Patriots' plane ferries a million masks to U.S. from China

Get ready to root for the New England Patriots. Seriously.

In a remarkable story reported by the Wall Street Journal’s Andrew Beaton, the Patriots’ team plane—emblazoned with the team logo, Lombardi trophies and a gargantuan “6X” to commemorate the team’s Super Bowl wins—became the focus of a humanitarian effort that brought more than a million masks into the United States for the fight against COVID-19.

States are attempting to acquire necessary personal protective equipment to battle the coronavirus pandemic, and one of the most essential items is N95 masks, necessary to protect the health of medical professionals fighting the spread of the virus and caring for those affected. Massachusetts located caches of masks in China; the question was, how to get them to America?

The Patriots' plane in a 2019 file photo. (Photo by Pat Greenhouse/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

The Wall Street Journal recounts the tense story: Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker struck a deal to obtain more than a million masks from Chinese manufacturers, but he needed to get them from China to Massachusetts, and fast. Baker called on Jonathan Kraft, son of Patriots owner Robert Kraft, and the younger Kraft in turn pressed the team’s plane into service. The Kraft family also agreed to pay $2 million, or about half the cost of the estimated 1.7 million masks.

Logistical problems remained. The Patriots’ Boeing 767 is a passenger plane, not meant to carry cargo. And it generally only travels as far as Los Angeles or Seattle; a trip to China would require modifications and enhancements.

The crew would be permitted to stay on the ground for three hours, no more, and would not be quarantined. But they would need visas, so the crew had to run to a pharmacy in Wilmington, Ohio, to get photos while the plane was getting upgrades. After an expedited visa process, the crew was off to Alaska to prepare for the trip to China.

During this time, a Chinese crew mobilized by tech company Tencent collected, inspected and counted the masks. The plane landed on Wednesday morning, East Coast time, and crews loaded up the plane with 1.2 million masks — all that could fit in the plane’s cargo hold.

From there, the masks were flown to Boston. Robert Kraft designated 300,000 to be sent on to New York — so much for an AFC East rivalry — with the hope of helping healthcare workers in New York’s ravaged hospitals.

Update (Friday): The masks got a police escort to New York City, where the death toll reached 1,500 by Friday. Rhode Island and Massachusetts state police escorted the Patriots trailer truck after it dropped off the 900,000 masks in Massachusetts and 100,000 in Rhode Island.

Cheers to the entire New England franchise on a job done well, done right, done quickly. But what else would you expect from the Patriots?

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Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Contact him with tips and story ideas at jay.busbee@yahoo.com, or follow him on Twitter at @jaybusbee.

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