Jeff Benedict’s tour de force book, Dynasty, covers the unprecedented success of the New England Patriots from 2000-20. There are three constants throughout this era that dominate the book. Head coach Bill Belichick, quarterback Tom Brady, and owner Robert Kraft. Because of the drive, ambition, and talents of this Holy Trinity, New England became the most decorated franchise in all of football. All of this in a salary cap era, in which every team has the chance to compete, and where the likelihood of repeating success is diminished. Dynasty chronicles the Patriots rise from AFC underachiever to a kingpin in world sports.
Central to the book’s voyage of discovery is a series of questions. How did Patriots dominance occur? How did they sustain it? What was at its core? What did they do differently from every other sports franchise to become the defining athletic and cultural force in American sports? I’ll delve a little deeper into the role played by its defining actors in achieving all of this. Living on a Prayer
While Tom Brady and Bill Belichick gave hours of interviews for the book, Dynasty’s backbone features owner Robert Kraft, his family, team and organization. Kraft was generous with the doors he opened. Kraft, a successful paper and packaging magnate, acquired the Patriots after decades going to games at Foxboro Stadium with his children. They were the team he followed since childhood. He understands the game and for him it is personal. You can’t say this of all owners. Much is known about his courtship of Bill Belichick as head coach, and observing from the owners box as a young quarterback called Tom Brady took over after Drew Bledsloe’s near career ending injury. Less is known about Kraft’s other role: that as the most senior franchise owner behind the scenes steering a more progressive, social agenda at the NFL, which entailed fostering a close relationship with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell. That Kraft’s relationship with Goodell persisted through good and bad times is revealing. For all their greatness, controversy has never been too far away from the New England Patriots. Although relations were incredibly strained between the NFL and Patriots, Goodell and Kraft’s friendship managed to keep a back channel open. When Spygate hit, the Patriots were disciplined by the league for videotaping New York Jets' defensive coaches' signals during a September 9, 2007 game. Deflategate involved the allegation that Tom Brady ordered the deliberate deflation of footballs used in the Patriots' victory against the Indianapolis Colts in the 2014 AFC Championship Game. The Patriots were vilified, and as an organization they were smarting. Belichick, Brady and Kraft were all in the dock. Like other titans in U.S. sports such as Michael Phelps or Michael Jordan, they were adept at using this as motivation to win championships. A case in point was the incredible 3-28 come from behind Super Bowl win over the Atlanta Falcons in 2017. When you see Tom Brady’s elation on the podium when he lifts the Lombardi Trophy, it's part relief and a large dollop of sticking it to the NFL. On balance, Robert Kraft must be very happy with his portrayal in the book. His son, Jonathan, emerges as a very influential behind the scenes player in the Patriots story, certainly as his father’s counsel throughout. Ownership will continue to be very strong in New England for decades, if the Krafts stick around for the long haul. There is some terrific gossip enclosed. Sources range from stadium staff, wives, politicians and business executives. A truly bizarre instance involves Kraft on a business mission to Russia in 2005. A minor diplomatic crisis between the U.S. and Russia arises, when Vladimir Putin accepts Kraft’s offer to try the Super Bowl ring on, before pocketing it. Kraft never got the ring back and fumed. The Bush Administration allegedly told Kraft that it “would be in the country’s best interest” if he said he’d given the ring to Putin as a gift.
Eight Days a Week When Kraft sought out a personal opinion before deciding whether to hire Bill Belichick, he asked Belichick’s friend, Jon Bon Jovi. Belichick is a dark horse. Nicknamed ‘Doom’ by legendary coach Bill Parcells, at every period of Patriots success in the book, Belichick is looking to cut a veteran name or top paid player, to give the team a winning edge the next season. Even he has his lighter moments. There’s a tall tale about Belichick and Jon Bon Jovi in New Orleans drinking Hurricanes on the street before the Super Bowl in 1997, when he was Patriots assistant coach. Sitting on a curb, Benedict writes, Belichick could have passed for a member of the band. A story that would catch most fans out in their perception of the Patriots head coach. He’s an incredibly demanding coach. There might be no one better in the history of football at separating the personal from the private in his interactions with players. Football wise, Belichick’s players revere him, and some of New England’s finest including Tedy Bruschi, Willie McGinest and Randy Moss express regret and sadness that Belichick was emotionally distant with them. The obsessive attention to detail is laid out in every task Belichick and Brady go about. For over a decade the partnership between future Hall of Fame head coach and quarterback held up well. Friction simmers regularly between the two in the second decade. The distance between them grows towards the end of Brady’s career. Occasionally, they could pocket their grievances. They would keep them in check to the outside world. But resentment, once it seeps in, is hard to park. Brady and Belichick were notorious for standing their ground. Two ferociously competitive men don’t know any other way. With a level of adroitness, owner Robert Kraft spent the second part of two decades smoothing over the cracks between the two. Where necessary, he did Brady’s bidding with Belichick and acted as a diplomatic emissary. It became more difficult in the past five years when Brady was more assertive and independent, a right he felt he had more than earned. Ultimately after all that time, Brady and Belichick grew tired of each other. Another moment details the level of frustration. Tom Brady’s wife, model, activist and businesswoman Gisele Bündchen, grew tired of how Belichick treated her husband after he had done for the organization and spoke up. She was tired Belichick still treated Brady like “f****** Johnny Foxboro.” It was a perennial Belichick putdown. Like her husband, Bündchen was also fed up with Brady still being on the receiving end of dressings down during team meetings. All You Need is Love In the summer, I posted my list of favorite football books. Dynasty would make a revised list. The final pages in the book capture brilliantly the humanity of the central actors not seen by a beat reporter or a fan.
The end is quite sad. Tom Brady drives over to Robert Kraft’s home and tells him he is leaving the Patriots after 20 years. Kraft accepts this. Both men cry. They are six foot apart and unable to embrace because COVID-19 has just hit. Brady’s father, Tom Brady Snr. forecast it when he said; “It’s a cold business. As much as you want it to be familial it isn’t.” Brady had the same cool personal relationship all players had with Belichick, but with Kraft he had something special. It was more like close father and son. This was after all the same rookie who told Kraft in the stairwell on his first time in Foxboro in 2000; “I’m the best decision this organization has ever made.”
Partnerships at the highest levels, be it a Fortune 500 company, or between John Lennon and Paul McCartney in The Beatles, are filled with tension. That Brady, Belichick and Kraft stuck together for 20 years to win six Super Bowls is unprecedented.