February 1, 2019 / 3:06 PM / 10 months ago

Patriots owner Kraft turned mediocre team into juggernaut

(Reuters) - New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft has overseen one of the greatest franchise revivals in sports history by transforming a football doormat into a juggernaut that will seek a record-tying sixth Super Bowl title on Sunday.

FILE PHOTO: New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft speaks at a press conference in advance of Super Bowl LIII in Atlanta, Georgia, U.S., January 30, 2019. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports/File Photo

Kraft purchased the National Football League’s Patriots in 1994 for a then-record $172 million with one lofty goal in mind for a team that had averaged fewer than seven wins per season prior to his arrival.

“My objective in buying the Patriots is to help bring a championship to New England,” Kraft said when he took ownership of the team in January 1994.

The Patriots, who will face the Los Angeles Rams in Sunday’s championship game, have since built one of the NFL’s longest and most successful dynasties by capturing 18 division titles, 10 conference championships and five Super Bowl crowns.

Helping make Kraft’s tenure with the team that much sweeter has been Tom Brady and Bill Belichick, who are the most successful quarterback-coach duo in NFL history and have helped contribute to the Patriots’ culture of cultivating winners.

One of the most successful regimes in modern pro sports developed after Kraft rejected then owner James B. Orthwein’s $75 million buyout offer to get out of the stadium lease, which was held by Kraft, so he could relocate the franchise.

Kraft, who grew up in Boston and was a Patriots season-ticket holder for 23 years before buying the team, instead made a gutsy decision to pay what was then a princely sum for a franchise mired in mediocrity.

For Kraft, who made his fortune buying out and building up his father-in-law’s product-packaging business, the decision has more than paid off as the Patriots are a model franchise and the NFL’s second-most valuable team with a value of $3.8 billion.

Kraft’s influence in the football world has grown steadily since he purchased the Patriots, to the point that the 77-year-old American is now widely considered one of the NFL’s most powerful and influential owners.

He is credited with playing an integral role in ending a 136-day lockout of players that threatened to derail the 2011 season by being a voice of reason that helped hardline owners and players find a middle ground in negotiations.

Those discussions, which largely centered around how to divvy up the NFL’s annual revenue pie, came as Kraft’s wife Myra was struggling with cancer. She died five days before the lockout ended.

“There were times along the road where I know Robert was instrumental in keeping the process constructive and moving forward,” NFL Players Association Executive Director DeMaurice Smith said at the time.

Smith also said that by taking time away from his wife to participate in negotiations Kraft “impressed upon everyone, in a sober way, what our responsibilities were.”

Kraft, long considered an ally of NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, also publicly blasted the league for its handling of the so-called Deflategate scandal over under-inflated balls that the Patriots used in a 2015 conference championship game.

Among the sanctions that Kraft called “unprecedented, unjust and unreasonable” were a four-game suspension for Brady and a $1 million fine for the franchise.

But the Patriots have since moved on and if they can capture a third Super Bowl title in five years they will move into a tie with the Pittsburgh Steelers for all-time record with six.

Reporting by Frank Pingue in Toronto; editing by Ken Ferris

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