Punt, Pass & Kick participant booed in Indy for Pats jersey
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft sat behind his wide desk and marveled at how his team's jersey could be the target of so many boos -- even when it's worn by a 14-year-old girl.
This was Anna Grant, a high school freshman who had worked hard to win the Punt, Pass & Kick competition in her age group as the team's representative.
When she was introduced along with the other winners before the fourth quarter of San Diego's playoff win last Sunday, she was the only one booed by the crowd in Indianapolis, home of New England's fiercest rival.
"Why should a champion be booed?" the boss of the three-time Super Bowl winners said Tuesday. "She won an intensive competition. She's supposed to be honored."
His team is getting the same reaction -- not because of the spying incident in the season opener but because fans like to see teams at the top get knocked off, he said. If the Chargers can't do it Sunday, New England will be headed to its fourth Super Bowl in seven seasons.
But first comes the coin flip before the AFC championship and Grant will be out on the field for that, invited by Kraft, who felt badly that she had been booed.
"What I decided is that we would honor her here before this game," Kraft said in an interview in his office filled with photos, footballs and other memorabilia. "We will recognize her as the winner on the field. Our fans will know."
Grant returned from school Tuesday and heard a phone message from Andre Tippett, the Patriots' executive director of community affairs and a former star linebacker.
She called back and was ecstatic when Tippett extended the invitation -- plus tickets for her, her parents and two brothers -- to take part.
"I was just in shock," she said.
Kraft knows the hoots were not directed at the high school freshman from Stratham, N.H., about 20 miles north of the Massachusetts border. It's just that the jersey provokes an instant response, usually a negative one.
Grant also understands, and even smiled when she heard the boos.
"Before I went down there, my friends said, 'You know, you'll probably get booed,'" she said in a telephone interview. "I was kind of waiting for it.
"It really didn't bother me at all," she added. "People at the game came up to me afterward and said, 'It's not you. It's your jersey.'"
It wasn't always that way.
When Adam Vinatieri's last-play field goal gave the Patriots their first championship as huge underdogs to the St. Louis Rams after the 2001 season, red, white and blue confetti -- not boos -- poured down in the Louisiana Superdome.
It came less than five months after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
"I remember saying when I hoisted the [championship] trophy, 'We are all Patriots and tonight the Patriots are world champions,'" Kraft said. "We were the underdogs. No one expected [it]. Now what's happened is, we've had a modicum of success.
"I noticed it with the second title that we went after. Already people had switched and I think people outside of New England want to see different [winners]. It's sort of like the Yankees. There was a resentment, but a respect for the Yankees."
The Yankees have declined since their dominance of the late 90s. The Patriots are better than ever, perhaps the best team in NFL history.
"Jealousy and envy comes in the more you win and people say, 'Give someone else a chance and let someone else do it,'" Kraft said. "I understand that."
It's better than the alternative.
Before he bought the team in January 1994, the Patriots had missed the playoffs for the previous seven seasons. In just his third year, they were in the Super Bowl -- losing to Green Bay in the same building where they would win their first title five years later.
At least fans care now, even if they boo.
"I see it as sort of respect in a way," Kraft said. "I think 15 years ago, 18 years ago, someone could have worn our jersey and I just think there would have been no reaction."
Grant plans to wear some Patriots apparel again Sunday, probably a hat. The reaction will be much warmer.
"In a way, the fact that this young lady was booed is a compliment to the New England Patriots fans because we're relevant," Kraft said. "And, we're good."
Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press
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