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Kraft full of pride

Award prompts some reflection

Organizations often want to honor Robert Kraft, and on a few occasions, he reluctantly accepts the praise and admiration.

This time, there was no reluctance, simply surprise.

The Patriots' owner has been named the recipient of the 2006 Theodore Roosevelt Award, the highest honor bestowed upon individuals by the NCAA.

According to the organization, the award is given annually to ''a former NCAA student-athlete for whom competitive athletics in college and attention to physical well-being after graduation have been important factors in a distinguished career of national significance and achievement."

Kraft, who played football at Columbia from 1959-61 and earned a varsity letter in 1960, joins a distinguished list of award winners.

Past recipients of the prestigious award include Byron R. White (1969), Omar Bradley (1973), Althea Gibson (1991), Bill Richardson (1999), William S. Cohen (2001), Eunice Kennedy Shriver (2002), and former presidents Dwight Eisenhower (1967), Gerald Ford (1975), George H.W. Bush (1986), and Ronald Reagan (1990). Last year's honoree was former astronaut Sally Ride.

The award will be presented Jan. 7 at the annual NCAA convention in Indianapolis.

''When things happen in this life that you don't expect, I don't know how to say it, things that are seriously flattering, you wonder if you're worthy of it," Kraft said last night. ''It's a real surprise and something pretty cool.

''It's much more about Columbia than about me. I love Columbia and if it reflects well on them, I can only be proud to be a part of it."

Kraft said he also is proud to be part of an organization that functions as well as the Patriots.

This week is a trying time for the organization, as head coach Bill Belichick is dealing with the death of his father, Steve, who passed away Saturday.

Kraft presented Belichick, who will be away from the team for the next couple of days, with a game ball after Sunday's 24-17 win over New Orleans. Kraft also provided use of his private jet for the coach to leave immediately after the game to be with his family.

''Bill called me [Sunday] morning, and told me his dad had died in the middle of the night, and I suggested to him that maybe he should turn it over to Dante [Scarnecchia] so he could go be with his mom, and he said both his mother and father would want him to coach that game," Kraft said. ''That's remarkable, that a man is so disciplined, knowing how close he feels to his dad and mom, that he could coach that team so well under those circumstances.

''It says something about his dedication to the team and to the organization that he would do that. I gave him the game ball in honor of the memory of his dad. I think the players were impressed that he had the discipline to compartmentalize and finish something that he was responsible for. That's what his dad had taught him, and I'm very proud to be associated with him."

Kraft is the first Columbia athlete to be honored with the Teddy, as the award is referred to by NCAA board members. Eisenhower, who was the president at Columbia from 1948-53, was the first Teddy award winner (1967).

Dr. M. Dianne Murphy, director of intercollegiate athletics and physical education at Columbia, said the school is delighted that Kraft was chosen.

''He is most deserving of this tremendous honor," she said.

Kraft said just being nominated by his alma mater was meaningful, but winning the award named after one of his favorite presidents is humbling.

Roosevelt once wrote: ''Speak softly, and carry a big stick; you will go far."

''I hope that's what the businesses we're involved in do," Kraft said. ''It's about humility, your actions, and what you do. How you execute is more important, than what you speak."

That, Kraft said, is one of the reasons he is so proud of the Patriots' success, and why he has such respect for Belichick.

''Our whole organization represents what team is about, what's important to the Kraft family and how we conduct ourselves," he said. ''Our brand is important to us. I think what Bill represents reflects well on our family."

The Patriots are 6-4, having won back-to-back games for the first time Sunday. He said he wasn't worried when the team was 4-4, and he's not worried now.

''This is a tough business," Kraft said. ''We got spoiled a little, and to be frank, I think our fans got a little spoiled, because I'd like to hear a little more noise in that stadium.

''We went 17-2 two seasons in a row, and won 21 games in a row, and 21 games in a row at home . . . the standard that's been set is quite high. Our organization and fan base has very high expectations. We know we can't keep going at that level because the NFL is stacked to bring you back down, but we're trying to keep it going. And we'll do whatever we can to keep it going.

''I think the leadership group we have would serve any corporation in America well. Look at the type of people I'm talking about -- Troy Brown, Tedy Bruschi, Mike Vrabel, Rodney Harrison, Willie McGinest, Tom Brady, Adam Vinatieri . . . I'd go into any battle and competition with a group of people like that by my side.

''The season is far from done."

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