FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Robert Kraft wore a blue, football-shaped pin bearing his late wife’s initials, MHK, and the New England Patriots logo.
It was attached to the left lapel of his sports jacket, above his heart.
“I hope they’re good luck charms,” the Patriots owner said Wednesday three weeks after his “sweetheart,” Myra Hiatt Kraft, died of cancer at the age of 68.
“There’s no one dearer to me and so I’ll be wearing it all the time.”
His players’ uniforms will have a patch of the same design on the left chest for all their games this season, which has been dedicated to Myra Kraft. A philanthropist and hands-on volunteer, she died a few days before the NFL lockout ended, with her husband playing a major role in reaching a settlement.
“That’s the one thing I did for the last 4 1-2 months before Myra passed and it was with her knowledge,” he said, standing near midfield on the Gillette Stadium turf. “She knew how important this game was to America, so she gave me a pass. That was the only time I left her. … That was a good distraction, to be honest.”
Kraft choked up several times, his voice wavering, in his first public remarks since the news conference on July 25 announcing a 10-year agreement with players.
His wife of 48 years never sought praise for any of her philanthropic work, Kraft said. And she may not have realized all the good she had done for so many people.
“Well,” he said. “My sweetheart proposed to me (on) the first date when she was 19 and I was 20 and we were together for almost 50 years. So I had the best seat, the best person on the planet.”
His voice broke momentarily.
“I don’t know that she understood the global reach of what she did and how she impacted people. We have to keep that legacy going, and we will continue to do it as a family.”
He said many people with one-time needs have written letters, so an emergency fund will be set up to help them.
But on Thursday night, for about three hours, he can focus on the game he loves. The Patriots open their exhibition season against the Jacksonville Jaguars on the same field where Kraft stood on Wednesday.
“I’m just happy football’s back, as we all are,” said Kraft, entering his 18th season as owner of the Patriots. “I guess we never dreamt there would be a lockout like this.”
And who could imagine Kraft praising a key contributor to one of his team’s major rivals, Indianapolis Colts center Jeff Saturday?
At the news conference announcing the settlement, with Kraft at his right side, Saturday hugged the Patriots owner and praised his work toward an agreement while coping with his wife’s illness.
“The NFL and the NFL players and owners are lucky that there was a guy like Jeff Saturday in the league,” Kraft said. “He made every negotiating session. … Without Jeff Saturday, there wouldn’t have been a deal.”
Then, in a rare moment of levity, Kraft said, “It’s hard to like the center for Peyton Manning. I really like the guy. He’s terrific, and whoever hires him after football will be getting a great guy.”
Stable teams who signed season veterans and planned for the post-lockout period should have a better chance to make the playoffs than teams who didn’t, Kraft said.
So the Patriots re-signed quarterback Tom Brady, nose tackle Vince Wilfork and kicker Stephen Gostkowski before the lockout then added wide receiver Chad Ochocinco and defensive linemen Albert Haynesworth, Shaun Ellis and Andre Carter after the settlement.
“You’ve got to love the guy,” Kraft said of his colorful new receiver
Ochocinco has said he’ll stay with a fan, probably for two or three weeks until he gets used to the area.
“I have people e-mailing me who would like to host him,” Kraft said. “I’m not sure I want the responsibility, except someone prominent here in Foxborough has offered to be his host. … If he winds up with that person then I’ll confirm it.”
Kraft had praise for Haynesworth, who has had numerous off-field problems with the law and feuded all last season with Washington Redskins coach Mike Shanahan.
“I met with him and I like the guy,” Kraft said. “He came here to be part of the team and win and I think, in some ways, improve his reputation. And so it’s just like a lot of meetings I have with these guys. I found him to be genuine and sincere. So I hope he gets out on the field and does his thing.”
Haynesworth has missed several practices and is among many veterans expected to sit out Thursday night’s game.
Those who do play will have that “MHK” patch on their uniforms.
So how is Kraft doing just three weeks after his “sweetheart” passed away?
“I’m blessed,” he said, his voice cracking. “I had the best life partner. I have a great family. I’m involved in a business that I love. I’m passionate about this business. I want to win more than anything.
“She was the real deal. I was a very lucky guy, very lucky.”