sullivan/Foxboro stadium, was bound and determined not to let that happen. Kraft had been trying to buy the team since 1985 and he was successful this time around.
Kraft beat out fellow suitor Stan Kroenke by shelling out a then-record $172 million for the team. Forbes recently ranked the Patriots as the sixth most valuable sports franchise in the world at $3.8 billion.
Since Kraft made that purchase, the Patriots have won 310 games, been to nine Super Bowls, and won five. No other franchise comes close.
Kraft’s most important decision came in January 2000 when he hired Bill Belichick to run his football program. A couple of months later, Belichick drafted Tom Brady and a power trio the likes of which the NFL had never seen was formed.
Despite all those victories, the most significant milestone still came Jan. 21, 1994, when Kraft put pen to paper. It was the moment a moribund franchise began its journey to respectability.
“The single most important event in the history of that franchise is Bob Kraft buying the team,’’ Giants owner John Mara said this week. “If you look at where they were then compared to where they are now — which is the envy of everybody in the league and just a model of consistent success — it’s all under Bob’s watch and he deserves a lot of the credit.’’
Before the current run of success, the Patriots were often an afterthought in the Boston sports market. Travel hassles, a subpar venue, and mediocre teams were the main reasons only diehard fans would make the Sunday afternoon trek — up or down Route 1 to sit on the cold aluminum bleachers.
The Patriots strung together five straight losing seasons and compiled a miserable 19-61 record before Kraft took over.
“Prior to Bob’s arrival in the NFL, the Patriots were a huge question mark in terms of viability and stability,’’ Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said this week. “And they were in the Boston metropolitan area that has a tremendous history of great professional sports franchises for generations. It is a market that has great sports fans and has enjoyed a heritage of championships.’’
Mara, who remembers being at the first game at the old Schaefer Stadium for a preseason game, said the Patriots weren’t really a concern when it came to competition.
“I don’t think they did very well financially, and certainly other than a couple of years here and here didn’t have any sustained success on the field,’’ he said. “I know the league was looking to resolve a pretty unstable ownership situation up there and Bob came along at the right time.’’
The Sullivan family sold the Patriots to Victor Kiam in 1988 and he flipped it to Orthwein not even four years later. Kraft put an end to the instability.
“Bob went in there and turned the franchise around and made the Patriots one of the great treasures of the National Football League,’’ said Jones. “From a fellow NFL owner’s perspective, Boston had been a market that we had underserved with our franchise there in the years leading up to his arrival, and he transformed the team into a jewel that the proud fans of Boston could take great pride in — reaching a sustained level of excellence that those fans so passionately desire from their sports teams.’’
Kraft not only dove head first into all things Patriots, he became one of league’s most influential owners, something that left an immediate and lasting impression on Mara.
“You know what I always liked about him right from the beginning? He always put the interest of the league first and that can be pretty rare in this day and age and I noticed that right from the beginning,’’ he said. “He’s played such a major role in every important decision that the league has made, be it the TV contracts, the labor contracts, he’s always right in the middle of that and there’s a reason for that, it’s because the people sitting in that room have enormous respect for him.’’
Though the Patriots reached their first career Super Bowl of the Kraft Era under Bill Parcells in 1997, it was Belichick who took the franchise to new heights. Belichick has been at the helm for 225 regular-season wins, 28 playoff victories, and five Super Bowl titles — more than any other coach.
“We have a good setup here,’’ said Belichick, when asked about Kraft. “He’s been very supportive, gives us a great opportunity to go out and compete every week. We’ve done that. I hope we can continue for a long time.’’
While Kraft is the owner of the franchise, Brady has been the face of it for the last 19 years. He often has said Kraft has been like a father to him.
“He’s been a great influence in my life,’’ Brady said this week. “I’ve known him for 19 years, that’s a long time, longer than I was at home as a kid. He’s helped me in a lot of ways — his guidance, his timely advice at important moments in my life — obviously I’ve grown up here. I’m so happy he’s the owner of the team and hopefully we can go make him proud on Sunday.’’
As legend has it, Brady told Kraft shortly after being taken with the 199th overall pick that it was the “best decision this organization ever made.’’
“I’m not sure I said it like that — we dispute that all the time,’’ Brady said with a smile. “I think I said, ‘I don’t think you’ll ever regret picking me’ but he remembers it differently.’’