"He was a fan first," said former North Andover resident James Courchaine, referring to Kraft's journey from season ticket holder to owner of the now undefeated football team.
The New England Patriots Fan Club of Arizona has turned a bar called the Vine Tavern & Eatery into a home away from home for Pats fans.
"We call it Foxboro West," said club founder Mike Allen, a Stoughton transplant living in Arizona since 1988.
Fans wearing Patriots jerseys swarmed around Kraft, clad in his signature dark suit with a blue shirt with a white collar. They chanted "P-A-T-S, Pats, Pats, Pats."
"Your enthusiasm, we have to translate to the field on Sunday," Kraft said.
Pro Football Hall of Fame candidate and former Patriot Andre Tippett accompanied Kraft, so the crowd cheered, "Hall of Fame, Hall of Fame."
"This is awesome," Tippett exclaimed.
The Patriots hope to learn Saturday that Tippett will be inducted into the Hall of Fame, Kraft said.
"Hopefully we complete the perfect season and do it because of fans like you and the support you give us," he said.
The New England Patriots Fan Club of Arizona watches their team's games at the Vine every week. The bar is located in a strip mall several miles from downtown Phoenix. It is one of few places in Arizona where people speak with Boston accents and talk about places like Southie, Dorchester and Charlestown. People from North Andover ate dinner a few tables away from people from Lowell.
The club is made up mostly of former New England residents seeking warm sunshine.
"This is like being at home," said former Danvers resident Rick Esposito, 53, who now lives in Cave Creek.
"The Bob Kraft part is really cool, but the best part is being able to come down here and watch games. It gives you a little piece of home," said Melissa Hodgdon, a 33-year-old Haverhill native who moved to Arizona to work on a Senate campaign and now calls Phoenix home.
Among the gleeful attendees were Wendy Gale and Dave Markell of North Andover, who spend winters in Arizona.
"I'll pretend I'm in Foxboro," Gale said.
Allen started the fan club in 1997 after the Patriots lost the Super Bowl to the Green Bay Packers. As he drove home from a house party with fellow Patriots fans living in the desert, he began to wonder.
"I thought, 'Now, if there are that many Patriots fans here, there should be some way to put them all together and start a club,'" he said.
Twenty-four people showed up for the club's first meeting. Today, there are 900 members, Allen said.
"I can't believe that there's this many fans here," said Lindsey Maihos, who lives in North Conway, N.H., and used to live in Danvers.
Not all the members live locally. Kraft is a member, Allen said.
Most of the fans did not have tickets to Sunday's game. Kraft, however, provided two tickets, which were raffled off.
Glendale residents Tim Schofield and Sharon Johnson won. Schofield is originally from Goffstown, N.H., and Johnson is from Springfield, Vt. The two are friends.