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Kraft, players lean on each other

Kevin Faulk (above) believes Robert Kraft (top) has gotten closer to the players since the death of the owner’s wife, Myra. Kevin Faulk (above) believes Robert Kraft (top) has gotten closer to the players since the death of the owner’s wife, Myra. (Mark Humphrey (top), Elise Amendola/Associated Press)
By Shalise Manza Young
Globe Staff / February 3, 2012
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INDIANAPOLIS - In recent weeks, as the Patriots’ playoff run has continued, owner Robert Kraft has mentioned that his team is closer, more tightly knit.

He was asked this week, as his team prepared for Super Bowl XLVI, the sixth time the franchise has gotten to the NFL’s marquee game during his stewardship, whether that closeness had been missing from recent teams.

“Maybe I wasn’t paying attention. I wasn’t in the locker room as much,’’ he said. “I think I probably had a greater need - since my sweetheart passed, I’ve been working hard . . . I miss my sweetheart. Staying busy is the best thing for me. So I’ve hung around the locker room a lot more.’’

Kraft always has been involved with his players, but they acknowledge that this year he’s gotten closer to many of them through his more frequent visits to the locker room, visits that might linger a little longer as he takes every opportunity to fill his time since the death of his beloved wife, Myra, to ovarian cancer on July 20.

He’s given more of his time to the league and commissioner Roger Goodell. He goes to dinner with friends almost every night - male friends, he’s quick to note, though one recent business dinner was with Pepsi CEO Indra Nooyi - and he leans on the young men who have become part of his family.

“Oh, you can tell. You can tell’’ Kraft is seeking solace, running back Kevin Faulk said. “When my mom passed away [in 2004], at that point she was the closest thing to me in my life. And when I left her funeral, I left the day after. And people gave me a lot of stuff about leaving the day after. But the reason why I left the day after was because I knew that if I go back to Massachusetts and put my head into football, I wouldn’t think about everything.

“I wanted to get my mind off of everything that was going on, maybe everything that I needed to think about that I really needed to do, because at that point in time my life became that much more - how you say? - important. Everything that my mom had to take on, I had to take on.

“So [Kraft] just went and tried to get a shield; football was his shield, and the organization, the team. I do see him around here a lot more, interacting with the guys.’’

What they talk about runs the gamut, from football to spirituality to life lessons the 70-year-old businessman imparts on his players. It isn’t always serious, however: On Tuesday, linebacker Brandon Spikes posted a picture of he and Kraft in the locker room before Media Day, arms folded, chins tilted up in a “We bad’’ pose, to his Twitter account.

“You try not to bring up, ‘How are you feeling?’ ’’ Faulk said. “You try to go with his mood and see how he’s feeling and let him initiate the conversation and go from there.’’

Safety Patrick Chung has gotten relationship advice from Kraft.

“He gives me pointers on taking care of my fiancée. That she has to be the rock. She has to be the strong one, she has to take care of you. And I relay that . . . and it’s helped me so far, so thank you Mr. Kraft,’’ Chung said, smiling. “He made sure I knew that; she is going to make life a lot easier for you.’’

That advice is fitting. By all accounts, Myra Kraft was Robert’s most trusted adviser, the one he ran every decision by. She had a sharp mind, but also a tender heart as she raised their four sons, and also knew every player’s wife, knew all about their children.

The couple’s giving spirit is also something they’ve passed on, and something BenJarvus Green-Ellis has taken to heart.

“The most I get from Mr. Kraft is life lessons. Doing random acts of kindness for people, that’s one of the biggest things I get from him. Pitch in and help out,’’ said Green-Ellis, who touched the “MHK’’ patch on his jersey and pointed skyward every time he scored a touchdown this season.

The running back has taken to doing things such as leaving an extra-large tip or buying gas for strangers.

The players also respect the sacrifice Kraft made. For weeks, he was in one of two places: at Myra’s bedside or at the negotiating table, playing a key role in the new collective bargaining agreement between the union and the league.

The Patriots are a business, and a new CBA helps Kraft’s business continue to thrive. But as Green-Ellis noted, in the midst of Kraft’s personal turmoil, he easily could have let the other principals involved handle it while he tended to Myra. It’s unlikely that anyone would have blamed him had he done so.

But Myra gave him her blessing to handle that business. Then, as now, the work probably provided a needed outlet for Kraft.

While his pain is still evident, players applaud Kraft for his composure.

“I can’t imagine being in his shoes and losing the love of your life after all those years and the pain that he feels,’’ Matthew Slater said. “They were extremely close, they spent most of their lives together, but he has been around more, he’s been building relationships with guys more, and we really appreciate that.

“He’s a great man, he’s always been a great man, but just to see that side of him and get to know him a little better this year has been special. Your heart goes out to him, though. Like I said, I can’t imagine how he feels and having to deal with that, but I think he’s done just about as good a job with it as anybody could have.

“I know it’s tough for him, but he’s doing a great job.’’

Shalise Manza Young can be reached at syoung@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @shalisemyoung.

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