Robert Kraft is among 54 seniors, coaches and contributors named as semifinalists for the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s class of 2023. Former Patriots wide receiver Stanley Morgan and long-time director of player personnel and general manager Francis "Bucko" Kilroy were also among the group.
With no disrespect meant toward Morgan or Kilroy, it's Kraft time to shine.
No owner in the history of the sport has overseen a transformation quite like the Patriots during Kraft's illustrious tenure. After buying the moribund franchise at time when a move to St. Louis was very much a possibility, Kraft not only kept the team in New England but he has resided over the greatest dynasty in NFL history.
Long before becoming Chairman and Owner of the Patriots, Kraft had been a dedicated Patriots fan and he used that passion and vision to help create greatness. His 28 years of ownership have included six Lombardi Trophies, 10 Super Bowl appearances and the highest winning percentage in all of professional sports.
In the five years prior to Kraft's ownership, the team had won 19 of 80 games (.238 winning percentage) with no playoff appearances. In fact, in the 34-year history of the franchise (1960-93), the Patriots had won just 229 games (including playoffs), averaging just 6.6 wins per season, and had qualified for the playoffs a mere six times. It quite frankly was among the worst organizations in all of sports.
When Kraft bought the team in 1994, the Patriots advanced to the playoffs for the first time in eight seasons. And the winning has continued as the Patriots won an unprecedented 341 games (including playoffs) for an average of 12.2 wins per season.
Prior to Kraft's arrival, the Patriots hosted one playoff game in their history. Since then, Foxborough has been a January staple for the league with 27 postseason games taking place there during Kraft's 28 years at the helm. The Patriots record in those games is 23-4 (.852).
That winning resume alone would be enough to make Kraft a legitimate candidate for the Hall, but his impact on the league runs much deeper. First, he kept the franchise in New England despite many obstacles along the way. The Patriots were destined for St. Louis before Kraft rescued the team with a last-minute bid to keep it in place. Once news broke, passion for the Patriots was restored as season ticket sales eclipsed 40,000 for the first time in franchise history.
His initial $172 million investment kept the team in place, but his personal financial commitment continued with the building of Gillette Stadium, giving the team it's first real home to be proud of.
As successful as Kraft was in building the franchise, he also proved to be formidable among his peers around the league. Kraft's place among the owners is secure as he's been an integral part of many committees that have been the lifeblood of the NFL. None has been any more important than the television packages that Kraft has been a huge part of. His background as a board member of Viacom proved quite valuable as the chairman of the league's media committee. His expertise in the industry has allowed the league to ink many lucrative deals with networks and his vision helped garner a deal with Amazon for the first full-time streaming package for Thursday night football starting this season.
Kraft also has been a key cog in the league's compensation, finance and management council executive committees, making him one of the league's most trusted and powerful voices. That fact was most evident back in 2011 when the league and the players were at odds during a lockout that threatened the start of the season. It was Kraft who brought the sides together, helping to broker a deal that led to labor peace for more than a decade since. He did this during a time of intense grief following the passing of his wife, Myra, just weeks before. The image of Colts center Jeff Saturday, the players' rep at the time, with his arm around Kraft following the bitter negotiations is a lasting memory of Kraft's impact and respect.
The Seniors Committee will meet Aug. 16 to select up to three seniors for final consideration as members of the Class of 2023. Morgan's wildly underrated career should put him in the mix as his numbers exceed current Hall of Fame wide receivers and contemporaries such as Lynn Swann and John Stallworth. Morgan's 19.2-yards-per-catch average for his career is the highest in league history for anyone with more than 500 receptions.
But it's the Coach/Contributor Committee members meeting on Aug. 23, where one individual will be selected for final consideration for the Class of 2023, from which Kraft should emerge.
There are many deserving candidates for induction with Super Bowl winning coaches like Mike Shanahan and Mike Holmgren as well as pioneering Raiders CEO Amy Trask among the 29 coaches/contributors under consideration, but none is more deserving at this time than Kraft.