INDIANAPOLIS — In Indianapolis on Sunday, the New England Patriots will wear on their jerseys two patches bearing meaningful letters. One is for Super Bowl 46: the Roman numerals XLVI. The other spells MHK, the initials of the team owner’s late wife.
After Myra Hiatt Kraft died from cancer in July, Patriots players dedicated the season to her memory, and those initials have become an uncommon inspiration.
Football is a sport that celebrates strength and size. So it’s remarkable that some players are so prominently celebrating someone so small in stature.
“This is a woman who’d never been to a football game before I’d bought the team,” said Robert Kraft, Myra’s widower.
“She used to do the Sunday Times crosswords puzzles in ink, and go to the chick flicks on Sundays — that was her day of peace.”
The mother of four sons soon also became what some would call a sort of Jewish mother for dozens more, and over the years, hundreds. Pats defensive lineman Vince Wilfork said Myra befriended many of the players by asking about their families and their feelings.
“We both enjoyed each other,” Wilfork said. “My friends were so different. Lot of guys want to talk about football, but with her it really wasn’t about football. She wanted to know how you are as a person.”
Myra cared about people, Wilfork said. That showed in her community service. She ran the New England Patriots Charitable Foundation and worked with players to share their time and money to help those less fortunate.
Wilfork said she taught him what’s more important than the gridiron: “What type of heart you had, because she had the biggest heart of us all.”
Myra Hiatt Kraft died this summer during a labor dispute between NFL owners and players. Both sides settled and the season started on schedule.
Robert Kraft spoke to his team before the first game.
“I explained to them they’d be wearing this patch over their heart. And what she was about. The values that she stood for actually were all the values that make a good football player — and how she was selfless, and had mental toughness. And so we dedicated this season to her,” Kraft said.
Players reciprocated the symbolism. They commissioned an oil painting for Robert Kraft, showing Pats players in a huddle, wearing MHK on their chests and pointing to the sky.
It was hanging in his office during the last game of the season, when New England was trailing the Buffalo Bills by three touchdowns.
Kraft moved the painting to the locker room for halftime. Nobody had to say anything: the Patriots scored 49 straight points to win.
“There’s something special going on. It’s hard to put into words. It’s really hard for anyone else outside our organization to fully understand,” said offensive lineman Matt Light. “But she meant a ton to everything we do. And this season will be special forever because of that, you know?”
During the AFC Championship, running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis scampered for a touchdown. He celebrated by touching the MHK patch on his chest, touching his face mask as if to blow a kiss, and then pointed to the sky. He says he just wanted to show his love.
The Patriots won the game, Kraft recalled, when the other team’s kicker missed a short field goal wide left in the closing seconds.
“A lot of people have sent me e-mails and letters saying that there was someone smiling and blowing the wind to the left on that kick. I’m a believer in spirituality; I know she’s smiling with us,” he said.
It’s easy to scoff at the notion that the Patriots are being lifted in their Super Bowl bid by some kind of a higher power. But there’s no question that players are inspired by Myra Hiatt Kraft. She was always a guiding light, Wilfork said.
“I used to give her a kiss and Mr. Kraft a kiss before every game. So now Mr. Kraft gets two. One for himself and one for Myra. And I told him I would never stop doing that. Because of what she meant to my life. And the person she made me,” Wilfork said.
When the Patriots play on Sunday, they will wear an additional patch for the Super Bowl, on the right side. Normally that patch goes over the left side, but NFL gave precedence to honoring Myra Hiatt Kraft. The Pats will continue to wear MHK over the left side of their jerseys, over their hearts.