The headline is a head-scratcher: “Robert Kraft: My GF Gave Birth But I’m NOT the Father!” shouts a Thursday tweet from gossip site TMZ Sports.
It’s just the latest in a surprising series of stories for the NFL’s most buttoned-up franchise, one that prides itself on saying as little as possible, no matter what’s bubbling under the surface.
On Wednesday night, PageSix.com posted a story claiming that there was “speculation” that 76-year-old Kraft, the New England Patriots’ owner and CEO, had fathered a secret child with his much-younger girlfriend, Ricki Noel Lander.
But Kraft’s representative has since released a statement to Page Six and TMZ clarifying the situation, and saying, well, Kraft isn’t the baby daddy.
“Last fall, Ricki Noel Lander became the proud mother of a beautiful, healthy baby. While Robert Kraft is not the biological father, he is thrilled with Ricki’s blessing of having a healthy child. With respect to her family’s privacy, we will not be commenting any further,” it said.
The statement brings up more questions, but frankly, those aren’t our business.
Still, though, it’s just the latest in a string of strange stories emanating from Patriotsland, where coach Bill Belichick requires you say as little as possible, and less than that, if you can.
On Wednesday at the NFL Scouting Combine, Matt Patricia, who is now the Detroit Lions rookie head coach but just a few weeks ago was the Patriots’ defensive coordinator, was still fielding questions about what happened with New England cornerback Malcolm Butler in Super Bowl LII. Butler’s benching in the loss to the Philadelphia Eagles – he was in uniform but played just one snap, on special teams, never getting in on defense even after it became clear the second, third and fourth options on the field in his place weren’t getting the job done – remains one of the great mysteries in recent NFL memory, and one that we’re not likely to get a firm answer on anytime soon, given that Belichick is the only one who could provide a true answer.
Then there’s the odd Rob Gronkowski situation. The tight end fielded questions after the Super Bowl that he was considering retirement, and didn’t affirm that he’ll play again in 2018.
Earlier this week, an NBC Sports Boston reporter said on-air that Gronkowski has been unhappy and unsure of how long he’ll play dating back to training camp last year.
But on Wednesday, NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport said Gronkowski is “expected” to play this coming season, and Gronkowski, who isn’t a prolific tweeter, posted “#clueless” a short time later with a shrug emoji. He also continues to openly flirt with the idea of joining the WWE; he counts wrestling personality Mojo Rawley as a friend.
Could it have been in direct response to Rapoport? We can’t be sure, but again, it was a little odd.
One other bit of soap-opera drama for a franchise that eschews it was Josh McDaniels’ flip-flop. The Patriots’ offensive coordinator had accepted the Indianapolis Colts’ offer to be their head coach, the Colts officially announced the hiring – and then McDaniels bailed.
Hours after the Colts announced the hire of McDaniels but after weeks of interviews and adding assistants to his staff, he said thanks but no thanks, opting to stay in New England, where he’s enjoyed the most success by far.
Indianapolis hired former NFL quarterback and Eagles offensive coordinator Frank Reich a few days later.
And these are just the latest stories. ESPN’s Seth Wickersham wrote a heavily-sourced story at the beginning of the NFL playoffs saying that things were not hunky-dory at One Patriots Place, and that there was feuding between Belichick, Kraft and Tom Brady.
Wickersham’s story was loudly criticized by Boston-area reporters and in a rare move, the Patriots released a statement attributed to the team’s top triumvirate that attempted to squash any notion that their relationships are on thin ice.
Nearly two months later, drama continues to follow the Patriots.