EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

October 15, 2006

Go Patriots: Salem, N.H., kicker out to make Pats China's team

By Hector Longo

FOXBORO - The Dallas Cowboys can have America. The New England Patriots have set their sights on a much bigger landscape - China.

And they've chosen Salem, N.H., native Nicholas Krippendorf to get the mighty job of attracting nearly two billion prospective fans and lucrative business opportunities done.

It was no coincidence last month when the Patriots announced they were going to play the NFL's first exhibition game in Beijing next August.

Krippendorf, the Central Catholic and Brown University graduate, was brought on board about a month earlier, setting the table for the announcement and prepping for the future.

Team President Jonathan Kraft and the Patriots organization are banking on Krippendorf big time.

In his position as director of Chinese business development, Krippendorf's two true loves have merged.

For the lifelong New Englander, football and the New England Patriots have always owned a special place.

But when a back injury ended his football days in college, Krippendorf searched for something else and found China.

"I hurt my back at Northeastern (before transferring to Brown). I couldn't play ball and couldn't run track," said Krippendorf, now 30. "I was really upset. My life as I had known it had come to an end.

"At that time, football was most important in my life. I had to almost start my life over again. I had to go some place different and new. I had a lot of questions about China that nobody knew the answers to. I didn't know a word of Chinese, didn't know anyone, just went over with a couple hundred bucks in my pocket."

A post-graduation jaunt transformed into a passion.

"I originally planned to stay a year and ended up staying almost five," he said.

"My one real goal was to learn how to speak, read and write to a level where I could use it to understand the culture and people. I thought I could do it in one year, but it was more than that. During that time, I got a lot more out of China than I thought I would. I met great people and learned a lot about culture and history."

Unfortunately, Krippendorf's hiatus coincided with the greatest run in Patriots history.

Three Super Bowls in five years and "I barely caught parts of them, and I'm not sure what was live," he said.

Two years later, Krippendorf is the point man in a league-wide crusade to change all that.

His position remains unique, just like the team's Chinese Web site, one of a kind.

"The Cowboys may be America's team, but I'll tell you it would be great to make the Patriots China's team," said Krippendorf.

"It was Jonathan (Kraft's) idea for the Chinese Web site. It was up before any other teams had even thought about it. Now, we have the first China podcast (of the first Pats game next season). And we'll be the first team to play there."

Krippendorf provides the liaison between East and West through the game he loves.

"We noticed two to three years ago after Super Bowl XXXVIII in Houston that we were getting requests on our Web site from people in China," said Kraft.

Last month, Krippendorf, the Krafts and the Patriots helped entertain dignitaries from the Chinese government as the official announcement of the game was made.

"Once we knew we'd be playing over there, the next step was to bring in someone to work on it full time," said Kraft. "Nick speaks Mandarin and played the game of football. He'll help in translation and working with the different cultures.

"Over the next year, we'll be planning trips over there for promotion with the cheerleaders and alumni all in the mix. Nick will oversee the whole thing."

As strong a right leg as Nick "The Kick" Krippendorf still has, the New England Patriots had no interest in his field-goal acumen.

"When I first started watching those kickers kick in training camp, I have to admit, I wanted to be out there," said Krippendorf, now a published author who's dropped "The Kick" nickname, going by the more business-like name of Nicholas. He has written more than a half dozen books on Chinese language and culture.

As much as he tried on the other side of the world, Krippendorf couldn't evade football. The NFL looked to follow the NBA's successful immersion there.

Krippendorf found work there with the league, directing what he believed to be the first and only place-kicking camp in all of China.

"The NFL was just starting a flag football league over there and was looking for people with football experience who could speak the language," he said.

Now he'll take major steps to convince the 1.5 billion Chinese that there are more to athletics in our country than the NBA and Houston Rockets center Yao Ming.

"Heck, we'd love to be everyone's team," said Kraft.

The Tom Brady jerseys, No. 12 in Mandarin script, are bursting off the presses.

With every one, the Pats inch closer to China.

How ironic.

"I went over there to escape my life in football, and now I'm helping to bring the game there," said Krippendorf. "It's historic and in a lot of ways, it's exciting."