The New England Patriots have dominated the NFL for two decades. With unprecedented access to the organisation’s key figures, Jeff Benedict examines the reasons for their success.
In 1971, Robert Kraft was an up-and-coming businessman who bought season tickets for the Boston Patriots so that he could spend more time with his young sons. The Patriots had just completed their first season in the NFL and posted the league’s worst record. They would not do much better in subsequent seasons but Kraft’s passion led him to buy the team in 1994, laying the foundations for an unprecedented run of success.
How Kraft built the franchise into what it is today – a team that has won an extraordinary six Super Bowls in 18 years – is the subject of Jeff Benedict’s book. Kraft is presented throughout as a caring and somewhat soft-hearted figure but the early sections covering his purchase of the franchise show how ruthless he can be. Kraft took over the team by first buying land around the stadium, then the stadium itself, giving himself control of almost all the team’s revenue. His eventual purchase of the team slowly became an inevitability.
The next key move was the hiring of head coach Bill Belichick. Though Belichick spoke to Benedict for the book, he remains a somewhat distant figure. His well-known dislike for the limelight means that the reasons for his decisions often remain a mystery.
In 2000, the Patriots drafted Tom Brady, adding the final key figure. Brady is a far brighter presence in the book than his coach, his determination to succeed and willingness to work within Belichick’s oppressive system are portrayed as vital to the dynasty’s longevity.
Benedict focuses much of the book on the 2001 season, a pivotal year in which Brady succeeded the injured Drew Bledsoe as starting quarterback and led the team to its first Super Bowl victory. However, the years since then are still covered thoroughly, right up until spring 2020 when, with the nation in the grip of a pandemic, Tom Brady told Robert Kraft that he was leaving the team. After an extraordinary 20 seasons as a Patriot, Brady has gone to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, determined to play until he is 45.
Whether Belichick can sustain the dynasty in Brady’s absence remains to be seen but 2020 certainly feels like enough of a turning point to provide an appropriate ending for the book’s epic story.
Jeff Benedict is an author, journalist and TV and film producer. His most recent book was an award winning biography of golfer Tiger Woods, co-written with Armen Keteyian. His football books include The System, also co-written with Keteyian, and Steve Young’s autobiography, QB: My Life Behind the Spiral.
And [Leigh] Steinberg reciprocated by telling Kraft things he wouldn’t say to any other owner. Early on, Steinberg emphasized that the key to winning in the NFL was a quality organization. It was a belief that resonated with Kraft. […] “The players go round and round” Steinberg said. “The key is strong, stable ownership that has the intelligence to hire a strong coach and talented front office people who can evaluate talent.”
While Bon Jovi got along well with Parcells, the singer was much closer in age to Bill Belichick. Plus, Belichick was really into Bon Jovi’s music. The two of them became close. So when Belichick became head coach of the Browns, Bon Jovi started trekking to Cleveland to watch practices and attend home games there. And when Belichick reunited with Parcells in New England, Bon Jovi started hanging out in Foxborough.
“Do you see that chair?” Rowland said, pointing across the room.
Everyone turned to look.
“I’m going to go bend over that chair right now,” Rowland continued, glaring at Kraft, “and you can shove anything you want up my ass. But don’t back out of this deal!”
Kraft’s eyes narrowed as he met Rowland’s glare.
In the series, Brady didn’t talk about his relationship with Belichick or Belichick’s coaching style. But Brady did discuss his relationship with his teammates and his own leadership style. In the third episode, which aired on January 30, he said, “My connection with them is through joy and love. It’s not through fear. It’s not through insults. That’s not how I lead.”
That evening at 6:20, Brady texted Kraft: “Hi there. Hope you’re doing well. Are you in Chestnut Hill? Would love to see you in person if possible. I’m corona-free.”
It would be fair to wonder whether we really need another book about the New England Patriots but those concerns fall away within the first couple of chapters of The Dynasty. Jeff Benedict’s exceptional access to Robert Kraft, Tom Brady, Bill Belichick and others gives him a perspective that few other writers have enjoyed. He uses those insights to create a compelling read.
The sections on Kraft’s purchase of the team are riveting and even Benedict’s accounts of familiar games, such as the many Super Bowl appearances, have an air of tension that makes them fun to relive. There is also much more here about Kraft, and his late wife Myra, than in most books about the Patriots, which offers a refreshing angle.
The Dynasty is relatively uncritical of its central characters. Kraft’s acquisition of the Patriots could, in the hands of another writer, be seen as devious and cut-throat. Similarly, Brady’s relationship with best friend and fitness coach Alex Guerrero is not really explored. We are told that Guerrero was sanctioned by the FTC for claims he made about supplements he was selling but Brady’s involvement in endorsing products like NeuroSafe, which Guerrero claimed could speed recovery from head trauma, is not explored.
Given Guerrero’s past, another writer made have interrogated Brady’s business relationship with the trainer more thoroughly. None of this is a criticism of Benedict’s reporting, which is excellent. It’s more a question of emphasis: Benedict’s presentation of the facts seldom reflects badly on Kraft or Brady.
By focusing on the ownership and the way the organisation runs, The Dynasty emphasises that success in the NFL depends on a quality organisation. That is easier said than done, of course. For anyone who wants an insight into how a quality organisation is built and maintained, this is an excellent read.