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The Patriots' playing for owner's late wife shows their best side

by | National NFL Insider
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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- It's as if she never left. Myra Kraft is everywhere.

"She's helping us and looking over us," Vince Wilfork said. "I know it."

"Everyone in this locker room thinks about her every day," running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis said.

After scoring a touchdown in Sunday's AFC title game, Green-Ellis dropped the football, and pointed to the patch on his jersey. The patch, of course, has the letters "MHK" for Myra Hiatt Kraft, the wife of Patriots owner Robert Kraft. Every Patriots player has the patch on his jersey.

"There's a lot of spirituality in our locker room," Tom Brady told WEEI radio. He added Myra is "with us every step of the way."

Myra Kraft died in July after a long battle with cancer. She was close to players in that Patriots locker room, particularly Wilfork. He called Myra "Momma" and offered these words at the time of her death: "Mr. Kraft and I spoke a lot over the years about 'Momma' and I hurt for him as I know the love he has for her. I will miss her giving me a hug and kiss before every game, but in my heart she will be there. Myra was a wonderful woman. My wife and I cared about her deeply. It goes beyond football. It goes to what matters in life, being able to build relationships and make a difference."

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To say the Patriots are using the death of Myra as a rallying cry wouldn't be accurate. It's not that simplistic or superficial. It's something much deeper. It's as if Myra was one of them, and when she died it was as if one of them had also passed.

The NFL, many times, is a cold and hardened league. The league has morphed into an ATM, a sport where owners, coaches and players often care more about money and power than relationships. Football has become a corporation: Blood, Guts & Money, Inc.

And superficially, at least, the Patriots in the past have come off as automatons: demonstrating little emotion, rarely letting their guard down, treating the media as inhuman enemies.

What the unfortunate passing of Myra has done is peel back that side to show a more human NFL and Patriots team. These players aren't only androids afraid to shed their armor. They're human. They're Wilfork, who was able to build a powerful and lasting relationship with the Kraft family despite numerous superficial differences that sometimes bog down human interaction.

It's an amazing thing to see. When you ask Patriots players about Myra they suddenly open up like a safe that's been cracked. They loved Myra Kraft like she was a member of their own family. They almost break into tears when speaking about her.

Myra's death wasn't the first time she had an impact on the Patriots team. When the Patriots drafted uber-thug Christian Peter in the 1996 draft she protested to Robert after accusations of violence against women were later revealed. The Patriots relinquished Peter's rights a week after the draft.

One of the women Peter was alleged to have raped was Kathy Redmond, who would go on to became a fighter for women's rights. Just in December, Redmond and Robert Kraft met in Denver and Kraft revealed a startling piece of new information, saying other owners had pressured him not to release Peter because it would set a precedent. Kraft, of course, didn't listen and released him anyway.

Kraft ended that meeting with Redmond saying: "I wish my sweetheart could have made it here." He was referring to Myra.

Months later, when kicker Billy Cundiff pushed his kick wide, Patriots linebacker Jerod Mayo had one thought: "The angel was looking down on us."

"We are playing this season for her, and now we just won the AFC championship," tight end Rob Gronkowski said.

I don't know where this will go. I'm not even sure it matters. It's just heartwarming to watch a team and league known for its cold exterior to embrace Myra in her death. It's as emotional and touching a story as I've ever seen in decades of covering the NFL. I really haven't seen anything like it.

This doesn't mean the Patriots will beat the Giants in the Super Bowl, but it does mean they believe they have help from an unusual place and that belief has been a powerful force all season.

"There are so many little things that happen during the year, when you think about it, just the little things that can go the other way," Robert Kraft said. "I'm so excited that we're going to the big game. I still pinch myself thinking about it and I think of my sweetheart."

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