Many have spent the early portion of this week debating how New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick could leave in star tight end Rob Gronkowski on the extra-point team when the Pats were decimating Indianapolis on Sunday. Patriots owner Robert Kraft isn’t one of those people.
Kraft defended Belichick’s decision and says that situation has been discussed before. Kraft simply chalks the situation up as a bad break while putting the team first.
Robert Kraft joined ESPN New York with Mike Lupica to discuss building the New England franchise, if he ever imagined having such success, the situation surrounding Rob Gronkowski getting injured, the rivalry with the New York Jets and if his team is a Super Bowl-caliber team this year.
On believing that he’s not really the owner, but that he’s been put in charge of a public trust:
“That was the line that I used with my sweetheart … because she thought I was a complete kook when I paid the highest price ever paid for a sports franchise in 1994. They had 19 wins and 61 losses the five years before I bought it. They had never sold out and the games were blacked out and they were lowest in revenue. She really thought I’d lost all sense of financial stability. What I told her, because she was a great person in the community, I said if we do a good job managing this asset, we will have a greater impact than if we give away a half million dollars every week. … Anybody who puts money first, running a franchise, ultimately is not going to do well. But if you put the fans first … we know what fans want. And if they feel you’re giving them your best, and you want to win at all costs, they’ll come and support you when times are tough.”
You’ve put this franchise in the argument for best ever. Did you ever think that was possible when you hired Bill Belichick?:
“Remember, we’ve been privileged to own the team 18 years and we’ve gone to six Super Bowls. I didn’t think our average would be quite that good. If you think back when I hired Bill, and look at his experience in Cleveland, he was a sub-.500 coach, I got criticized pretty heavily up here, because I gave up a first pick to get him. I actually had seen him in action in ’96 when Parcells and company left. … I couldn’t hire him them as the head coach because I wanted a complete change … but when I hired him in 2000, he went 5-11 the first season and his second season he was 1-3. So he was 6-14 and I had people calling for my head. They had sent me tapes of Bill doing press conferences in Cleveland. But in life, and in any one of our businesses, I try to surround myself with good people. … Then, you’ve got to support them in the top times. That’s what separates people in business.”
On Rob Gronkowski still playing in the blowout game and breaking his arm:
“[Belichick] does make a good point, because I’ve had this discussion previous years — taking Brady out, or whatever. … When you start taking players out, then you’re saying, ‘This guy stays in; he’s not as important as the other guy.’ Remember, going back to that ’01 Super Bowl, we’ve always put team first and tried to treat everybody … the same. You can’t do it differently, and I now accept that, even though it hurts to see what happened to Gronk.”
Do you view the New York Jets as a rival?:
“It’s a tremendous rivalry. Ever since the so-called Border Wars, I’ll never forget, and Bill Parcells is a great pal of mine today … but I remember when I was trying to get Belichick to be our coach and a call came in and he said, ‘It’s Darth Vader calling.’ … It’s just, I think our fans sort of love it. … They’re always great games. The Jets always play us rough. They have a great coach down there, I think. I understand how the fans relate to him. He sort of personifies the character of the team and I know Woody has been a great partner. … There’s something about a Patriots-Jets game that just puts it on the map as something special.”
Is this a Patriots team we could see in the Super Bowl?:
“One thing I’ve learned is you never know. Things happen. … We just go week-to-week and hope we can be there at the end. The key, for me, is always to try to make the playoffs. Then, if you make the playoffs, you’ve got a chance. Then anything can happen. Look at last year. We were 13-3 and I think we were the No. 1 seed and the Giants came in at 9-7 as a road team and they just rode it right through. It’s really the teams that play well going into the end of December and January.”