The University of Rhode Island football team faced a potential eight-hour bus ride to its upcoming game against Towson, a trek capable of tiring the players and threatening its immaculate 5-0 record. Then, like Malcolm Butler's goal-line play in Super Bowl XLIX, the New England Patriots brought a last-minute interception -- this instance being far more helpful to the other team than that Super Bowl.
Patriots owner Robert Kraft sent a team plane to Providence for the URI Rams to use for their Friday trip to Baltimore. URI coach Jim Fleming requested the plane early this week after the Rams' returning charter flight fell through, fully expecting to pay for it with the team budget. Then Kraft not only lent the plane but also covered all costs.
The undefeated URI football team got a surprise from the Patriots!— Ian Steele (@IanSteeleABC6) October 15, 2021
Air Kraft will escort them to their road game at Towson. They thought they had an eight hour bus ride ahead of them.
Video From URI Athletics @abc6 #uri #gorhody pic.twitter.com/MDhcys40Ce
"I almost fell out of my seat … It's incredible for us," Fleming told the Patriots' website. "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."
Ws have been rare for URI over the years. Since 2011, the Rams have secured a winning record only in 2018 -- excluding their 2-1 mark from a pandemic-shortened spring season in 2020. URI went 2-10 in 2019, its last full season.
URI has flipped the script this season by amassing the Colonial Athletic Association's only undefeated record. Rams defensive back Henry Yiankopolos credits the turnaround to why Kraft and the Patriots gave their assistance.
"People start to recognize once you start having success," said Yiankopolos, who called the experience surreal because many of his teammates are Patriots fans. "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.
"We're ready to enjoy the experience, enjoy the journey and get ready to play a game and get back to business," the redshirt senior added. "It's business as usual. We got to stay focused."
URI will look to extend its winning streak to six against Towson (2-3) on Saturday at 4 p.m. ET. The Patriots are hosting the Dallas Cowboys at 4:25 p.m. ET on Sunday, the reason why their team plane was available.