BOSTON (CBS) — “They hate us, cause they ain’t us.”
That’s the popular phrase among Patriots fans, who have had to swat away the haters for years as their favorite football team keeps winning Super Bowls.
Patriots owner Robert Kraft hears the outside noise, and even feels it from fellow owners. He doesn’t necessarily blame them, calling their bitterness a byproduct of his team’s success.
“Jealousy and envy are incurable diseases, but I know if I had never won and there was someone like myself, I would feel certain angst towards that person. This is a very competitive [business],” Kraft told WBZ-TV’s Steve Burton on Friday night’s Patriots GameDay. “When I came in everyone was cordial and nice to me. When we went to that first Super Bowl in 1996, things started to change.
“I just hope we can help people continue to feel what they feel towards us, and we’ll try to be modest as we can,” he added. “I’d rather be on the receiving end than feeling it toward someone else.”
New England’s run under Kraft’s ownership is nothing short of incredible. Once a season ticket holder himself, one who froze on the benches of the 300 section at the old Schaefer Stadium, Kraft is now in his 24th year as the franchise’s owner. His team will be playing in their ninth Super Bowl under his watch Sunday afternoon in Minnesota, looking to add a sixth Lombardi Trophy to the collection at 1 Patriot Place.
A successful businessman for years before buying the team, Kraft knew the key to success was to surround yourself with the right people, ones who display loyalty, character, and integrity.
That certainly isn’t an easy thing to accomplish in the NFL. Free agency was set up to keep dynasties like New England’s from happening, and when teams win, others try to sign away their best players. But with Bill Belichick calling the shots from both the sideline and front office, and with Tom Brady leading the way on the field, New England’s recipe for success is a blueprint other team’s will try to emulate for years to come.
Many have tried, and they’ve all failed.
“You have a dream and then you try to collect quality people, then you try your best to keep them together,” explained Kraft. “We’re just blessed to have this continuity. … You try to find quality people and keep it together. That’s true in any business because you try to develop a culture and have people buy into it.”
That’s not to say Kraft has always been surrounded by those poeple. When he first bought the team, Bill Parcells was their leader on the sideline, with Belichick serving as his trusted assistant. Kraft and Parcells didn’t get along, as Parcells famously criticized the owner for not letting him “shop for some of the groceries,” leading to a somewhat messy divorce after New England’s Super Bowl XXXI loss to the Green Bay Packers. Parcells left for the New York Jets, and took Belichick with him.
That was OK with Kraft at the time, wanting to cleanse the team of Parcells’ fingerprints on the sideline. It would take a few years (and a handful of draft picks) to get Belichick back in New England ahead of the 2000 season, but it was an easy call for Kraft.
“It was sort of like meeting a gal in high school. You like her, it doesn’t work out, but you can never get her out of your mind. So you have to find a way to bring her home,” he said.
Kraft knew Belichick was a different breed when he first met him in the early 90s, when Parcells wanted to add the recently fired Browns coach to his staff. Kraft saw something special in Belichick, something refreshing given Parcells old-school way of thinking. He knew that at some point, he wanted Belichick leading his team.
“I met him and realized that he was a stoldudent of the game. He had books of records on every player. But he had one quality, he understood the economics and value of players,” explained Kraft. “That was important because you had a salary cap. Old coaches thought, ‘I need him, we’ll pay him whatever it takes.’ But Bill, with his great knowledge of special teams and defense, he understood the value of players in terms of making a difference.”
It helps, of course, to have a Hall of Fame quarterback fall onto your lap. Drew Bledsoe was the guy when Belichick took over, having just been given the NFL’s biggest contract extension. As fate would have it, Bledsoe got hurt in Week 2 of Belichick’s second season, and in stepped a sixth-round pick who was once the fourth quarterback on the depth chart.
The Patriots didn’t really know what to expect from Brady when they took him with the 199th selection in 2000. That was until he met Kraft for the first time, and famously told his new owner that drafting him was the best decision his franchise has made (Brady has contested this statement, but Kraft is adamant that’s what Brady said).
“I just looked at him, and there was something about the way he said it,” recalled Kraft. “I called Jonathan [Kraft] and said ‘you won’t believe this.’ He said it in a way that, I know he believed it.”
Now Kraft, Belichick and Brady will go for their sixth Super Bowl together on Sunday afternoon when the Patriots take on the Philadelphia Eagles in Super Bowl LII. A victory on Sunday will tie the Pittsburgh Steelers for the most Super Bowl titles as a franchise.