Jaywalking: Foxborough VIPs

  • The Buckland Gaffigans, guests of Patriots owner/CEO Bob Kraft (center) during a recent visit to Foxborough, beam behind four Super Bowl trophies. contributed photo

Published: 4/25/2016 11:00:42 PM

Football has meant a lot to Bill Gaffigan throughout his 89 years, so when he was in the hospital a couple of months ago, his son, former Mohawk Trail Regional High School football player and Greenfield High School associate principal Tom Gaffigan, had an idea.

You see, Bill Gaffigan is a huge fan of the New England Patriots, so son Tom decided to email the Patriots to see if there was anything they could do for his father. He mentioned that his dad is a World War II veteran, having served in the Navy (Pacific Theater), who was there when U.S. forces occupied Okinawa, Japan among other faraway places. Tom Gaffigan also mentioned how football also helped his father deal with the loss of two sons.

Tom Gaffigan really didn’t know what to expect from the email he sent out around the first of March. He said he was hopeful that perhaps the Patriots might send his dad a signed football, something like that. What he didn’t expect was to hear back three days later that New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft would be honored to meet his father and the rest of the family. But that’s exactly what happened and this past Tuesday Bill Gaffigan and family were at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, meeting with Kraft and getting their picture taken with the Patriots’ four Super Bowl trophies.

The Gaffigans have always been a football family, and the sport is what helped get them through some tough times. Michael Gaffigan was the Intercounty League Player of the Year in 1968 and played football at a I-AA college in Kansas for one year before transfering to the University of Maine to play baseball. He was also the first 1,000-point basketball scorer at Mohawk. When he took his own life in 1994, the family used football to get through the ordeal.

The same is true of Rick Gaffigan, who was an All-Intercounty League offensive and defensive lineman in the fall of 1974, his senior year of high school. Shortly after football season ended, Rick Gaffigan was in a car accident on a Friday night and died from injuries sustained. In the next day’s Recorder, the story of the car accident and his death was on the front page, while the front of the sports section announced him as one of the All-Intercounty League honorees. 

As you can see, football has always been important to the Gaffigan family, in good times and bad. So with his father in the hospital, Tom Gaffigan — himself an All-IL lineman from the Mohawk class of 1982, as well as Mohawk football coach and later assistant coach at Pioneer under Mike Duprey —  decided to turn to the sport once again for support. He turned to his father’s favorite team.

“He was in the hospital a couple of months ago and I thought, “Maybe the Patriots can send me an autograph or something to cheer him up,” Tom Gaffigan said. “He likes Bob Kraft, so I went online to Kraft enterprises and found an email address.”

He explained the situation and how football has been such a big part of the family’s lives.

“I told him that my father lost two sons and football got him through it,” Tom Gaffigan said, “between watching me coach and watching the Patriots. I just said if there was anything he could do for us, we would appreciate it.”

Three days later, Tom Gaffigan received an email that said Bob Kraft would be honored to meet his father. A bit stunned, Gaffigan set up April 19 for the meeting, which was a day that worked for all involved. They were told they would get to visit the Patriots Hall of Fame as well.

So on Tuesday Bill Gaffigan and wife Mildred — who is said to know more about football than most men — traveled along with many of their other family members to Gillette Stadium, and were escorted to Kraft’s office upon arrival. When they arrived, Kraft’s secretary greeted them and told them Kraft would be with them shortly. Less than a minute later, the Patriots’ owner emerged. He greeted the family and spent some time talking to Bill Gaffigan, including thanking him for his service to the country.

Kraft then pulled out a pin and presented Bill Gaffigan with the memento, which he told the family he gave out to the team after winning the 2001 Super Bowl. The pin has the Patriots logo and says, “We are all Patriots,” and Kraft told the family that he does not just give that pin out to anyone, in fact, he has given it out to only a select few over the years.

After that, Kraft asked the family if they would like to get some photos, and said he had just the room for such an occasion. The owner led the family to a room, where he slid back the door to reveal a table sporting four Super Bowl trophies. He then spent about 20 minutes posing for photos with the family.

“He was fantastic,” Tom Gaffigan said. “He was so down to earth. What a great man he is. He preaches family, and he told us how he doesn’t view anyone differently. He said, ‘I tell my players, we are all one team. No one is more important to me, from the players here to the guys mowing the lawn.’”

After the photo session, one of Kraft’s assistants led the family to the Patriots’ Hall of Fame. When they were stopped at the entrance for tickets, the assistant explained that they were “personal VIPs of Mr. Kraft.” The family was given a guided tour of the Hall.

There was one final surprise. As they were leaving, Bill Gaffigan mentioned something about the field at Gillette, and the assistant said that he had the golden key that would allow the family access. The field was being worked on, so they could not go out on it, but they were able to stand inside the stadium and take in the sights.

“I can’t even begin to tell you how happy my father was,” Tom Gaffigan said. “I don’t think he was overwhelmed, but he was just so excited. He told my daughter, Katelyn, it was one of the greatest moments of his life.”

Gaffigan still has no idea why Robert Kraft decided to meet his father. It wasn’t a question he asked Kraft directly, and when he asked one of the assistants if Kraft does this regularly, he was surprised by the response.

“They said that he does it for special people and dignateries, but his secretary and photographer were surprised that he was doing it because he doesn’t just do this sort of thing all the time,” Gaffigan said.

Though we may never know the reason why, it’s something he and his family will never forget. 

Jason Butynski is a Greenfield native and Recorder sportswriter. His email address is jbutynski@recorder.com. Like him on Facebook and leave your feedback at www.facebook.com/jaybutynski.

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