INDIANAPOLIS -- Robert Kraft stared at the scoreboard, to see if time really had run out.
In a game that meant so much, his New England Patriots had come up a fingertip or two short.
Kraft's beloved wife, Myra, died days before the lockout ended last July, and football became an escape for his grief. He played a critical role in the negotiations that ended the lockout, with Indianapolis Colts center Jeff Saturday going so far as to call him "a man who helped us save football."
Myra Kraft may have thought the $172 million her husband paid for the Patriots was excessive back in 1994, a record for an NFL franchise at the time. But she adopted the team as if the players were members of her own family. When new Hall of Famer Curtis Martin was a rookie in New England, Myra Kraft would make him chicken soup, knowing he was alone.
Football is only a game, but it was the best way the Patriots had to show Kraft their love and ease the burden of his grief, if only for a bit.
"He's not just our owner, he knows a lot of us on a personal level," defensive tackle Vince Wilfork said. "He's our friend."
When Tom Brady threw his second touchdown pass, he even tapped the patch above his heart twice and looked skyward. The television cameras flashed to Kraft, who looked as if he was the happiest man in the world -- certainly in Lucas Oil Stadium.
"They saved me," Kraft said earlier in the week. "I never understood what the word heartbroken meant. ... This horrible cancer came. and it's wrecked my life. Having this team has been a savior for me."
A Super Bowl trophy would have been the perfect ending to their story, the ultimate joy to balance the ultimate pain.
"It would have been sensational," tackle Sebastian Vollmer said, shaking his head.
After leading for much of the game, the Patriots watched Eli Manning engineer an 88-yard go-ahead drive. New England got the ball with 57 seconds left, and Brady got the Patriots close to midfield. But a deep pass to Branch fell short.
With 5 seconds left, Brady let loose with a desperation heave to the end zone. Aaron Hernandez went up among three defenders, and the ball was tipped -- out of reach of a lunging Rob Gronkowski as the ball fell to the ground and time ran out.
Giants owners John Mara and Steve Tisch are some of Kraft's closest friends in the NFL, and he said earlier in the week that if he had to lose to someone, at least it would be to them.
But some losses cut a little deeper than others. Kraft spoke to a few players in the locker room before making a quick exit.
"It's tough for all of us," Brady said. "Certainly I wish we would have gotten it for him."
Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press