A football signed by Tom Brady in his rookie season with the Patriots, along with then-starting quarterback Drew Bledsoe and backup Damon Huard, was a treasured gift from the Kraft Group to the Cannistraro company of Watertown.
The family-owned firm had received the ball as a thank you for the plumbing and fire protection work they had done building CMGI Field, which today is known as Gillette Stadium.
The ball was autographed before Brady led the team on its dynastic run to six Super Bowl wins. But the family loved the pigskin as if it were their very own Lombardi Trophy.
“That ball, to Cannistraro, represents leadership, mentorship and succession ... collaboration ... success that we strive for every day at our company,” John Cannistraro, the company president, said in an interview.
It went missing last month, when the company moved to Woburn. And it took a bit more than a quarterback sneak to get it back.
Cannistraro had a hunch the ball might turn up on eBay, so he searched the online auction site. “Lo and behold, it was front and center with our name blazing across the ball,” he said.
The company called police in Watertown for help. In turn, Watertown detectives teamed up with Woburn police detectives to go undercover to recover the ball. At one point, detectives from each department and a friend the family had recruited also to bid for the ball were bidding against each other, Cannistraro recalled laughing.
“Over the weekend when it was removed from eBay ... our heart dropped because we thought we lost it,” he said. “Until Monday morning, the detectives called us and said, ‘We got the ball!’”
Watertown and Woburn police detectives had set up a meeting with the seller at a location in Woburn and purchased the ball back, Watertown police said in a statement posted to Facebook.
The ball, along with a thank you letter from the Kraft family, was returned in its original Wilson cardboard box, Cannistraro said.
“The right team ended up with the ball and we are thankful,” Cannistraro said. “For a moment though, it was very stressful.”
An investigation about the seller is ongoing, Watertown police said.
The gift is a special memento for the family business, Cannistraro said, symbolizing success through hard work. The ball will now be prominently displayed in their new office, he said.
“Many of the people that worked as apprentices on [the Gillette Stadium] project are now leaders in our firm,” Cannistraro said. “It’s a great symbol for us.”