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They embraced the moment

By Michael Vega
Globe Staff / December 1, 2011
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FOXBOROUGH - When Jeff Saturday makes his 193d career start for the Colts Sunday against the Patriots, the five-time Pro Bowl center may be accorded as rousing a welcome as any opposing player has ever enjoyed at Gillette Stadium.

Saturday may have earned diplomatic immunity from New England fans for the gesture he made July 25 when, as the Colts player representative, he recognized Patriots owner Robert Kraft at the NFL’s labor talks as being “a man who helped us save football.’’

Saturday paid tribute to Kraft for the sacrifices he made, enduring the death of his wife, Myra Kraft, after a long battle with cancer, to be present for negotiations between owners and players on a new collective bargaining agreement.

“A special thanks to Myra Kraft, who even in her weakest moment allowed Mr. Kraft to come and fight this out,’’ Saturday said at the time. “Without him, this deal does not get done.’’

Saturday then threw his arm around the grieving Patriots owner and gave him a warm hug.

They were from rival camps, but in that moment, they laid down their armor and acted simply as human beings.

“It was definitely heartfelt,’’ said Saturday yesterday. “We had all been made aware of Myra’s condition, and we talked about it from time to time and just asked him how everything was going.

“And yet, he would consistently just tell us, ‘She wants me here. She thinks this is important not only for our game, but for America.’

“She believed wholeheartedly in what we were doing and felt like we could get something accomplished without jeopardizing our game.

“I’ve got my wife and kids at home and I can’t imagine going through something as stressful as the lockout was on top of having an illness that you know was as serious as it was for his wife.

“And so I had a ton of respect for what he was doing.’’

So when Saturday threw an arm around Kraft, it wasn’t a premeditated photo op.

“It was one of those things I felt very honest and heartfelt about,’’ Saturday said.

Saturday said he was inundated with texts and voice messages from around the league, lauding him for the gesture.

“At the end of the day, we all just wanted to play football,’’ Saturday said. “We just wanted to get a fair deal in place and those guys understood. Everybody knew the situation that Mr. Kraft was going through and it helped solidify the deal, just going forward that, hey, we’re all back in getting this league to where it needs to go and being the greatest game in our country.

“As we left, I think we all realized that we had worked very hard to get something accomplished and we were proud of what we put forth.’’

Yet it still seemed strange to have an owner and a player - from AFC rivals, no less - embracing at the cessation of a protracted labor strife.

“I definitely would agree with that,’’ Saturday said with a chuckle. “Obviously, we’ve had some enormous battles in some games that have meant a ton to our game. But at the end of the day, when we’re not on the field, we’re all working to get our league better. We all understood that.

“From my standpoint, I’m representing the 2,000 active and close to 10,000 retired and former players, and that’s a lot on your mind, that’s a lot of weight that you’re carrying.

“I knew the best thing for our guys was to get a good deal in place and to move forward from there.’’

On Sunday, the Peyton Manning-less Colts (0-11) will be looking for their first win of the season.

“Our season has not gone how we wanted,’’ Saturday said. “Obviously, after not winning a game, I’m not sure the rivalry - from a Patriots standpoint - is as big.

“In the past, we’ve been playing for home-field advantage and for [AFC] championships, but for us, we need to get a win. It couldn’t be better for us to get our first win against the Patriots, especially on their home turf.

“I’ve got a ton of respect for how those guys are playing right now.’’

Saturday has even more respect for the Patriots owner, whom he’s likely to seek out before the game. But the meeting is not likely to result in another hug.

“I think our man-hugs are probably done,’’ Saturday said. “I think we’ll go to handshakes from this point on.’’

Michael Vega can be reached at vega@globe.com.

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