SBJ/20021223/Opinion

The trophy that counts: A son's love

Heartwarming holiday stories are where you find them. We rarely look for them among the powerful and wealthy and never among lords of the realm.

I certainly wasn't looking for such a story at our Forty Under 40 banquet on Nov. 8 when I bumped into Jon Kraft, one of our honorees. At that time I had an idea that his father, Bob, would be the SportsBusiness Journal Sports Executive of the Year. So I was congratulating Jon for helping his father open a brand-new, privately financed stadium, turn a naming-rights failure into success and generate the kind of revenue that other owners envy. The Krafts won the hearts of Boston. Their Revolution played in the MLS championship game and, oh yes, their Patriots won the Super Bowl.

Hell of a year, Jon.

But that's not the best part, he said. Not even the birth in March of Jacob, his third child. The pinnacle of Jon Kraft's year was his father's return to health. "It would have all been meaningless without him."

Bob Kraft, who was out of earshot at that moment, had undergone a triple bypass just 2½ months before. During a routine checkup on Aug. 21, doctors discovered a heart blockage that required immediate surgery. I mean immediate. Within two hours of discovery, the 61-year-old Kraft was in the OR.

"Meaningless without him." What's the big deal?

As Jon would ask much later, "Who wouldn't say that about their dad?"

Then I thought: Many owners wouldn't, Jon, and many owners' sons. But look at it from a father's perspective. My fondest dream is that my sons feel that way about me and express it with the same conviction that Jon did.

I guess it was that, the spirit in his eyes rather than the drama in his voice, that caused the sentence to stick with me. It was there through Thanksgiving and echoed in my ears the week before Christmas.

It begged for envy; it cried of pathos. I felt I had to know more about this bond between father and son.

As you would expect, it's told through football: When Jon was 7 and the family was closer to middle-class than wealthy, his father came home with Patriots season tickets. "I think it was the first time I ever saw my mother get angry with my father. She didn't think we could afford it."

Through the years — from the torrid early Septembers to the frigid late Decembers — those four seats in Section 217 near the top of Schaefer Stadium were occupied by Bob Kraft and his sons Jonathan, Daniel and Joshua. When the youngest was old enough to attend, they squeezed tighter on the bench seats and made room for David.

"We went to all the games," remembers Jon. "My dad didn't take his buddies, like other guys. He took us."

Bob Kraft said, "I felt like I was creating a family tradition." All the way to the executive office.

The story of Bob Kraft's success in the paper business has been written elsewhere. His quest to first buy the stadium and then the team can be found in scores of profiles. His rise to NFL leadership is told by his peers and chronicled in the press. And his year as the top executive in all of sports is documented in this issue starting on Page 1.

But this story is about the hug Bob Kraft gave his son when Adam Vinatieri kicked the Super Bowl-winning field goal. The culmination of the labor shared by father and son. And it's much more.

"That was a special moment," said Jon. But even if the Krafts never owned the team, "I'd still want to be like my dad. That's what I've always wanted."

The love is unconditional. "I trust him. I have blind faith in him. He's my best friend."

And so it is that this son of a son of a cantor embodies a love of family that for me captured the spirit of the season.

John Genzale (jgenzale@sportsbusinessjournal.com) is editor-in-chief of SportsBusiness Journal.

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