As the undefeated University of Rhode Island football team was gearing up for their next matchup against Towson on October 16th, they expected an eight-hour bus ride to the event. However, what happened next surprised everyone.
When the buses started the journey, players grew suspicious as the bus was headed in a different direction. In fact, it was headed to the airport. As players grew excited that they possibly found a charter flight to Baltimore, what they saw next was an even bigger surprise.
As the buses pulled up to the airport, there was one distinct plane that made itself known; one with six Lombardi trophies and “Patriots” predominantly displayed on the side. This is when players started realizing just what was happening.
They were getting a lift on a New England Patriots plane.
“It’s pretty surreal to take the Patriots plane because a lot of us are Patriots fans,” said senior Henry Yiankopolos. “It’s a pretty cool feeling.”
URI’s head coach Jim Fleming was successful at keeping the reveal a secret on that Friday afternoon. He really wanted the players to have a memorable experience like this. “I think it will be a big thing, a very special moment for them … I think that will be a significant lift for them,” Fleming added.
Before the big reveal, coach Fleming was pretty excited about the surprise. “I’m almost looking forward to that reaction as much as I am the game,” Jim said. But for a week leading up to the big matchup, things were a little stressful for Jim and the Rams. In fact, Fleming didn’t even know how the team was going to get to the game.
This all started when the team had trouble with their originally-scheduled charter flight to Baltimore. As the Rams had already budgeted to take a flight to and from Baltimore, the flight was canceled last minute—there wasn’t an available flight crew. Without any other options for Fleming and his staff, it seemed like the only possible way to get to Baltimore was through an eight-hour bus ride.
Then, Fleming had a pretty wild idea.
Without any other options, Jim decided to get in touch with the New England Patriots and New England Revolution owner. He asked for a plane.
Fleming was expected to use the team’s budget to pay for a ride, but what he received in return almost sent him into shock.
Once the request got to Patriots owner Robert Kraft, not only did he lend the Rams a team plane—Fleming and his staff didn’t have to pay a penny.
While this seems like a very kind gesture someone does once in their lifetime, this isn’t the first occurrence for Mr. Kraft. Just this past summer, Robert Kraft surprised the Boston Renegades with a flight to the WFA Championship in Canton, Ohio. There, they won their sixth title.
Jim Fleming was still blown away with the unbelievably kind gesture.
“It’s an incredible show of support. It’s visible and recognizable by everybody. It probably enhances our opportunity to go out and play as best we can and try to get another W,” said Fleming.
And those W’s have come in abundance this season for the Rams. As the team started the year 5-0, a win against Towson would solidify a winning record for the season, no matter how the rest of the games play out.
Reaching this mark would prove just how far the program has come. Over the past ten years, the Rams have only had one winning season, which came in 2018. While the team has had some top NFL-type talent over the years, the wins haven’t been stacking up. But, this year, in 2021, Jim Fleming has a team to remember.
One reason for the recent success involves the team’s ability to finish out close games. “What is special about this crew is that they’ve been in tight games and been able to win them,” coach Fleming said. “There’s that confidence that is bred from repetitive success,” he adds.
URI’s fifth-year player Henry Yianakopolos says the team has been constantly working towards a season like this, and that it’s awesome to get the recognition from the hometown NFL team.
“It’s great. People start to recognize once you start having success. We’ve worked a long time for this. This is just an added bonus for us to be able to appreciate something like this, the Patriots stepping up and helping us out here. It means a lot,” the senior adds.
It turns out it pays off to have a friend like Robert Kraft. For more information about Robert Kraft, visit him on