Speaking with the Enemy: Patriots Owner Robert Kraft

The Colts’ rivalry with New England is alive and well. But Kraft recalls one emotional moment when it didn’t really matter.

It would be like Lord Nelson hugging Napoleon. Grant hugging Lee. Wile E. Coyote hugging the Road Runner.

For IM’s “30 for 30” roundup of the most memorable moments in Indianapolis Colts history, New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft looked back on July 25, 2011, when Colts center Jeff Saturday, an NFL Players Association rep, and Kraft, who had recently lost his wife, Myra, to ovarian cancer, announced the end of a lockout—and months of contentious meetings over a new Collective Bargaining Agreement—with a big, warm embrace.

Here’s what Kraft had to say about the moment:

“I was standing there, and he just—to be honest, I was in the middle of memorial week for my wife, and they called me to come down [to the CBA negotiations]. There was some last-minute stuff that hadn’t gotten straightened out, and so I had just left quickly to get there, and my mind was really somewhere else.

“And when he did that—I don’t remember much of what was said, except him speaking, and thanking the wives, and then he switched it to my beloved Myra, and she had been very sick with ovarian cancer, and spent many months in intensive care.

“Understand, I didn’t know Jeff Saturday at all. When I first met him, I was thinking, ‘Jeez, this guy, we had like a decade with the Patriots and the Colts, and he’s an All-Pro center for our archenemy. That was a very emotional moment for me. It was completely unexpected. And it’s unbelievable how that moment resonated. Still, three years later, I have people mentioning that. It really hit a chord in America, maybe in part because of what was going in Washington [with partisan gridlock].

“I had been with Myra every day and night. She was aware of what was going on [with the negotiations] and sort of had an inflated opinion of what I could contribute. She’d say, ‘What’ve you got going on this week?” And I, I had basically bagged everything to be with her. And she said, ‘You should go do that. They need you. I know what that grouping is, and if you’re not there …’

“That’s the one thing I did when she was so ill. And sometimes I just didn’t come [to the negotiations] when I thought there was too much hogwash. It just wasn’t worth leaving my wife’s bedside.

Jeff Saturday

“In many ways Jeff, from the player point of view, took a leadership role. I had a lot of confidence in him. And I was impressed. During the process, we had dinner a few times. But the more I got exposed to him, the more I realized how lucky Indianapolis was to have him in such a critical position working with Peyton, because he is very intelligent, very solid. I thought to myself, ‘This is the kind of guy—’ I like hiring people who played football in our various companies, and he’s someone who was well-spoken, could be in the details but also saw the big picture. I thought, ‘Wow, whoever gets this guy when he leaves football will be very lucky.’

“I call it a ‘pretty intense rivalry.’ To be very frank, I didn’t have much affection for any Colt player at the time. And I’m quite sure the feeling was mutual. Because Peyton and Jeff, they were the archenemies, so to speak. But it’s a great learning lesson, too: what can happen when people are respectful of one another. When you want to do a deal anywhere in life, you have to be a good listener, and understand what the people on the other side want. And then try to find a way to build bridges. I wish to heck we had this in Washington today.”