FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Robert Kraft had his right arm wrapped tightly around his 15-year-old grandson, Harry. With his left he clutched the Lamar Hunt Trophy given to the AFC champions.
He was surrounded by the joys of a title-winning locker room after a frantic, furious New England Patriots' 23-20 win over the Baltimore Ravens that wasn't secured until a last-second field-goal attempt sailed wide left.
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Amid the smiling faces and Super Bowl-bound laughs, the Patriots' owner struggled to maintain his composure. This moment of victory in a year of loss threatened to swamp him with emotion.
Kraft lost his wife of 48 years and business partner in football, Myra, after a battle with cancer last July. Thoughts of her were everywhere, from a large oil painting in the locker room to MHK patches on the uniforms.
They'd bought the team after years as frustrated season-ticket holders, rebuilt the entire place and now, Robert Kraft was headed to his sixth Super Bowl.
Only this time, he'd do it without his best friend.
Immediately after the game, standing on the podium under falling confetti, Kraft took a moment to tap his chest, kiss his fingers and point to the sky – a tribute to Myra. He did it, he said, so he wouldn't have to speak and start crying on national television.
"[It was] so I [didn't] break down," he said.
He was asked if he was purposefully copying the season-long touchdown dance of Patriots running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis, who repeated it after a second-quarter touchdown, touching the MHK patch, then his face mask and then pointing upward.
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"Oh he did?" Kraft said. "I missed it. [Sunday]? I was talking to [Aerosmith lead singer] Stephen Tyler. He was distracting me. Holy Mackerel. Honest to goodness. Oh, I love him even more. I'm going to go give him a kiss."
And so sure enough here went Robert Kraft, the 70-year-old business magnate from Brookline, Mass., a devout Jew, off to embrace his 26-year-old dreadlocked running back out of Louisiana.
Turns out they have plenty in common besides one employing the other. They both loved Myra Kraft, kind-hearted philanthropist and NFL matriarch.
"She was always around," Green-Ellis said. "She was a nice lady. She built this foundation from the ground up. She taught me about giving back to the community. Anytime I get a chance now, I want to go and give back to the children in this area and helping in the community."
Her death had rattled Green-Ellis, coming during the lockout, coming without one last goodbye, one last season, one last trip to a Super Bowl. So in this era of look-at-me touchdown celebrations, of play-acting and dances designed to one up the last, here came a simple tribute.
It just felt right, Green-Ellis said.
"To let her know I was still thinking about her," said the running back who finished with 68 rushing yards against Baltimore.
The whole scene was amazing. All over the locker room Myra Kraft's name was brought up. Players wear the uniform they are given. No one is going to avoid saying a kind word about the owner's late wife. This was more though. The players called her "Mama." They told personal stories. They had commissioned that oil painting, which showed a group of Patriots raising their hands pointing to the initials MHK in the sky.
This felt real. It had all season.
"The team has been my savior," Kraft said this week.
After the game Kraft ran into Vince Wilfork, the Pats' massive bear of a nose tackle, fresh off a dominating performance. He grabbed Kraft and gave him a kiss on one cheek and then the other.
Once again Kraft nearly came unglued.
"He used to kiss me coming off the field and then kiss my wife," Kraft said. "This year he kisses me twice."
Later, back in the locker room, Kraft handed the AFC trophy to linebacker Jerod Mayo, who immediately turned the focus to the Super Bowl in two weeks and told his boss, "You know who we're doing it for."
Kraft is a self-made man and a real football fan. In 1971, he and Myra bought Patriots' season tickets, suffering through many disappointing seasons in a drab stadium. In 1994, the Krafts bought the team for $175 million, completely changed the culture of the organization and eventually built the beautiful Gillette Stadium.
They ran it as a family business; all four of their sons are involved in the organization, including team president Jonathan.
The winning hasn't stopped.
"In the last 16 years this was our seventh AFC championship game," Bob said. "I remember sitting in the stands for 34 years and there was one home playoff game that we lost to Houston in 1978.
"I'm pretty proud of that."
They've won it all three times. Their last trip to the Super Bowl, in February of 2008, was the most disappointing, however. The New York Giants dashed the Patriots' shot at a perfect 19-0 season.
The motivation to return was intense. So too was the challenge. Quarterback Tom Brady was hurt the next season. The next two saw early, disappointing playoff exits. Myra got sick. There was a lockout.
Now, here is the shot at redemption for the Patriots and relief for its owner. He needed this season, he said. He needed the camaraderie, the purpose and the energy that comes from all these young men.
So now here was the old owner and the young running back, in front of Green-Ellis' locker, comparing tributes to Mama.
"They said, 'Are you copying BenJarvis?' " Kraft told Green-Ellis.
"I've been doing it the whole season," Green-Ellis said.
"That's the first time I've seen it," Kraft said. "Thank you."
They embraced and the owner was off to another player, to another small moment, to another shared bit of joy and mourning after this rough, tense afternoon of football.
"That is a tough situation he's been through," Green-Ellis said watching Kraft walk away, still hugging his grandson.
Green-Ellis' eyes began to water.
"I'm getting a little emotional."
You finally reach a Super Bowl and you expect it'd be all smiles postgame. This wasn't what Green-Elllis expected; Robert Kraft either.
This was life. This was better.
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- Robert Kraft