RKK: Good morning everyone. I have the pleasure; first of all, I’m so happy we’re still playing. We tried to do something special this year. I’m privileged to announce that our fourth honorary captain [for the AFC Championship Game] will be Drew Bledsoe. He will be flying in.
We’ve been able to have Troy Brown, Tedy Bruschi, Ty Law and Drew come in. The reason we picked them is I remember sitting in the stands for 34 years before we bought the team and we had one home playoff game, which we lost to Houston in ’78. I remember that ’96 season when we had the privilege of hosting our first Championship Game and these four people were in that game. I remember the thrill I had getting that first Lamar Hunt trophy. Unfortunately we didn’t win the big game but five years later, those same four, I think we had a core group of 10 players, but those same four were on the team and we were able to win the Super Bowl in ’01. They’re coming back and we’re going to give the fans a chance to remember that it all started 15 years ago and then I guess really 10 years ago yesterday. Thank goodness we had a head ref who understood the rules. I still remember seeing Jon Gruden at the beginning of the season and Al Davis, right before he passed, and both said to me, ‘It was still a fumble.’ But I guess the rules say differently and thank goodness Walt Coleman understood the rules. That was the beginning of something pretty special I think.
Also, we are very excited we’ll be playing in London next year. It’s the last weekend of October. We’ll be going back there. We’re excited because for us in a way it’s like, I think, kind of having another home game because we have such a large fan base there. We’ve had since our family bought the team, we’ve had a group of fans who come over from the UK (the UKPatriots fan club), and come here to a game a year and it’s a tremendous fan base. I’m’ happy we’re able to go over there. I guess it will be Week 8 of the season that we’ll be playing the Rams.
The other thing that is special for me is before the season started, I spoke to the team and said how they’d be wearing a patch and we’re dedicating the season to my sweetheart and what that meant to the family. I’m a great believer in spirituality, so I’m pretty pleased and excited that we have the privilege of playing in this game at home. When you think about it, I think our family has been privileged to own the team 18 years and this is our seventh AFC Championship Game, five of which I believe have been played at home, this will be our fifth one. When I go around the league and I speak to some great players, who are Pro Bowl players perennially and they’ve never had he privilege of winning or playing in a playoff game where they win, I can think of one in particular, I think back to when I was sitting in the seats with my boys and our season would be over at the end of December. So my sons know what it is like to have the season over. My grandchildren, I think, are a little spoiled because we’ve had the privilege of being in the postseason a great deal. It’s a great credit to the coaches we’ve had here and the players we’ve had here.
We hope to have a lot of fun this Sunday at three o’clock. An old pal of ours who has actually done the National Anthem at a lot of games since the old Foxboro Stadium is flying from the West Coast. He’s on one of those late night shows Saturday night. Steven Tyler is going to come here and [sing the anthem] and then fly back. He’s been a loyal, good Pats fan. Congratulations to CBS, even though he’s on FOX, they’ve been really supportive. We’re hoping that brings us good karma along with my sweetheart’s patch.
Q: What has Bill Belichick meant to your team this season and previous years as well?
RKK: I saw a little of it in ’96 when he was here, but I think Bill has evolved and grown and I think he’ll go down as the greatest coach in the history of the NFL, because he’s really competing in the era of the salary cap. Remember, when I bought the team it was the beginning of the salary cap. I think a lot of great coaches had difficulty understanding how to balance the economics of the game and the budgets. His product knowledge is so great. I really like this team a lot this year. I think he’s done a great job assembling people. We have a very good locker room. You folks are down there a lot, I don’t know if you can see it. We had the privilege of being the number one seed back-to-back. I personally can feel a big difference in the locker room this year and last year. In the end, going back to your question, what really makes a difference is the mental toughness – when teams get down, how do they react? I just think of that game we were down 21-0. We’ve been down a number of times this year. I think we’re privileged to have him as a head coach. I just think he does an outstanding job. I know how forthright he is when you ask him questions. Being full disclosure, the media has always been important and helpful to him in doing his job.
Q: Have you thought about life post-Belichick as an owner?
RKK: Anyone who is a good manager in any business tries to plan for the future and contingencies. I just went through an experience this past year that I’m trying to enjoy every day as it comes and appreciate the blessings that we have. We’re in the AFC Championship Game competing to go to the Super Bowl and I’m excited about that.
Q: What stands out to you in the relationship between Bill Belichick and Tom Brady?
RKK: I think they have a great mutual respect. I think Bill being a defensive coach, although a great student of the game. He grew up starting in special teams. His knowledge of the game is so great. Of course, he’s always planning defenses against the opposing offenses. but I think he has great respect for Tom’s knowledge. I think Tom studies so hard and watches tape. He starts right away. They’re both very hard workers. They have great dialogue and a mutual respect for one another.
Q: What was it like for you personally being one and done in the playoffs the last two years? Did you feel like you got that mojo back last week?
RKK: Our objective every year is to make the playoffs. Like I said, I sat in the stands for 34 years and we had one home playoff game so I savor every year. I don’t ever like losing and I want to do whatever I can do to try to put us in the best position. I think those people that are a little superstitious, one of them was in my box last week and debated whether to come because they had been there the last two times when we were, as you say, ‘one and done.’ We were fortunate to get through it. The league is designed to go 8-8 and the reason the networks pay us what they pay us is because no one knows what is going to happen — head coaches, quarterbacks, owners, D-linemen — so no one knows what is going to happen Sunday. You just work hard and try to put yourself in the best position to win. The key is to always gather good people around you. I like the people we have around us.
Q: You said you liked this locker room? Did you have that feeling from the beginning of the season?
RKK: No, I think it sort of happened midseason. You can see the chemistry in the locker room. It’s just a feeling if you go to practice and you see the little things, the things in the lunch room, the pranks they pull on one another, the little groupings of how they interact and talk. I’m sure it’s the same in your business, in your reporting and the relationships you have. I have this thing that the world is going in a direction of more and more technology, which is making everyone more efficient but in the end the way you sustain special relationships and winning is building relationships and that’s from interactions that you don’t program. You can school and learn but you have to have trust and respect for one another. I think this team has it and that makes me excited, but I’m also mindful that the other teams remaining are pretty darn good. I’m just happy that we’re playing at home at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough.
Q: How much more time have you spent around the team this year than usual because of you what has happened to you personally?
RKK: The team has been my savior. I’ve had my kids, my four sons and eight grandchildren and this team has been kind of my extended family; also, past players. That’s why it’s sort of, you think about, I called Drew [Bledsoe] and he had family plans. He had a dear friend’s surprise 40th birthday I think it was, he’s in that range, but he changed things to come here because I think when we inducted him into the Hall of Fame, I’m not sure [before that] he understood how much people around here appreciate him. He decided to come back and change his plans. I pinch myself that I have the privilege of owning this franchise. We have such a great group of young men and they’ve been great to me, really great. Sometimes a few of them come through and they touch the patch and say, ‘That one was for Mama.’ I hope we keep it going.
Q: Did you expect the season to go so smoothly after the lockout? How proud are you of what has developed after the lockout?
RKK: I think Roger Goodell and our committee and I had a privilege of working on that. We came very close to having a situation [where we would] miss games. I’m happy that we had reasonable people on both sides so we could work it out. I think a lot of people were concerned what it meant to the season without having the offseason. I think it probably worked to the advantage of a lot of veteran players. I’m pretty proud that we have a labor agreement that goes for 10 years and we have extended all of our media partner deals for nine years with two years remaining. I think the number one sport in America has stability over the next decade and there will be ways for us to build upon that. And also what it means to different communities. You think about the four cities that are still in the game. The Y [YMCA] here locally and the schools are dressing up in our garb and having promotions. It helps bring people together in unique ways. I’m pretty happy and proud that we’re able to have this season the way it is.
Q: What has it been like for you to watch Tom Brady come back from his injury in ’08 and build himself back up to what he has always been?
RKK: I still have the image of Tom Brady coming down the old Foxboro Stadium steps with that pizza box under his arm, the skinny beanpole. When he introduced himself to me and he said, ‘Hi, Mr. Kraft’ and he was about to say who he was and [I said] ‘I know who you are, you’re Tom Brady, you’re our sixth round draft choice.’ He looked me in the eye and said, ‘I’m the best decision this organization has ever made.’ It looks like he could be right, although hiring Bill Belichick, I think, also has been a pretty good decision, even though the media beat me up pretty good for the first year and half. Watching Tommy grow and evolve and watching from being a single guy in the marketplace to getting married and going to his wedding and seeing the kind of father he is, he’s just a very unusual young man and a great leader and he’s matured beautifully and he’s still kept his humility. I’m really happy that we have him as our quarterback. I hope we have the best quarterback and coach in the history of the game. I guess to prove that we have a little more execution that we have to do over the next few years. I certainly hope we do it.
Q: Do you ever put a timetable on Bill Belichick and Tom Brady with this organization?
RKK: Well, I think the trick in this business, and we say Belichick and Brady, but there are a lot of other people that make a difference. I’m not sure the general public truly appreciates that. You watch the development of our defense this year, the role that our offensive line has played, our tight ends, our receivers, the development of the secondary. You look around, there are some great franchise quarterbacks and coaches without having the total team. My dream is that we can sustain continuity and that [in] many of our businesses, we try to plan for the future. I think Bill did a great job the year we lost Tommy and we went 11-5. Unfortunately the Jets didn’t beat the Packers in that game and we missed the playoffs. We’re trying to make the playoffs every year and that will be, no matter who is the head coach and quarterback, that will be objective of our team.
Q: Can you talk about your relationship with Steve Bisciotti and a franchise that is similar to yours in terms of stability and consistency in making the playoffs?
RKK: I think Steve is a terrific owner; he’s been a wonderful friend. He came in [to the league] in a unique way, he was very wise the way he purchased the Ravens. He had time to learn on the job. He’s created stability in the front office there. He’s really one of my favorite owners. He was very kind and generous when my wife passed to make a generous donation in her memory. We’ve been good friends and he’s a much better golfer than I am.
Q: With respect to London, the Rams have announced their long-term commitment to having three home games there. Was there any consideration given to having New England be in that spot?
RKK: We were asked. The Rams made a three year commitment. The two times we’re going, we’re going as a visiting team. If you make that commitment, you have to give up a home game and we don’t want to give up a home game. Our fan base has been terrific to us. I’m hoping that large fan base in England continues to show up for us. Our name is the New England Patriots. We have quite a large contingent that comes over here every year with the UKPatriots fan club. It has grown a great deal, I don’t know how many members. We’re looking at it as a way to support our fans overseas. It’s still an away game for us. I wouldn’t like us to give up any home games.
Q: Do you see any return trips in the future?
RKK: I’d vote for it, but that’s a league decision. I think actually a lot of our fans are excited to travel. We have fans that go to one or two away games and when we went the last time, I think the majority of the fans in the stands were rooting for the Patriots even though the signage was for Tampa Bay, we had the majority of the fans, so I hope that continues.
Q: A lot has been made of Tom Brady falling to the sixth round and the other three quarterbacks left in the playoffs are first round picks. Tom has accomplished a lot but do you think that still drives him?
RKK: I do. I think it happened at Michigan. And I think where he was he drafted, it’s amazing to me that he has the notoriety, celebrity, I mean most people think he’s a very handsome guy, but he’s a very humble guy. He’s someone anyone in this room would love to have as a brother or son. He’s a great friend and he’s a great leader in the locker room. One of the things it taught me and it goes back to what I was saying, that technology is great and we have all these gurus who know football and we had 32 times for five rounds, everybody passed on this guy. There are certain things in life that are instinct or not measurables and that’s what differentiates in any business.
Q: Why is Bill Belichick so good at managing people, even with the roster changing so often?
RKK: I think he had a history at Cleveland. His first year with us he went 5-11 and then he went 1-3, so he was 6-14. I had people sending me tapes of him doing press conferences and heads of networks telling me I shouldn’t hire him. But what I learned is that this guy really knew the game. I think Bill’s brilliance is understanding what fits for our team. Life, in any business, you want to build complementary forces. It’s not like it’s rocket science where you have to have engineers designing something with exact science – this is a touch and feel. His history and his knowledge of the game and his experience on special teams, I think growing up understanding the importance of special teams and players and then blending that into the defense and offense and then understanding value and the salary cap. He knows the most important thing to us is to win. He’s balancing that by putting together a group of players who also want to win. He has a unique knowledge that is very special in this era of the salary cap. I’m very pleased that since we bought the team in ’94, our record the previous five years was 19 wins and 61 losses. I think we have the best win-loss record of any team since ’94. There was one home playoff game I mentioned in ’78, which we lost. Sunday we’ll host our 15th home playoff game in the last 16 years. He’s been a big part of that, needless to say.
Q: How hard is it when you have heads of network telling you not to hire somebody, to go against their advice?
RKK: The key to life whether it’s the partner you pick in life or the business you run, is that you try to see things that other people can’t see. This league is set up to have everyone go 8-8, in terms of the scheduling if you do well, how you draft, the schedule they give you, everything. They want parity. The best thing is for every team to go 8-8 and every city feels they’re still in it. How do you differentiate? Everyone in the organization you hope can see things that other people can’t see and are willing to take risks. You have to be bold in any business and do things that you take a lot of criticism for but you believe are the right things. Any business we’re in, we think long [term]. We’re willing to take the bumps and bruises if we’re putting ourselves in the best position. In 1985, I took a 10-year lease out on the parking lots around here for a million dollars a year – my bankers thought I was crazy. I bought an old stadium in 1988 when Victor Kiam owned the team and my banker told me it was a white elephant, single purpose, but that helped me get the team in ’94 and keep it from moving to St. Louis. You have to pursue your dreams and our dream now is to win everywhere we can. We’re going to try to do things. I hope there are a few more Tom Bradys out there, I doubt it though.
Q: The organization has done a really good job in the past few years of retaining big free agents. Do you have an update on Wes Welker?
RKK: I think Wes wants to be here and we want him here. Hopefully when the season ends, both sides will be wise enough to consummate something. He’s pretty special. Any time there is a player on this team I can look eye-to-eye and be at the same level, he’s an important guy. Thank you very much and hope we have a good game for you on Sunday.