Midway through the fourth quarter of yet another AFC Championship Game at Gillette Stadium, the Patriots scored on a nine-yard touchdown pass from Tom Brady to Danny Amendola. They trailed the Jaguars 20-17 when “This Is Our House,” a song given to the Patriots by the band Bon Jovi, began to play over the stadium’s loudspeakers, same as after most scores.
This is our time
This is our night
Are you alive?
The man who sings that song, the founder and frontman for Bon Jovi, sat inside the luxury box of the team’s owner, Robert Kraft, who the singer describes as a “very dear friend.” What happened next seems improbable, but Jon Bon Jovi, in a phone call with Sports Illustrated, swears it to be true. He says a woman in Kraft’s box turned to him and said, “It’s time for ‘Livin’ on a Prayer.’”
That is one of Bon Jovi’s most famous songs, perhaps the group’s most famous song, and never mind that it doesn’t seem all that applicable to a franchise that, prayers notwithstanding, lives more on Brady’s arm and Bill Belichick’s brain. And yet, immediately after the woman said it, Jon Bon Jovi says, “It was like she had dropped a needle and the record started.”
“Mr. Kraft looked over his shoulder at me,” he continues. “The crowd lit up. Everyone was pumped. There’s even a natural tie-in. They want to win the AFC championship, but they’re only halfway there. They want the whole thing. What a moment.”
The Patriots would come back, would score again, would win 24-20 to advance to Super Bowl LII. They will play the Eagles in Minneapolis on Sunday, and even though Jon Bon Jovi is a self-described Jersey guy who once owned part of Philadelphia’s team in the Arena Football League, he will be rooting for his dear friends on the Patriots. He says he has known Kraft for at least 20 years and known Belichick for “close to 30.” He has attended training camp at Gillette every season since it opened in 2002, and his band, naturally, was the first to hold a concert at the stadium. He even has two diamond-studded championship rings, although, in Belichickian fashion, he declines to say where those rings are kept.
He does say that few moments resonated with him like that moment on Sunday, when his iconic song played over the loudspeakers and he led the stadium in a singalong with his billionaire buddy. Afterward, while confetti swirled all around them, Belichick thanked him for that moment. “He had that place rocking, maybe a little more than we did,” Belichick told reporters last week. He added a “pretty impressive,” and then ran through some of their shared history. How he and the singer met when Belichick worked under Bill Parcells with the Giants. How they celebrated the team’s Super Bowl triumph over Buffalo in January 1991 by taking pictures. Belichick even made a joke about how the notoriously surly Parcells wasn’t the one handing out practice invitations to Jon Bon Jovi.
When Belichick went to New England, so did Jon Bon Jovi’s football allegiances. They remained with Belichick (and, he admits, other coaches from the Parcells coaching tree). The rocker then met Kraft in 1996, and the picture they took together at a practice before the Super Bowl that season hangs in Kraft’s spacious, memorabilia-mad office at team headquarters in Foxboro.
The men got closer as the years wore on and the rings accumulated. Jon Bon Jovi says he has been to all Kraft’s “homes” and vice versa. Kraft has attended many Bon Jovi concerts. And the singer remembers and is grateful for Kraft’s guidance when he tried to buy the Bills in 2014, in a bid that ultimately failed. “He was a great adviser through the whole process,” JBJ says. “He helped me at the league level. And he helped me on a personal level, discussing all the details of ownership at great length with my family—the investment of time and money and effort involved. We went through a lot in those 27 months.”
I asked Jon Bon Jovi if he could appreciate the Patriots’ dynasty, all the success under Kraft and Brady and Belichick, given that he built his own dynasty in music. “Yeah,” he says, “if you look at any success story, there’s a little bit of God’s looking over your shoulder there. So he was lucky enough to have some kid named Tom Brady who was the backup to Drew Bledsoe. But he was also wise enough to know that Bill Belichick was not defined by his time at the Browns, nor was he just a great defensive coordinator under Bill Parcells.”
“Real leaders lead from the top down,” JBJ adds, “and the whole Patriot Way begins with Robert Kraft and his sense of family and his ability to embrace others for their strengths.”
Over those two decades of friendship, Jon Bon Jovi says he also grew close to Kraft’s late wife, Myra. She would tell the story of when Kraft purchased the team in 1994 for $172 million—significantly more than he had promised her he would spend. She had never been so mad at him. “I had many passionate, expletive-filled conversations with her about football,” Jon says. “And it was great. She was a mom of four boys. She could sit there and curse it up with the best of them. I loved that about her.”
I asked him if he had any examples. “Oh, I do. But I couldn’t share them without his permission,” he says. “You’ll just have to take my word. She was his sweetheart, and she looms large still. But she could swing an iron fist.”
Later that Sunday, after the AFC Championship Game, Belichick and his rock-star friend walked out of Gillette Stadium together with their significant others. The coach and his girlfriend walked four steps in front of Jon Bon Jovi and his wife. “There was no one else there,” Jon Bon Jovi says. “No one. I’m thinking, there’s my friend Vince Lombardi walking in front of us. He smiled and pumped his fist, and the four of us had a moment.”
“Then,” Jon Bon Jovi says, “it was on to Minnesota.”
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