Kraft has shot at two 'football' titlesPosted: Friday October 18, 2002 11:11 PM
Updated: Sunday October 20, 2002 9:33 AM
FOXBORO, Mass. (AP) -- Has anyone in sports ever had a better year than Robert Kraft, the owner of the NFL's New England Patriots and Major League Soccer's New England Revolution?
Already in 2002, Kraft has held aloft the Super Bowl trophy and opened a new stadium for his football and soccer teams. With the Revolution playing for the Major League Soccer title against the Los Angeles Galaxy on Sunday, Kraft has a chance for a rarely seen second championship in the same year.
"We are, of course, considered the 'other' team. The Patriots are the first priority," Revolution defender Jay Heaps said. "But he wants us to do so well, and he wants us to be a part of a championship for him and everyone involved.
"It always starts with the leader. And he is the leader."
Jerry Buss, who owns the Los Angeles Lakers and the WNBA's Sparks, is believed to be the only other owner who has won two titles in one year. The Lakers have won the last three NBA championships and the Sparks the last two in the WNBA.
But Kraft also opened a privately financed, $325 million stadium this year, calling it his legacy after a lifetime as a New England sports fan. For the Revolution to win in the first year in the building after the Patriots closed out Foxboro Stadium with a Super Bowl win "would be like bookends," he said, "coming on both ends of it."
"I have a lot to be thankful for," said the 63-year-old Kraft. "For good fortune and good health."
Especially the latter.
On Aug. 21, Kraft went in for a checkup and doctors discovered a heart blockage that required immediate bypass surgery. Still, Kraft considers himself lucky. If not for the well-timed exam, he could have died.
"This has been an unbelievable year for our family. And at the top of the list, in my book, has been what happened to my father," said Jonathan Kraft, vice chairman of the Patriots and co-investor-operator of the Revolution. "The alternative isn't losing the championship game, or not opening the stadium successfully. It prevented something really bad from happening."
Kraft recovered quickly enough to attend the Sept. 9 Patriots' opener at the new stadium. He'll be there again on Sunday, when the previously luckless Revolution try to match the Patriots' karma and win a title no one would have predicted.
Jonathan Kraft said it's no coincidence that everything is happening at the same time.
"We've tried a lot of things for the first seven years and it hasn't worked. Finally, this year, it's worked," he said of the Revolution, who had made the playoffs just twice before and never advanced. "If you're going to be in any business, especially one where competition is involved, you have to be passionate about it and you have to provide the right tools."
The Revolution players consider their locker room among the best in the league, with its own training room and players' lounge so they don't have to work around the Patriots' schedule.
This week, between their victory in the conference championship series and the start of preparations for the title game, the Krafts treated the soccer team to a day of poolside massages and lunch at a ritzy downtown Boston hotel.
"Obviously, his main source of revenue is the Patriots," Revolution defender Rusty Pierce said. "The accommodations he gives us -- he doesn't have to do that."
Although the new stadium was built for football, the Krafts kept soccer in mind, too. The playing area isn't cramped on the sides like so many converted NFL fields. It has TV camera positions for both sports and the seating area is designed so it would fit a soccer crowd of 20,000 in the lower level without seeming empty.
"We tried very hard to make the players feel like professionals," Robert Kraft said. "If you want someone to feel like they play in a major league, you try to put them in facilities that say that to them."
The Krafts like to draw comparisons between the Patriots' season last year and the Revolution this year, because neither team was expected to do much. But they have something else in common, too.
"Bob Kraft is a smart guy, first and foremost," said former Patriots quarterback Drew Bledsoe, who remains close with his ex-boss. "He hires smart people and lets them do their job. ... It's really nice to see things working out for him that way."
Patriots coach Bill Belichick commends the elder Kraft for walking the fine line between staying involved with the team and being meddlesome.
"He's given me the opportunity to do everything the way I feel like they should be done," said Belichick, who led the Patriots to their first championship after replacing an injured Bledsoe with Tom Brady. "The types of people we have, the work ethic, the team attitude, it comes from him. Robert and I talked about that: We both wanted the same type of team."
Revolution players can't help but notice what's been happening with their NFL brethren. Watching what went on down the hall, they realized they have a chance to share more with the Patriots than an owner and a stadium.
"He definitely must know what he's doing," Revolution defender Daniel Hernandez said. "It's a long time since something good has happened to this team, and they deserve it, for all they've put into it. For him to give us the support and the backing that he has, you want to do everything you can to get that family to this point."