Kraft calls for UK team
New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft told Sky Sports' Neil reynolds he wants the UK to have its own NFL team within 10 years.
By Neil Reynolds
Last Updated: 28/06/12 12:57pm
New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft has insisted that he would like to see the United Kingdom have its own NFL team within the next 10 years.
Speaking on a promotional tour of London ahead of his team's NFL International Series meeting with the St. Louis Rams at Wembley Stadium on Sunday October 28, the influential Kraft stressed the importance of growing American football overseas.
"I personally think we should have a franchise in London and that is something I am going to push for," Kraft said. "I think I said that the last time we were over here in 2009 and before this next decade is out, I hope we have a team here. I think that would be right for the NFL and this fan base has proven they deserve it.
"I think we're starting to tap out in the United States. If you look at the last Super Bowl we were in this past season, we had over 180 million people watching - that's almost two thirds of America. So for us to grow the game, we have to expand globally. Having seen the kind of support we have received here in London, it is the intention of the NFL owners to get two games here, starting next year.
"The only bad part of putting a franchise in London is that I can assure you it won't be the Patriots who are moving here."
Kraft's Patriots last played at Wembley Stadium in 2009. Although that was officially a Tampa Bay Buccaneers home game, it was New England who received the most vocal support from the 85,000-strong crowd as superstar quarterback Tom Brady led them to a comfortable 35-7 victory.
Kraft explained: "We lobbied hard to come back after having such a good experience in 2009. We would love to be the permanent visiting team. It was good for team bonding and everyone really enjoyed our last trip to London.
"I'm really proud that we're the number one-supported team in the UK and have been for close to a decade. In the last few years that support has been enhanced. We have a thriving Patriots UK Fan Club and they come across the pond every year and attend a game. We love our brothers and sisters over here in the UK."
Since Kraft took charge of the Patriots in 1994, the AFC East club has enjoyed unprecedented success. New England has reached six Super Bowls since 1996, winning three times.
For Kraft, New England's success starts with the head coach-quarterback pairing of Bill Belichick and Brady. The two future Hall of Famers have guided the Patriots to five Super Bowl appearances, winning a hat-trick of NFL titles.
While Belichick and Brady will go down as two of the greatest performers in NFL history, they could not have been more unheralded when joining the Patriots. Belichick came to New England in 2000 with one failed spell as head coach of the Cleveland Browns under his belt, while Brady was chosen in the sixth round of the 2000 NFL Draft. He was the 199th player taken and saw six very ordinary quarterbacks selected before him.
"In life, I try to pick good people in whatever I do," Kraft revealed. "I listen to what everyone says, but I make my own judgements and decisions. When Belichick got fired by the Browns he came to work for us and I got the chance to observe him first-hand.
"I remember getting a lot of calls from the media and people were sending me tapes of his performances in Cleveland. But for me, he was right. It's about chemistry between people."
Brady has gone from being a relative unknown out of the University of Michigan to one of the best to ever play his position. In fact, Kraft is adamant that Brady is the greatest player in NFL history.
He added: "He is like a son to me. There is only one Tom Brady. Just the kind of leader he is, the work ethic, the kind of human being - he is really super. He was the 199th pick when he came to us, so he's got that chip on his shoulder. He's always had to prove himself - sort of like a middle child, which I am.
"He's married to a supermodel in Gisele Bundchen and he's handsome, but all the guys in the locker room feel connected to him - he's not an elitist, he's a regular guy.
"I can still see him coming in as the fourth quarterback on our depth chart. He was this little skinny beanpole and he came over to introduce himself. He said, 'Hi Mr Kraft, I'm...' And I said, 'I know who you are - you're Tom Brady, our sixth round draft pick out of Michigan. He said, 'Yes' and then he looked me cold and steely in the eyes and said, 'And I'm the best decision this team has ever made.' And he was fourth on our depth chart. I think he might be right."
Although the Patriots have enjoyed a lot of success in recent years, Kraft and the entire organisation remain as committed as ever to chasing another Super Bowl title in 2012.
"No one is more hungry than I am," Kraft concluded. "We have a better team on paper this year than we did last season. What that means in terms of how we'll do, you just don't know because you have to factor in injuries. But we have a wonderful group of players where the chemistry is pretty solid.
"I can assure you that we're very hungry and we're going to try to put it away this year. I hope our Wembley experience helps to make that happen."