FOXBOROUGH — Patriots fans adore owner Robert Kraft, and rarely miss an opportunity to thank him for making the team into a winning franchise.
But on Thursday night during the team’s annual Draft Party, Kraft and the crowd got to thank 25 men and women who were first responders to the Boston Marathon bombings and its aftermath.
As they filed onto and the stage, they were given a raucous ovation that grew louder and louder, with claps and whistles and fans getting close to the stage with their smartphones to snap pictures of the proud group — something they’d normally do if it was Tom Brady or Vince Wilfork in front of them.
Each honoree received a blue Patriots game jersey, with BOSTON across the shoulders and the No. 1 under it.
The day after the bombings, the Patriots announced they were starting a donations page on the team website, and the Kraft family would match up to $100,000.
But on Thursday night, Kraft announced that a $617,000 donation would be made to the One Fund Boston.
“Six-one-seven. There’s no better area code in the country,’’ Kraft declared.
Asked how it came to be that his family added more money, Kraft told reporters, “We were a little over $600,000 and I just felt it was right, that was karma to go to 617. But if anyone wants to keep contributing, we’ll pass it on. What’s another [area code]? 781? We want to make 781, everybody!’’
At the podium, Boston Police Superintendent-in-Chief Dan Linskey thanked Kraft for the support he has long showed his department and the city at large.
“You need a time like this to take a break and relax for a minute or two, because since Monday, they’ve been dealing with things that no one should ever have to deal with,’’ Linskey said. “Ordinarily I would say Robert Kraft and the coach here [Bill Belichick] have the best team in the entire country, but I gotta tell you, Mr. Kraft, I’m privileged to be involved with the best team in the entire country.’’
Linskey spoke a bit about what each of the officers had done over the last week-plus.
“Our team includes the men and women of the Boston Police Department, whether they were down at the finish line who, when the bombs tore through and injured and killed our children, injured and hurt our people, and tried to attack and kill our cops, they ran into harm’s way and they applied tourniquets by taking off their belts, and those officers were joined by other members of the team, from the EMS side, who raced over, firefighters raced over, medical professionals who raced over, people in the stands, enjoying a family day and had training, or no training, to help.
“There were kids who were Iraq and Afghanistan veterans who were watching the race, but knew that they had been in combat and they could help and they jumped into the fray. The community, what Joe [Andruzzi, former Patriot] did, to jump in and carry that victim, they came together with us as a team and it was phenomenal. Within 22 minutes, every victim was in a hospital. Every victim.’’
That was met with another round of applause.
Linskey continued: “With me today are people who were at that finish line that saved lives. With me today are our bomb techs, who when we were at the finish line we were pretty sure that if the terrorists do what they usually do, they were going to get us in there to help victims and then detonate another bomb. I put that on the radio — ‘Be aware, we probably have additional devices here’ — and the officers kept coming. They didn’t care. We had to get those people out.
“There are men and women with me here tonight who were in Watertown the other night and exchanged gunfire with the individuals who were trying to kill us that night, after murdering an MIT police officer. And there were men and women with me today who, since 6 in the morning until 7 at night, wore SWAT uniforms, carried heavy equipment, and went house to house, room to room to make sure women and children were safe and these animals could kill no more.
“And there are men and women here who stood post and guarded the crime scene to make sure if there’s a fingerprint linking somebody in Tajikistan to building that battery, we will hold them accountable.
“There are detectives here tonight, who as our investigation unfolded we assigned out to do surveillance on subjects, assigned them out do surveillance on a house we thought might be filled with explosives and they approached the house and waited for the appropriate team to help out. There are civilian analysts here tonight that as we were identifying subjects and running down leads they went through thousands and thousands of computer databases to make sure we had accurate information. And that’s my team. My team worked with the entire community.’’
Linskey praised Kraft as a leader and partner of the Boston Police Department, Mayor Thomas Menino, and the people of Boston “for years.’’
“Right now we’re in the spotlight and a lot of people have done amazing things to thank our people for their bravery and courage under fire; Mr. Kraft was doing that when there wasn’t a spotlight. When we needed leadership training and team development training for our supervisors, Mr. Kraft said, ‘What can I do?’
“He came over and brought 400 of our supervisors together and shared with them what he does to build a team, what he does to lead his organization. And those are steps that our officers and our supervisors have taken back to make our organization a better organization, that was prepared to do what they had to do on Monday.’’