John Mara, the Giants president and chief executive officer, and Patriots owner Robert Kraft were two of the key figures in helping the owners and players reach an agreement last summer to end the lockout. Mara had always liked and admired Kraft, but came away with a new appreciation for him during the negotiations.
Kraft's wife of 48 years, Myra, was seriously ill with cancer while the two sides attempted to reach an accord. Myra Kraft died on July 20, five days before the lockout ended. Yet Robert Kraft was able to remain a vital contributor to the negotiations while providing comfort to his wife in her final weeks and days.
"It was pretty amazing to watch," said Mara, whose Giants will meet Kraft's Patriots in Super Bowl XLVI on Sunday. "He would fly in to whatever city we were, spend the day, fly back at night to be with his wife, fly back the next day – he put a lot of time in during a very difficult period for his family, because he knew how important this was. And he would tell us it was therapeutic for him to be able to get away. Because when he wasn't at the negotiations, he spent every minute at his wife's bedside. He was somebody that all of us – players and owners – had a great deal of respect for. He was a huge part of getting the deal done."
Mara said Kraft was one of the key figures in creating the thaw between the players and owners that resulted in an agreement.
"I don't think we get to the finish line without Bob Kraft," Mara said. "The message that he kept delivering to the players, which I think really resonated, 'We're not going to let you do a bad deal. We need to do a deal that works for both of us and we need to make it a long-term deal, because that has such a huge effect on our business which, in turn, helps you.' That message came across over and over again and I think it made an impression on them and I think they all respected the amount of time he was putting in. Everybody knew what he was going through and he still found the time to be there with us. Like I said, I don't think we get the deal done without him being there."
A little more than six months after they were on the same negotiating team, Mara and Giants chairman and dear friend of the Krafts, Steve Tisch, and Kraft are on opposite sides in the Super Bowl for the second time in five seasons.
"I'm not necessarily happy to be playing Bill Belichick and Tom Brady, I'll tell you that," Mara said. "But I'm very happy for Bob, because he put his heart and soul into those negotiations during a very difficult time for him and his family, so I think the success they've had is well-deserved."
The Patriots dedicated their 2012 season to Myra Kraft. An oil painting of her that the players recently presented to Bob Kraft hangs in the locker room. On each New England jersey is a patch with the letters MHK (for Myra Hiatt Kraft). Numerous players spoke of her after the Patriots won the AFC Championship Game over Baltimore.
"It's been a tough year," Robert Kraft said here Tuesday. "I believe in spirituality and this team has really saved me personally. Fifty-three guys have bonded together and have been like sons to me. You think in this world, where athletes can be so narcissistic in so many ways, they planned an oil painting to be in our locker room on Sunday with my wife's initials and the players dedicating the season to my wife. But the fact that they can relate to that and plan that six to eight weeks in advance, that had to mean something to them, so it had been very fulfilling."
Kraft bought the Patriots in 1994 after spending more than 20 years as a frustrated season ticket holder. Myra Kraft was always an integral part of the franchise, so much so that the players called her "mama."
"(Myra) thought I was a little nuts when I bought the team, but I told her that if we did a good job of managing the team, we could have a greater impact on our community than if we gave a half a million dollars to charity" Kraft said. "You can see what it's meant to our community and our fans throughout the country. The fact that she was so dear to me and all of our players are wearing her initials above their heart is an endearing thing. What she represented is important and I hope that special sense of spirit comes through."
In addition to admiring Kraft, Mara said he has great respect for what the Patriots have accomplished. Including this year, they have won five AFC titles and three Super Bowls in 11 seasons.
"They are one of the model franchises," Mara said. "The continuity that they've had, the success that they've had – on the field and off the field – they run their business as well as any other team in this league. And it doesn't hurt when you have Bill Belichick and Tom Brady.
"We're trying to get to where they are. I just hope we belong in the conversation with them."
*The Giants installed their game plan in New Jersey last weekend, but Tom Coughlin and his assistants continue to work as if they are working on a blank greaseboard.
"We're grinding," Coughlin said. "The coaches have been grinding since we got here. There's lots more to do and you have to do what you have to do and that's take the whole 16 (games) and the playoff games and take everything into consideration. We came knowing full well, and I told the coaches, that we will continue to research and refine. If we like something, we'll keep it, and if we don't like it, we'll change it as we go forward since I'm sure the Patriots are doing the same thing. You can sense it and you know the game is right there. It doesn't really matter what you did last week. It's almost as if you're doing everything pretty much all over again. It's just the way it is, and it's the nature of the beast. It's that time, yesterday morning, evening, and again this morning, grinding away and realizing that you only have so many snaps in your jog-thrus and your practices to accomplish what you want to accomplish. If you look at it like most people do with first and second-down today and third-down tomorrow and your red and green and all that stuff with short-yardage on Friday. You have a lot of information you're trying to pump into the players and the players are very, very excited about getting started themselves. They can sense it and they had a day of meeting and greeting, and now they're ready to go to work."
On Wednesday, the Giants practiced for the first time since arriving here on Monday.
"Coach Coughlin wanted to put in the game plan in New Jersey – get everything done," quarterback Eli Manning said. "This week, you make a few changes and tweaks to a few plays; maybe add a play here or take a play out. All the work has been done. Now it's just a matter of continuing to run the plays and get more reps at them, and prepare for a few different looks that New England does. (We) just want to have a great practice. When you get here you want things to be crisp. Get on the field, run around, have smooth practices and just get ready to play."
*Ahmad Bradshaw was limited in practice today, the result of his always-sore feet. Bradshaw seldom participates fully in more than one practice a week. He was asked if it's difficult to do that and play on Sunday.
"As bad as my feet hurt, it's not that hard," Bradshaw said. "The hardest thing is just getting back into the groove on Sunday, just getting your feet under yourself, which is why I practiced Friday. Offensively, technique wise, I just work on that as much as I can. Outside of practice I go into the meeting rooms and different things. It's not that hard, but just getting back into the groove of just running, keeping your feet under you, and trying to break tackles is what you think about more."
Bradshaw said his feet have hurt for a long time.
"The last time I had perfect feet was senior year of high school and the first two games in college, and then it just started from then," Bradshaw said. "Right now I feel great. This whole week is for recovery for me and for this team, actually. I can't complain about my feet right now. I'm able to walk around and not be in pain, get out of bed and not be in pain, so I'm excited about that."
Bradshaw said he has no concerns about missing the Super Bowl.
"I've got the heart of the lion," Bradshaw said. "I'm not messing with that. I don't miss game days too often and I missed four this year. I felt bad for my team. For me just to miss any games it's heartbreaking. I have no setbacks. It's early in the week. I might get a couple plays today depending how I feel when we get to the practice. They may not like that idea, but we'll see how I feel."
*Giants guard Chris Snee played at Boston College, but his time in New England did not make him a Patriots fan.
"No, I was a Bears fan growing up," Snee said. "I liked (Mike) Singletary for a while. Neil Anderson, who was a running back, and then toward the end of my high school career I liked (Brian) Urlacher. I saw him in the preseason. I have seen him quite a few times throughout my career."
*Chicago native David Diehl is thrilled the Super Bowl is being played in Indianapolis.
"It's nice to be back in the Midwest, growing up in Chicago, playing at (the University of) Illinois, it does mean a lot," Diehl said. "It means my family can all come to the game, they can come support me like they have since I was a little kid running around Chicago playing sports. Those were the people that loved me and supported me long before I was an NFL football player, or a left tackle in the Super Bowl."
Defensive end Justin Tuck is also happy to be here after playing college football in-state at Notre Dame.
"Even though South Bend is about two hours north of here, I still had a lot of people calling me and a lot of friends from my college years calling me to wish me a lot of luck," Tuck said. "I know I'm going to have a lot of Fighting Irish fans in the crowd on Sunday, and that's comforting to know. You're kind of back home, a little bit. I had a lot of great years at Notre Dame and hopefully it will be a little déjà vu on Sunday."
*And now for Eli Manning's daily Peyton Manning query. On Wednesday, Eli was asked how he avoids all the distractions regarding his brother, who has been in the news as much as the two Super Bowl teams.
"I'm proud of Peyton," Manning said. "I've talked to him this week. None of that comes up. When I talk to Peyton, he does a great job of trying to keep me relaxed. (We) talk a little football and talk about New England some. He's supported me this week. I know he's just working hard trying to get healthy and I'm going to support him on that."
*Hakeem Nicks on fellow wide receiver Victor Cruz: "As a dude, he's a good dude. He's a humble dude. He likes to make plays, and he loves football. He's a great team player, and he's always a team player. You can always count on him making a play in a clutch situation."
*Cruz was asked what kind of odds Las Vegas would have put on him making it big.
"Most definitely 10 million-to-one, because nobody expected this kind of performance from me, including myself," said Cruz, who set a Giants record with 1,536 receiving yards this season. "I just wanted to come in and do whatever possible to make the team and do some positive things out there, but never anything like this."
*The Giants player least likely to see significant playing time Sunday is backup quarterback David Carr, who hasn't thrown a pass in a game all season. But he has contributed to the team every week by running the scout team offense against the Giants defense.
"I try to light up our defense every chance I get," Carr said. "I'm always talking trash to Corey Webster and (Justin) Tuck and all of those guys, because I want to make it as hard as possible on them during the week so then when they get to game day, hopefully it's easy. I'm in constant communication with (defensive coordinator) Perry (Fewell), just telling him things that I see and that can be improved on. He is very open to it, which is something that I think is tough for a coach to listen to a player. A lot of coaches, I know this comes as a surprise, but they have big egos, but he doesn't. He does a great job of listening and he takes it to the field and takes it to those guys and I think they respond well. They have played great this year. Sometimes I find myself more interested in watching the defense just because of the work that we put in during the week versus when our offense is on the field."
So how, exactly, does one learn to talk trash?
"I have a lot of experience in being trashed talked to, so I know exactly what gets guys going and how to push their buttons," Carr said. "It's fun, too, because you gain some confidence and you understand your role and what you can do in this league. Just being here with the New York Giants has been great for my career. I feel really confident when I'm here playing with these guys, so that helps in the trash talking area."
*Defensive end Osi Umenyiora was the only Giants player to miss Wednesday's mandatory interview session. The NFL announced that it had fined Umenyiora $20,000.
"I misunderstood the schedule," Umenyiora said in a statement released by the Giants. "It won't happen again, and I will be at tomorrow's media session and available after the game. I apologize for any inconvenience my absence this morning may have caused."
- Referee John Parry will lead the seven-man crew of game officials selected to work Super Bowl XLVI. Parry did not work a Giants game this season.