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Patriots loan team plane to Navy to help Midshipmen arrive at Liberty Bowl

By BILL WAGNER | The Capital | Published: December 26, 2019

(Tribune News Service) — It’s not easy to book a charter flight for a college football team’s entire traveling party with two weeks’ notice.

That task is made even more difficult when 79 other teams are trying to do the same thing.

On Dec. 8, matchups for the 40 college football bowl games were announced and 80 schools had to hurriedly put together travel arrangements.

“When all the schools found out their bowl assignments it was a mad scramble to book charter flights. Planes were going fast,” said Robb Dunn, Navy’s deputy director of athletics for administration.

Dunn handles logistics for Navy football and normally gets the job done almost a year in advance. Charter flights for away games for any given season are locked down in February.

During the regular season, Navy charters planes from Southwest Airlines for all road games. However, Dunn knew from the outset that Southwest could not provide a charter for the bowl game.

“It’s the holiday season and Southwest just didn’t have any planes available,” Dunn said.

Dunn began calling various airlines on Dec. 8 to obtain a quote for flying the Navy football traveling party to Memphis for the AutoZone Liberty Bowl. When so many schools are trying to book charters for the same time frame in late December-early January, the competition and short notice drive the price up.

Upon learning Navy would need to pay an exorbitant rate to charter from one of the commercial airlines, Naval Academy athletic director Chet Gladchuk decided to go in a different direction.

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Gladchuk called New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft to inquire whether the National Football League organization could help. Gladchuk knew the Patriots owned two airplanes and wondered if Navy football could charter one.

“I picked up the phone and asked Bob Kraft if it would be a possibility,” Gladchuk said Thursday morning.

It would be safe to say Kraft came through in flying colors. On Thursday morning, the Navy football traveling party flew from BWI Thurgood Marshall Airport to Memphis International Airport aboard one of the private passenger jets owned by the Patriots.

"@NavyFB traveling to the @AZO LibertyBowl in STYLE. Thank You @Patriots,” was the message posted to the Navy Athletics Twitter site early Thursday morning.

Contacted shortly after landing, Gladchuk said the flight was simply phenomenal.

“There’s nothing like being pampered! Everything about the whole experience was absolutely wonderful,” Gladchuk said. “That was just as good as it gets in terms of air travel. It was something everyone really enjoyed. Tremendous gratitude to Mr. Kraft and his people for making it happen.”

Gladchuk has known Kraft for decades, dating back to when the former was athletic director at Boston College. They’ve engaged in numerous discussions in recent years about the prospect of Gillette Stadium hosting either the Army-Navy game or Navy-Notre Dame game.

“We’ve spent a lot of time talking about the possibility of playing a game up there in Foxborough,” Gladchuk acknowledged. “Through that dialogue we’ve developed a relationship and (Kraft) has a standing offer that ‘anything we can do to help, just let us know.’ This situation lent itself to a real unique opportunity for Navy football.”

Both Patriots airplanes are managed and operated by a company known as Team 125. With Kraft’s blessing and based on availability, Team 125 will charter one of the planes upon request.

“Mr. Kraft put us in touch with the company that operates the Patriots planes and things evolved from there,” Dunn said. “Team 125 offered a very competitive price and we knew we had to take advantage of this rare opportunity.”

Dunn said the final contract was signed last Thursday, one week before Navy needed to depart for the AutoZone Liberty Bowl. Had Navy been forced to use one of the commercial airlines, the cost would have been much higher.

“More expensive and not quite the same experience,” Dunn said. “Compared to any commercial airline, the Patriots plane is another world. You’re talking 205 premium seats. Everyone onboard feels like they’re sitting in first class. Of course, the service is incredible. Everything about that plane is top-notch.”

Navy football’s connection to the Patriots begins with head coach Bill Belichick, who grew up in Annapolis. Steve Belichick was the longest-serving assistant coach in Navy football history and his son was raised around the program.

Bill Belichick has been extremely gracious and giving of his time to Navy athletics in general and Navy football in particular over the years. This past August, Belichick served as the keynote speaker for a memorial dinner in honor of former football coaches Rick Forzano and George Welsh, who died one week apart at the start of 2019.

Current head coach Ken Niumatalolo has mentioned on several occasions that he sought Belichick’s advice in the wake of Navy’s disastrous 3-10 record last season. Niumatalolo said the legendary head coach, who has led the Patriots to six Super Bowl championships, provided many words of wisdom during that lengthy telephone conversation.

Liberty Bowl

NAVY VS. KANSAS STATE

Memphis, Tenn.

Tuesday, 3:45 p.m. ET

TV: ESPN Radio: 1090 AM

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