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Patriots players reflect on 500th game of Robert Kraft era

"What incredible honor to be a part of such a special game. Not only for our history as a team, but the history of the league as well."

Damien Harris Robert Kraft.PDC

No matter the result, the New England Patriots game against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday will hold an important place in franchise history.

More than just a Week 2 matchup on the road, it makes for the 500th game of the Robert Kraft era.

"What incredible honor to be a part of such a special game," Patriots running back Damien Harris said Friday after practice. "Not only for our history as a team, but the history of the league as well. RKK has been an incredible pillar of success within the community and within our organization for his leadership, the way he gives back, the inspiration that he gives others -- everything that he does, not only for our football team and our organization but for the community and the fans as well. It's obviously a huge milestone and congrats to him."

Kraft purchased the team in 1994, the longtime fan's plan finally coming to fruition after years in the making.

His acquisition sparked new hope and excitement around the team, but no one could have anticipated the 341 wins, 22 playoff seasons, 19 division titles, 11 AFC titles, and six Super Bowl championships.

The unprecedented string of dominance created a loyal fanbase, even to kids like Sam Roberts, who moved around as a self-proclaimed "military brat" without any regional NFL allegiances to abide by.

"It's an incredible accomplishment," the rookie defensive tackle said of Kraft's 500th game. "He comes in and talks to the team, you see he loves us and this is what he loves to do. Being a fan of him and now playing for him, it's kind of crazy."

Longtime special teams captain Matthew Slater was one of those players Roberts rooted for growing up.

Entering his 15th season in the NFL with the Patriots, the 36-year-old is the longest-tenured Patriot and helped to win half of the Patriots' Lombardi trophies.

Slater still can't fathom 500 football games for the Patriots chairman and CEO.

"That's unbelievable," Slater said. "When I think about Mr. Kraft, his legacy goes well beyond just here in Foxborough. I think it extends throughout the NFL. Just what he's done for this league, the career he's had as an owner, and what he's been able to accomplish with this organization. Really, it's just another notch in the belt for him. Congratulations to him. But 500, that's a lot of football games. He's very invested in people. I haven't played for any other owner, obviously, but just the intentionality with which he tries to connect with his players really says a lot. We know we have an owner that cares about the people here and wants to provide an environment where winning on the field is important, but winning off the field and winning in the community -- things like that are just as important."

To that point, Slater sees Kraft's most important legacy as the one he has out in the community.

The Patriots Foundation was established the year the Kraft family bought the team in order to give back to communities throughout New England. Since 1994, millions of hours and dollars have been donated to a vast amount of local causes and initiatives.

"I think it all started with Myra," Slater said of Kraft's late wife. "I think she really laid the foundation for that. But when you come to this locker room, and you see the guys and you see the work that they do, you realize quickly that it's important that you're involved somehow. That you're giving back, that you're not just taking. And we have a lot of guys in this locker room that give. They give their time, give their resources, and I think the Krafts lead from the front in terms of that."

Harris hasn't been around as long as Slater, but couldn't agree more that the Kraft family's standard has had a trickle-down effect in the Patriots locker room.

"I think that you guys can see how much our guys give back to the community," Harris said of Kraft's influence.

"You name it, and our guys do it and I think that is just a testament to the standard that RKK has set for giving back to his community and just being good people. It's one thing to be good football players but I think that one thing that's really emphasized at this organization is being even better people. We're very lucky to have Mr. Kraft guide us and show us the way and show us how to be servants to others on top of doing our jobs."

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