INDIANAPOLIS, Indiana — New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, who began the NFL season heartbroken at the death of his wife Myra, has coped with help from his team as it tries to win a Super Bowl in her memory.
The 70-year-old billionaire, forced into a lead role in bitter contract talks over money while his wife lay dying last July, will cheer on his Patriots as they play the New York Giants in Super Bowl 46 at Indianapolis on Sunday.
"It has been a tough year," Kraft said. "I believe in spirituality and this team has really saved me personally. There's a special bond on this team. You can feel it. There's a camaraderie. It is special."
Myra H. Kraft died last July of ovarian cancer at age 68. All Patriots players have a black patch on their jersey with her initials, a memoriam in a season dedicated to her memory that could bring a fourth title in 11 campaigns.
"She has been smiling down on us over the course of this season," Patriots quarterback Tom Brady said. "Hopefully we can go out and get a win for him. It would make this year very special for him and special for his family."
Patriots players have given Kraft a gift his salary money could not buy, their emotional support after the death of his wife of 48 years.
"These 53 guys have been my savior," Kraft said. "They have shown me great love, respect and support. They helped me get through the hardest period of my life. They felt my pain and they have tried to comfort me.
"I just think she has been with us and she is smiling with us now."
Kraft, the only NFL owner to build a stadium entirely with private funding, purchased the Patriots in 1994 and the club is a league-best 212-104 in his 18 years in charge.
But the success left him unprepared for a fight he could not win.
"I never understood what the word heartbroken meant," Kraft said. "I never understood what it meant to lose someone. She was the greatest person in my life. She was my best pal. I thought she would outlive me for 30 years.
"This horrible cancer came and it has wrecked my life. Having this team has been a savior for me."
Players commissioned a painting with the team paying tribute to Myra Kraft that was in their locker room when they won their way into the Super Bowl.
"In this world where athletes can be so narcissistic in so many ways, they planned an oil painting to be in our locker room on Sunday with my wife's initials and the players dedicating the season to my wife," Kraft said.
"But the fact that they can relate to that and plan that six to eight weeks in advance, that it had meant something to them, it has been very fulfilling."
On top of personal tragedy, Kraft was a key figure in talks to settle the 4 1/2-month NFL shutdown. Five days after Myra Kraft died, a new deal was signed.
Indianapolis Colts center and players negotiator Jeff Saturday hugged Kraft after the deal was done, an emotional healing moment after the money dispute.
"It was a tough time in my life because my sweetheart was ill," Kraft said. "She gave me more credit in my ability to help negotiate things. She thought I was better than maybe I really was. That?s the only thing I ever left her side for."
In addition to hammering out a 10-year deal to ensure there would be a season, Kraft helped neogtiate new deals with television networks that set revenue records for NFL teams.
The other key owner in union talks was John Mara, the New York Giants owner whose team will play the Patriots for the crown.
"If there?s special karma out there, maybe that has something to do with it," Kraft said.
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