SUPER BOWL XXXVIII

Competing owners are also good friends


Published: Wednesday, January 28, 2004 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 28, 2004 at 12:21 a.m.

HOUSTON - It was a love of football, a devotion to family and a rich feel for business that first formed a quick bond between the attention-shy southern gentleman and the spotlight-seeking mogul from just outside Boston.

Carolina's Jerry Richardson and New England's Robert Kraft entered NFL ownership at nearly the same time with Kraft taking control of a troubled Patriots franchise before the 1994 season and the Panthers beginning play in 1995.

In less than 10 years, Richardson and Kraft have become as close as any owners in the league, even planning a private dinner with their wives Tuesday night, something that Kraft said he rarely does with other owners.

"He'll decide where we're going, and we'll flip to see who pays," Kraft said.

Richardson said their special relationship was formed on a number of different levels in that "we both serve on a lot of committees in the league, we're similar in age, have both had bypass heart surgery and we both weigh too much. I'm taller than he is, though."

Kraft said he's stayed with Richardson down south and had the Panthers owner to his Cape Cod home last year when the teams played in the preseason. The Richardson family even introduced the lifelong New Englander to the joys of southern cuisine.

"Jerry's wife, Rosalind, makes the best okra," Kraft said. "I fell in love with okra because of the way she cooks it."

But it's more than vacation time and expanding culinary tastes that brought the two business geniuses together (Richardson made his fortune in restaurants while Kraft's business is paper and packaging).

"Robert has a love for the league and the fans and a devotion to family," Richardson said. "Those are two things that are important to me and our relationship couldn't be better.

"We came into the league about the same time in similar situations in that we both built stadiums. He has a great feeling for the NFL, and we both have an appreciation for the partnership of the 32 owners. I think our relationship is pretty neat, pretty special."

Kraft purchased New England's Foxboro Stadium out of bankruptcy court in 1988 and could have taken a $75 million buyout of the team's final two years on its lease, likely prompting the Patriots to relocate out of state, before deciding to buy the team instead.

"I would think if Bob Kraft hadn't of shown up, it wouldn't have been a good scenario for that part of the country," said Richardson, who would later come to Kraft's aid when he attempted to build Gillette Stadium which opened last season.

Kraft laughed when he recalled Richardson's trek north to help with all the glad-handing with politicians and businessmen that goes with such a venture.

"It's a different political climate up north than it is in the Carolinas and that was one of his learning curves, but he did everything he could to help me," Kraft said.

Richardson said his basic approach was making the point "of how important it was to have your own NFL team in the Boston area and don't just assume it would always be that way."

"When I want to get advice, he's someone I always talk to and engage with," Kraft said. "If he asked me to do anything, I'd do it because I believe so much in him."

Both Richardson and Kraft also believed in Texans owner Bob McNair when the NFL came down to making an expansion decision between Houston and Los Angeles. Ironically, it was the owners of the Super Bowl participants in Houston who helped seal the deal for a new team in Texas.

"Jerry and I were the ones who helped settle the final price," Kraft said.

"(McNair) said it was too much to pay, so he needed to get a Super Bowl. (Jerry and I) went in and saw commissioner (Paul) Tagliabue and it's ironic that the guys who helped close the deal to bring football back to Houston are now playing in the Super Bowl that was committed."

Kraft said another aspect of his admiration for Richardson lies in the fact that he played professional football and ironically was a Baltimore Colts' teammate of Kraft's first hire as coach for the Patriots, Raymond Berry.

"Berry took us to the Super Bowl and he played with Jerry," Kraft said. "I mean, (Richardson) caught a pass from Johnny Unitas and I had Unitas as a guest in my box when we played the Colts my first year owning the team.

"Jerry's an owner who was a great player while my role was the passionate fan sitting on the goal-line for 25 years and I wound up owning a team. We just both love the game and there's a certain special connection that we developed."

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