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Dan Shaughnessy

The best and worst for Kraft

By Dan Shaughnessy
Globe Columnist / July 27, 2011

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His is a personal drama of Shakespearean dimensions. Bob Kraft is living the worst days of his personal life and the best days of his professional life. Simultaneously.

None of us can know what this is like, but if you are a fan of the Patriots, or just a member of our community who was touched by the life mission of the late Myra Kraft (which would include just about everybody), it’s hard to go through your day not thinking about what this last week has been like for Bob Kraft.

Now 70 years old, Kraft has been the face of the Patriots since Jan. 21, 1994 when he bought the franchise from James Orthwein. He went through some growing pains in the early years - announcing he was moving the team to Hartford, publicly feuding with coach Bill Parcells, and sometimes getting a little too involved with football operations. His first coaching hire was Pete Carroll. There was embarrassment when beloved Curtis Martin was pilfered by Parcells and the Jets.

But Kraft proved to be a quick study and today he’s rightfully recognized as one of the more powerful and respected owners in the NFL. In our region, he’s emerged as a latter-day Walter Brown. Trust me when I tell you there is no higher praise for a Boston sports owner.

Brown was president of the old Boston Garden. He owned the Bruins for almost 15 years in the 1950s and ’60s, but he is best remembered as the owner/inventor of the Celtics. He grew up in Hopkinton, brought Red Auerbach to Boston, and kept the Celtics in business against considerable odds. He is remembered as the most beloved owner in New England sports history.

Kraft is on his way. Like Brown, he’s local. Kraft understands the Swan Boats, the traffic rotaries, and U-Haul glut on Labor Day in the Back Bay. He’s also the man who hired Bill Belichick - our latter-day Auerbach. Kraft kept the Patriots in New England, and built a beautiful stadium without stiffing the taxpayers.

Brown’s number (1) is retired in the Garden rafters and Kraft undoubtedly will earn a similar honor down the road in Foxborough.

Brown is also in the NBA Hall of Fame, and it’s clear now that Kraft is emerging as potentially Canton worthy. Kraft’s role in the 10-year labor agreement has raised his profile and cemented his legacy as an elite NFL owner.

Monday’s shared moment between Kraft and Jeff Saturday is already part of sports history. Standing before the microphones in front of NFL Players Association headquarters in Washington, D.C., the massive Colts center said Kraft was “a man who helped us save football,’’ gave special thanks to Myra Kraft (“who even in her weakest moment allowed Mr. Kraft to come and fight this out’’), then embraced the Patriots owner.

New England dens and saloons are adorned with photos of confetti-sprinkled Bob Kraft hoisting Lombardi Trophies in New Orleans, Houston, and Jacksonville, and on assorted duck boats on the streets of Boston. We have photos of Kraft signing autographs for thankful fans, and dancing at City Hall Plaza with Ty Law.

But photos from the last week are the images that show Kraft coming up big in his darkest hour. We have the sad shots from Friday’s funeral for Myra Kraft in the boiling heat outside Temple Emanuel in Newton. There’s Kraft, head of his family of four sons and eight grandchildren, standing at the top of the doorway while his sons and grandchildren carry his wife’s pine coffin down the steps of the temple.

Now we have the iconic image of the Colts offensive lineman wrapping the Patriots owner in a hug.

It was a moment of infinite grace and respect, a study of sadness and stoicism. Taking a break from shiva, Kraft was captured honoring his wife and his faith, somehow still strong enough to help close the deal that was such a huge part of his life during the final days of his 48-year marriage.

He returned to his office at Gillette Stadium yesterday, happy that the NFL is back in business, sad that he’s living without Myra for the first time in almost a half-century.

I can’t know for sure, but a couple of times during the day, I bet Bob Kraft had a notion to phone Myra and tell her about something funny or interesting that just happened. And then it hit him that she wouldn’t be there at the other end of the line anymore.

It’s the hard reality and it touches everyone, sooner or later. All the hugs and honors and flowers and free agents won’t make the pain of loss go away. Only time.

Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at dshaughnessy@globe.com.


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