By Steve Burton

BOSTON (CBS) — The New England Patriots are no strangers when it comes to speaking out about issues in the community or around the country, whether they be on education or social reform. They’re also embracing the mission of one of their own who is hoping to make a difference on the other side of the world.

Berj Najarian is best known as Bill Belichick’s right-hand man. He is New England’s director of football/head coach administration, but first and foremost, he’s an Armenian. This past year, as the team shared the causes that are important to them, Najarian spoke with the Patriots about the recent war in Armenia.

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“I’m Armenian and that’s very important to Armenians. We know who we are, we know where we came from, and right now, people — Armenians — are suffering in their homeland,” Najarian told WBZ-TV. “It’s a tough time there. People are displaced from their homes. The winters are cold and rough.”

Najarian is doing everything he can to help. And in the Patriots organization, he found himself surrounded by others who wanted to do the same.

“For them to take an interest and want to become more aware about something like Armenia, I was like, ‘wow.’ It’s incredible,” he said.

Belichick, Devin McCourty and Julian Edelman are just a few of the Patriots to record videos to raise awareness for the country and offer their support. But that support is much more than just words.

For starters, there are boxes and boxes of Patriots gear heading to Armenia to help keep people warm.

“With the Patriots, you get a lot of gear. They give you things to wear on the sidelines and in practice, and it accumulates over the years,” said Najarian. “I’ve been here for so long and I thought to myself, ‘Do I really need this extra coat?’

So Najarian spread the word and the Patriots family responded with pants, jackets, hoodies, and hundreds of other pieces of clothing.

“Within a few days, we had upwards of 200-300 items. What I’m looking forward to is seeing the Patriots stuff — the Flying Elvis, Pat Patriot — on Armenian people on the other side of the world,” he said. “It’s going to be pretty cool to see.”

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The NFL’s My Cause, My Cleats campaign took Najarian’s relief efforts to another level. When the Patriots played the Chargers in 2020, he wore a specially designed pair of Armenian-themed cleats to benefit ArmeniaFund.org. And those cleats got some big TV time during Cam Newton’s postgame interview following New England’s 45-0 win.

“He looked down and saw the shoes and he knew what it was about. He said, ‘I’m going to take these,'” recalls Najarian. “I stood there in my socks, and he put them over his shoulders. It was a pretty beautiful, unscripted moment that touched a lot of people.”

As the auction for those cleats and others throughout the NFL wound down, Najarian’s had the second-highest bid — behind only Tom Brady’s. The final night of bidding happened to be Armenian Christmas.

“With maybe 15 minutes left I turned it on, and it just went insane. The bids kept coming, they never stopped. … When it got to the end and bids were still coming in, they added on another few minutes, like extra time in soccer. And they just didn’t stop.”

The 45 bids in the last hour more than doubled the final payoff. When bidding finally closed, Najarian’s cleats had pulled in the highest donation in the history of My Cause, My Cleats, raising more than $40,000 for Armenian Relief.

“That was the reason to do this in the first place; to get awareness, to get support, to help people in need. That was the mission and I’m glad that we were able to get there.”

The winning bid came from Michelle Kolligan and Bob Khederian, who put up their own money and then donated the cleats to the Armenian Museum in Watertown. Najarian made the presentation on the field at Gillette Stadium, and soon the cleats and the story behind them will be on display at the museum.

It’s a testament to one man’s desire to make a difference.

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“We can all help each other,” said Najarian. “I think we’re going to get a lot further helping each other, understanding each other, having conversations collectively.”

Steve Burton