Jeff Saturday: Man-hugs with Robert Kraft are done, just handshakes and respect now
|11.30.11 at 8:30 pm ET|
FOXBORO — It was one of the most indelible moments of the NFL lockout.
Colts veteran center Jeff Saturday, one of the most vocal leaders of the NFL Players Association, giving a bear hug to Patriots owner Robert Kraft on July 25, the day owners and players finally agreed to a new 10-year bargaining agreement.
But there is one thing Saturday made clear in a conference call with New England reporters on Wednesday.
The hug was sympathy for Kraft’s very ill wife – Myra Kraft, who passed away from cancer just five days earlier. She had given her blessings to the Patriots owner to help bridge the gap between the owners and the players in her final days.
“The hug… that was more just for his wife and that issue,” Saturday said. “We knew as we got close to getting the thing done and as it began to close, we knew how important this was. I think from Jerry Richardson, who was the leader of the ownership group to Jerry Jones and Mr. Kraft and all the guys, the Clark Hunts and John Maras who were there, all those men knew how significant that this deal was.
“A 10-year deal of labor peace, knowing that we both had to compromise but both felt like we could work with this deal and be beneficial for all of our players and most importantly, we’re going to keep our players healthier for longer so that your stars can play longer. I felt really good about it; I know they did as well. 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. DeMaurice [DeMaurice Smith] and Roger [Roger Goodell], they summed it up at the end, we had a meeting before we all went down to address the press and both of those guys, just seeing how hard they worked and how diligent they both were in getting this deal done ‘ it was a lot of work but something you can be very proud of today.”
Casual fans and those who followed the bitter four-month lockout closely wondered alike if this moment was sincere.
“It was definitely heartfelt,” Saturday continued. “We had all been made aware of Myra’s [Kraft] condition and we would talk about it from time to time and just ask him how everything was going. He would consistently just tell us that, ‘She wants me here. She thinks this is important not only for our game, but for America,’ and believed wholeheartedly in what we were doing and felt like we could get something accomplished without jeopardizing our game.
“I 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 is as serious as it was for his wife. I had a ton of respect for what he was doing and I had a ton of respect for when he was there, he was engaged. He did a lot to help get the thing solved, but on top of that would go home and spend time with his wife regularly, which meant a lot of commuting for him. It was definitely heartfelt and one of those things that I felt very honest and heartfelt about it and it came out to be something to other people, but to me it was more of a heartfelt gesture.”
But Saturday was reminded again on Wednesday about the irony that he and the owner of the most bitter rival came together in the symbolic moment of the end of the lockout.
“I definitely would agree with that,” Saturday said. “Obviously, we’ve had some enormous battles and some games that meant a ton to our game. At the end of the day, when we’re not on the field, we’re all working to get our league better and I think that we all understood that. It’s amazing how when you put your mind forward and from my standpoint, I’m representing the 2,000 active and the close to 10,000 retired or former players ‘ 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, fair deal in place and move forward from there.”
Will he give Kraft another bear hug when he see the Patriots’ owner on Sunday?
“I think our man-hugs are probably done,” he said. “I think we’ll go to handshakes from this point on.”