Editor's note: The above video is from May 12, 2015.
Many people will be impressed by the level of New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft’s response to employee extraordinaire Tom Brady’s decision to end his fight against The Man. Some even likened it to some of Al Davis’ best anti-NFL rants.
“While I was disappointed with the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals’ decision not to rehear Tom Brady's case,” Kraft said to a stenographer, “I am most frustrated that Tom was denied his right to a fair and impartial process. The league's investigation into a football pressure matter was flawed and biased from the start, and has been discredited nearly unanimously by accredited academics and scientists.
“The penalty imposed by the NFL was unprecedented, unjust and unreasonable, especially given that no empirical or direct evidence of any kind showed Tom did anything to violate League rules prior to, during or after the 2015 AFC Championship Game. What Tom has had to endure throughout this 18-month ordeal has been, in my opinion, as far removed from due process as you could ever expect in this country.”
But here is where the world as it was and the world as people want it to be depart. Kraft put out a statement, and then will retreat in frustration that 544 days of his life were spent tilting at a windmill he could not interrupt. Davis used to say what he thought about the league as a preamble to what he intended to do to the league as a result, and at the height of his powers, he did it.
Kraft is not that guy and never has been. Until he was trumped by the more naked money-grubbers in the NFL (and yes, that’s going some), he was the most powerful single owner in the game, Roger Goodell’s closest confidant and consigliere, and the man to whom Goodell relied upon most to get a read on his other bosses.
But the real Davis test is not in what gets said, but in what gets done, and in this case that would be Kraft’s willingness to pick fights with the league on other issues, or gather allies to spark an owners’ drive to change the league office’s powers and prerogatives. He would not go to court to fight the power as Davis always enjoyed doing, but sometimes infighting is just as disruptive.
That level of mischief-making takes a level of fortitude and hell-play that maybe only Jerry Jones and Stan Kroenke among the new owner/powers have and would be willing to use. That was Davis’ great gift, or curse depending on your viewpoint -- his willingness to disrupt the process as well as the process-servers.
And if Tom Brady’s good name still matters to Kraft as his own sense of outrage, he has to decide just how much blood he is ready to spill and how many other owners he is willing to involve to extract his vengeance. Davis’ strength came from his willingness to go at it alone, and though that eventually came to undermine him, he knew that going rogue in the short term was easier with fewer moving parts.
In sum, the comparisons between Bob Kraft and Al Davis in this are much exaggerated unless Kraft wants to do a whole lot more than issue a statement of vituperative pique. He’s got to be ready to throw a few lawyers into a bonfire, and I suspect that as a practiced infighter, Kraft’s strength is not the grandiose and potentially suicidal legal gesture.