FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- When the New England Patriots gather for their 8 a.m. full-team meeting, Bill Belichick knows he can expect every player and coach to be present. And, in a bit of a surprise, owner Robert Kraft, too.
“Every morning we see him in the squad meeting, sitting right there in the back, paying attention,” relayed safety Patrick Chung. “That’s good to see as a player. Most owners aren’t really doing that. It’s good to know he’s working just as hard as we are, and your owner has your back and he’s going to be there to know what’s going on also. We like Mr. Kraft.”
Chung said that players call Kraft by the nickname “Mean Mug.”
“That’s a little thing we got,” he said of an inside joke.
Thursday marks the 22nd anniversary of Kraft's family purchasing the Patriots. Since that time, the club has played in 11 conference championship games.
With that as a springboard, quarterback Tom Brady was asked Thursday how Kraft’s leadership trickles down to the players.
“It’s obviously a huge impact on our team and our organization, his expectations for us and how he sets the tone for us,” Brady said. “He sits in almost every squad meeting that we have. I think he’s always got a pulse for how the team is doing, how the coaches feel about the particular week, how the players are feeling. He’s always involved, so I would say he’s very hands-on.”
For veteran defensive tackle Alan Branch, who has previously played for Arizona (2007-2010), Seattle (2011-2012) and Buffalo (2013), Kraft’s presence was one of the first things he noticed on a daily basis after joining the Patriots midway through the 2014 season.
“Of any team I’ve ever been on, I’ve seen Mr. Kraft more in a half-year [in 2014] than any owner for the rest of my eight years,” Branch said, noting that Kraft does more than just sit in team meetings. “He walks up [to you], knows everyone personally. Working for a man like that is pretty nice.”
Branch added that because of Kraft’s constant presence around the team -- he’s often seen in the locker room -- it creates an atmosphere where players aren’t nervous when he comes around.
Fourth-year defensive tackle Akiem Hicks, who was acquired in a trade from the New Orleans Saints on Oct. 1, added: “I have to say that’s one of the first things I noticed when I got here; how involved he was. That’s not to say my previous team’s owner wasn’t involved, because he was very involved as well, but just seeing Mr. Kraft walk around the building on a daily basis and in meetings, it’s a pretty cool thing.”
Kicker Stephen Gostkowski, who is the second-longest tenured player on the team in his 10th season, said seeing Kraft on a regular basis has been commonplace from his rookie year.
“It can be intimidating being around a guy who has so much, but he comes off as a normal guy,” he said, noting that Kraft had called Gostkowski's wife, Hallie, after a surgical procedure and sent the couple a baby gift. “They preach family around here and it starts with him. As crazy as it is in this business with people getting cut, traded, people going different places, he does a good job of making us feel welcome when we’re [at the stadium], because we’re here a lot of the time. Most of that credit should go to Mr. Kraft.”
Gostkowski told the story of how Kraft once approached him after a bad game to offer encouragement.
“He’s a human being and also the owner of this team. When there’s a guy up there that you see around and is as invested as he is -- not just monetarily but emotionally -- it’s a lot easier to go out and play for a guy like that. We love Mr. Kraft. He’s always welcome around us in the locker room.
“I mean, he owns the place, so he can go wherever he wants. But he’s very welcome in the inner circles of the locker room and camaraderie. It’s cool to be a part of.”