A Giant Patriot

January 28, 2008

Super Bowl XLII is especially interesting for Watertown’s Bob Kratch

By Matt Kane
Sports Editor

WATERTOWN — When the New England Patriots and New York Giants line up against each other inside University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale. Ariz. Sunday for Super Bowl XLII, millions of people around the world will be watching.

Some will tune in because they are football fanatics, while others will watch just to see the commercials. Whatever their reason for watching the game, many of them will wonder what it’s like to win a Super Bowl.

Some 1,700 miles north of Glendale, in Watertown, Minn., Bob Kratch will be one of the few Super Bowl watchers not asking himself that question. Instead, he will be remembering what it’s like to win a Super Bowl.

Exactly 17 years ago, from the date printed at the top of this newspaper, Kratch was celebrating inside Tampa Stadium after he and his Giant teammates defeated the Buffalo Bills 20-19 for the NFL championship in Super Bowl XXV.

“Super Bowl XXV with the New York Giants ranks right at the top,” Kratch said from inside an old barn that now houses Mudd Lake Furniture, his business east of Watertown. “For something on the field, that’s the highlight. How can it not be?”

Kratch was just two seasons into what would be an eight-year NFL career when he won his Super Bowl ring, so what more could he ask for? How about another Super Bowl ring?

Kratch got that chance six years later, but not as a Giant. He is more connected to this coming Super Bowl than one might think, The second team Kratch played for, and went to a Super Bowl with, was the New England Patriots.

Kratch never got that second ring. Brett Favre and the Green Bay Packers defeated his Patriots 35-21 Jan. 26, 1997, inside the Louisiana Superdome, and Kratch retired after the game.

Kratch said losing a Super Bowl game is the complete opposite of winning one.

“That one goes the other way. There are a lot of life issues out there more important than a football game, but as far as seeing it from the retrospect of winning the whole enchilada and now, it was very heartbreaking,” he said of his losing experience at a Super Bowl. “You are upset for a lot of the veterans who might not go back. The tragedy of the loss was kind of hard.”

The loss was difficult to swallow, but, looking back, Kratch says the Super Bowl with New England is still worth remembering.

“I’m still proud of that, but it’s hard when you watch ESPN running old Super Bowls,” he explained. “I remember a couple years ago watching the game we lost, and it was like, ‘Aw, what a downer,’ because there was a time (in that game) where we had a chance, maybe, when the momentum switched a little bit. And then the next day, they had the Giants’ game on, and that’s when you really realize I was lucky, because it’s hard winning that thing, and we were lucky winning it.”

Kratch played three seasons with New England, and five with New York. It’s obvious, when talking to Kratch, that he feels like more of a Giant than a Patriot.

“I know the Giants organization. I still know people there, and I was very happy,” he said of this year’s version of the Giants winning the NFC championship. “It’s a great organization. Giants fans are so loyal to the New York Giants, whether they win or lose. That stadium is always full. Tickets are sold out for 30 years.

“I guess I have more affiliation with the Giants than the Patriots, since I played longer with the Giants, and I grew up over there. But either way, it’s fun to see both teams that I played for get in.”

Having played for both the Giants and Patriots in a Super Bowl could have left Kratch torn between which team he is pulling for Sunday. That’s not the case. When asked about what team he wants to win, Kratch, who grew up in Mahwah, N.J., didn’t hesitate.

“I want the Giants to win. I always pull for the underdog,” he said. “Hopefully, we will see a tight game — a field goal game — but I’m rooting for the big blue.”

Photo by Matt Kane

The Bills

Kratch is fond of those last-second field goal games, and he should be. It was a missed 47-yard field goal by Buffalo’s Scott Norwood with seconds remaining that enabled the Giants to win Super Bowl XXV.

Kratch said that, just before Norwood’s attempt, he was preparing himself for the worst.

“You are sick to your stomach. You think, ‘I got this far, but what are you going to do?’ I just hoped that he would miss it. I really thought he was going to make it, so I was getting myself mentally ready for the letdown. I mean, it was a 47-yard field goal, and Scott Norwood was a good kicker. So I was just like, ‘You know what, it was a hell of a season.’” he explained of his thinking on the sideline.

Then, things changed drastically when Norwood’s kick sailed wide right.

“It went from that sorrow to unbelievable adulation,” he said. “I started jumping, and then the first thing I did was I went down to see my mom in the end zone, where my mom and dad were sitting. I just celebrated in the end zone. That was awesome.”

Kratch started 10 games during the 1990 regular season but didn’t get the start in either the NFC Championship Game against the Chicago Bears, or the Super Bowl. Eric Moore started both games, but Moore was hobbled by a sore ankle, enabling Kratch to pick up some valuable playing time in both games.

Kratch entered the Super Bowl in the second quarter, and said he was on the field when receiver Stephen Baker caught a 14-yard touchdown pass from Jeff Hostetler at the end of the first half, and in the third quarter on O.J. Anderson’s 1-yard touchdown run. Since the Bills ran a 3-4 defense, Kratch had a lot of blocking assignments against Buffalo’s linebacking corp of Shane Conlan, Darryl Talley, Cornelius Bennett, and Ray Bentley in the Super Bowl. But he never had to block Bruce Smith, who lined up on the left side of the Giants’ offensive line.

“They had a great defense, and they were flying. They were flying,” said Kratch, between helping customers at the furniture store. “Our goal was to slow the game down and run the ball with O.J. Anderson, and control the clock. We would go down field a little bit, but our thing was power football, and we were going to run it straight at them and wear them down.”

The Giants’ offensive game plan worked, as they held possession of the football for over 40 minutes of the 60-minute game. On its opening drive of the third quarter, New York, with Kratch at right guard, consumed a single possession Super Bowl record 9 minutes, 29 seconds off the clock. The drive ended with Anderson’s touchdown run.

Kratch doesn’t take for granted his chance to not only go to the Super Bowl but to play in it.

“I was fortunate because I played in the NFC Championship Game and in the Super Bowl. Not only was I there, but I played in the two games,” he explained. “I feel very lucky that I was part of a championship team because a lot of guys go through the league. You really appreciate it now that I am removed.”

In Super Bowl XXXI with the Patriots, Kratch was, again, a reserve. Knee surgery and a staff infection kept him out of half of New England’s games that regular season.

The other Bills

After a two-time all-Big 10 college career at Iowa, Kratch was selected in the third round, 64th overall, of the 1989 NFL draft by the Giants. He played five seasons in New York. Then, before the 1994 season, Kratch exercised his free agency and signed with the Patriots.

Signing with New England reunited Kratch with Bill Parcells, who coached Kratch with the Giants from 1989 through Super Bowl XXV.

“Bill was either really happy or really miserable,” said Kratch of Parcells. “The more games we won, the more miserable he got, because he knew what was at stake. He was there to win championships. At one time, we were 10-0 and he was getting more miserable and more angry because he knew what was at stake.”

On Parcells’ coaching staff when Kratch played for New York were the two head coaches who will line up on opposite sidelines Sunday, Tom Coughlin and Bill Belichick. Coughlin was the receivers’ coach, and Belichick coached the defense in New York under Parcells.

Kratch described Coughlin as a disciplinarian and Belichick as a less vocal teacher of the game.

When Parcells retired after Super Bowl XXV, Coughlin went on to coach Boston College, and Belichick took over the head coaching position with the Cleveland Browns. Parcells came out of retirement to coach the Patriots in 1993, and, in 1996, after the Browns were packed up and moved to Baltimore to become the Ravens, Belichick rejoined Parcells, this time in New England, where Kratch was already a guard.

“We used to call them the New England Giants, because they had a whole coaching staff that was once at New York,” said Kratch. “You had Belichick, Romeo Crenel, Al Groh and Maurice Carthon. Basically, Bill’s coaching staff that was in New York was up in New England.

Having played against Belichick’s defenses everyday in practice, Kratch knows what Belichick is all about, and believes Belichick’s style is what has made the Patriots into the franchise it is today.

“Belichick came under Parcells, and they know it’s all business. That’s why the Patriots are so effective. All the players buy into the program, are totally dedicated, and, out of season, players are all there working out,” Kratch explained. “Those guys are so focused. You are not going to see a Patriot do a Tony Romo and spend four days in Mexico before a divisional playoff game, which to me is ridiculous.”

Kratch noticed that Belichick used the same defensive scheme used in Super Bowl XXV against Jim Kelly and the Buffalo Bills again in Super Bowl XXXI against Kurt Warner and the St. Louis Rams. The Patriots defeated the Rams 20-17.

Photo courtesy of Bob Kratch

Comfortable where he’s at

A dozen years after retiring from the NFL, Kratch is still an opposing figure. His hair is being taken over by grey, but he still fits the 6-foot-3, 288-pound frame listed on the back of his football cards. After moving 300-pound defensive tackles during his first career, carrying around luxurious sofas and china hutches seems fitting for Kratch’s post NFL career.

Whenever Kratch wants to sit back and relax while reminiscing about his days playing right guard in the NFL, Mudd Lake and his store, The Roof, in St. Bonifacious house plenty of comfortable options for sitting.

Kratch, his wife, Kristi, and three children — Colby, 11, Nate, 13, and Mackenzie, 11 — own and operate the two stores, which are kept cozy by the new, but vintage-looking furniture, art and home furnishings that look as if they belong in the governor’s mansion.

Kratch said his current occupation has cut into his former job a bit. He said he attends maybe one Vikings game per year.

“The thing about the furniture business is, my busy time is in the fall,” he said over the jazz music that flowed softly out of the furniture store’s sound system. “It’s hard to get away. You have to make hay when you can.”

The family was introduced to Minnesota and, more specifically, Carver County, by Kratch’s former Giants teammate Brian Williams, who lives in Waconia, where his wife grew up. The Kratches purchased the 40 acres east of Watertown in 1991, built a home, and moved in after Kratch’s retirement from the NFL in 1996.

“My wife is from Iowa, and I didn’t really want to stay in New Jersey. We’ve always kind of wanted a hobby farm, and we decided to look here. Back in 1991, we bought this place,” Kratch said. “There was a chance we were thinking about staying in New England, but Minnesota is great.”

The trendy, black-framed glasses Kratch wears are a slight link to the New Yorker in Kratch, but the insolated, camouflage bibs he wore for this interview, after coming inside from the sub-zero temperature, indicated he is comfortable as a Minnesotan.

“It’s a great place to raise kids,” he said. “There’s good academics, sports, and a lot of outdoor activities.”

It’s also a great place to remember an eight-year NFL career, and playing in two Super Bowls.

“As a young man with a healthy body, to have that opportunity, it was a great honor to play in the National Football League,” Kratch said. “At times, it was hard, but, you know what, I would do it all over again.”