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Punt, Pass & Kick participant booed in Indy for Pats jersey

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft sat behind
his wide desk and marveled at how his team's jersey could be the
target of so many boos -- even when it's worn by a 14-year-old girl.

This wasn't Randy Moss or Rodney Harrison hearing the catcalls.
They're used to it.

This was Anna Grant, a high school freshman who had worked hard
to win the Punt, Pass & Kick competition in her age group as the
team's representative.

When she was introduced along with the other winners before the
fourth quarter of San Diego's playoff win last Sunday, she was the
only one booed by the crowd in Indianapolis, home of New England's
fiercest rival.

"Why should a champion be booed?" the boss of the three-time
Super Bowl winners said Tuesday. "She won an intensive
competition. She's supposed to be honored."

His team is getting the same reaction -- not because of the
spying incident in the season opener but because fans like to see
teams at the top get knocked off, he said. If the Chargers can't do
it Sunday, New England will be headed to its fourth Super Bowl in
seven seasons.

But first comes the coin flip before the AFC championship and
Grant will be out on the field for that, invited by Kraft, who felt
badly that she had been booed.

"What I decided is that we would honor her here before this
game," Kraft said in an interview in his office filled with
photos, footballs and other memorabilia. "We will recognize her as
the winner on the field. Our fans will know."

Grant returned from school Tuesday and heard a phone message
from Andre Tippett, the Patriots' executive director of community
affairs and a former star linebacker.

She called back and was ecstatic when Tippett extended the
invitation -- plus tickets for her, her parents and two brothers --
to take part.

"I was just in shock," she said.

Kraft knows the hoots were not directed at the high school
freshman from Stratham, N.H., about 20 miles north of the
Massachusetts border. It's just that the jersey provokes an instant
response, usually a negative one.

Grant also understands, and even smiled when she heard the boos.

"Before I went down there, my friends said, 'You know, you'll
probably get booed,'" she said in a telephone interview. "I was
kind of waiting for it.

"It really didn't bother me at all," she added. "People at
the game came up to me afterward and said, 'It's not you. It's your
jersey.'"

It wasn't always that way.

When Adam Vinatieri's last-play field goal gave the Patriots
their first championship as huge underdogs to the St. Louis Rams
after the 2001 season, red, white and blue confetti -- not boos --
poured down in the Louisiana Superdome.

It came less than five months after the Sept. 11 terrorist
attacks.

"I remember saying when I hoisted the [championship] trophy,
'We are all Patriots and tonight the Patriots are world
champions,'" Kraft said. "We were the underdogs. No one expected
[it]. Now what's happened is, we've had a modicum of success.

"I noticed it with the second title that we went after. Already
people had switched and I think people outside of New England want
to see different [winners]. It's sort of like the Yankees. There
was a resentment, but a respect for the Yankees."

The Yankees have declined since their dominance of the late 90s.
The Patriots are better than ever, perhaps the best team in NFL
history.

"Jealousy and envy comes in the more you win and people say,
'Give someone else a chance and let someone else do it,'" Kraft
said. "I understand that."

It's better than the alternative.

Before he bought the team in January 1994, the Patriots had
missed the playoffs for the previous seven seasons. In just his
third year, they were in the Super Bowl -- losing to Green Bay in
the same building where they would win their first title five years
later.

At least fans care now, even if they boo.

"I see it as sort of respect in a way," Kraft said. "I think
15 years ago, 18 years ago, someone could have worn our jersey and
I just think there would have been no reaction."

Grant plans to wear some Patriots apparel again Sunday, probably
a hat. The reaction will be much warmer.

"In a way, the fact that this young lady was booed is a
compliment to the New England Patriots fans because we're
relevant," Kraft said. "And, we're good."