Bob Kraft vs. Foxborough

By way of disclaimer, I’ll start by saying that Bob Kraft is the greatest sports owner New England has ever known. He not only saved the Patriots, but turned the team into the model franchise for all of sports. Fifty years from now, any tributes to the golden era Pats should start with Kraft, and then move on to Brady and Belichick.

That being said, can we please stop romanticizing the relationship between Foxborough and the Krafts? Somewhere in the popular mind, Kraft came to be some sort of loving grandfather figure and Foxborough the town that couldn’t help but adore him back. After all, they built Gillette Stadium and Patriot Place together. That’s why today’s Globe story that the town and the Kraft Group are feuding over two billboards seems so jarring. (Basically, there’s a pair of billboards on Route 1 that the Kraft Group claims it owns, while Foxborough says it should control them.) Sure, Kraft’s push to bring a casino to town has alienated some, but who would have ever thought that Foxborough and its patron would ever squabble over something so petty as a couple of billboards?

It’s a mistake, though, to view Foxborough and Kraft’s relationship as anything more than a business one. After all, as the Globe story notes, Kraft has long driven a hard bargain with the town, negotiating tooth and nail on all sorts of development issues. And didn’t Kraft try to move the Patriots to both South Boston and Hartford before settling on building Gillette Stadium in Foxborough? I’m not saying that’s a bad thing — I wish the Pats had ended up in Boston — just that the relationship between Kraft and the town is based on dollar signs and leverage, not hugs and kisses.

What’s interesting now is that Foxborough has all the leverage. Between Gilette Stadium and Patriot Place, it’s not like Kraft can leave town anytime soon. Actually, it’s not like he can leave town ever, especially if he gets that casino built. That’s why Foxborough pols can afford to antagonize him over the billboards. What, actually, is Kraft going to do about it? As it is, he’s got to win the town over in order for him and his partner, developer Steve Wynn, to go forward with their $1 billion casino proposal. So, as long as people are pissed off about this casino thing, why not screw with him a little on his billboards?

Of course, at the heart of all this is the casino proposal, which Kraft says he is doing simply for the good of the town and nothing more. Here’s a choice quote from when he and casino developer Steve Wynn introduced the proposal. The Globe has Kraft saying:

“I’m not driven by making money, because basically whatever money I make from here on in is going to charity or the US government is going to take it,’’ he said. He added later: “I’d like to see this town win in every way, not just Super Bowl championships. I want it to have the best school system. I’d like to think that housing values here will continue to appreciate and that this special bucolic town, stays special. You can’t do that if you don’t have economic vitality.’’

Maybe I’m too cynical, but that rings about as hollow as Rob Gronkowski’s head to me (sorry Gronk, you know I love you). If Kraft didn’t care about the money and truly just wanted to help Foxborough, then he’d let the town have the billboards, right? If you buy into the paternalistic rhetoric he’s spinning here, well, then I’ve got a bridge to nowhere I’d like to sell you.