FOXBOROUGH — It was a year ago that the Patriots beat the Ravens in the AFC Championship game, after Baltimore missed an easy-peasy 32-yard field goal attempt with 11 seconds remaining. The 2011 season had been dedicated to the late Myra Kraft, who died of ovarian cancer that July.
Though the 2012 season was not dedicated to Myra, and the team no longer wears the “MHK” patches on their uniforms, Patriots owner Robert Kraft is dedicating the Baltimore rematch Sunday to her memory. “It’s the second championship game at home, and it’s in her honor,” Kraft said this week, sitting behind a massive desk in his office at Gillette Stadium.
By now, everyone in Patriots Nation and beyond knows of the close bond between the couple, who were married for 48 years. Kraft’s grief — even as he brokered an end to the 2011 NFL lockout — earned him an outpouring of sympathy.
“I sort of feel robbed,” Kraft said of his wife dying at age 68. “I try to stay very busy, I basically work seven days a week. I try to do new things, to meet new people.”
One of those new people is Ricki Noel Lander, the 32-year-old dancer and actress he’s been seeing. The couple have been spotted arm in arm everywhere from London to Cape Cod to Sun Valley, Idaho. Some of those close to Kraft credit Lander with helping to pull him out of a deep depression brought on by his wife’s death.
For the past several months, the Globe has requested an interview with Robert Kraft to discuss his life after Myra, but it wasn’t until this week that he felt ready to talk . On Jan. 11, the Patriots called the Globe to say the interview would happen — if the team beat the Houston Texans.
They did, 41-28, and this week, over the course of an hourlong interview, the Patriots owner discussed his late wife, his memories of her, and the challenges of carrying on. In his office at the stadium, Kraft, 71, would not discuss Lander, saying only that he’s “keeping my private life private.”
Later, he wondered aloud why people care so much about it.
He’d rather talk about Myra, whose death still seems to surprise him. “Myra was the picture of health,” he said. “She weighed 98 pounds, she read four books a week, she ate healthy and exercised every day. Our plan was that she was going to outlive me by 30 years.”
Indirectly, though, he did address the question about Lander.
“I’m blessed with four great children and eight grandchildren,” he said, knocking on the wood of his desk. “But you go home, and you go home alone, and no one’s there. It’s just really sad.” He hastens to add: “No one’s going to feel sorry for me because I’ve been so blessed.”
Still, he sounded as if he was speaking from experience when he added: “I tell you, I would never sit in judgment of anyone, as long as they’re good folks. I would never judge their life because it’s important to know their feelings.”
A year ago, Kraft’s four sons were worried about him. He was in deep mourning for Myra, who had died six months earlier. Always active, Kraft was not sleeping or taking care of himself.
After losing their mother, his sons feared they might lose their father, too.
“You hear about couples married for 50 years, whose lives were totally intertwined, and when one loses their partner, the other doesn’t want to live,” said eldest son Jonathan Kraft, president of The Kraft Group and his father’s closest confidant. “They degrade very quickly. I’ve seen it happen, and we didn’t want that happening to my father.”
Each son spoke to their father separately about how important it was for him to get back on his feet, about how their mother would feel the same way. They told him he needed to reinvest himself in the businesses, friendships, and philanthropy that he and Myra had worked on. The couple has given more than $100 million to charity.
“More important, we told him that we and our children would lose him, and that was an untenable thought,” said Jonathan, 48. “We made it very clear that we all prefer he choose the path of figuring out how to regroup, and part of that was finding companionship. That when the time was right, that would be an important part of the process.”
Jonathan believes their mother would agree.
“She would be the first to say that he couldn’t function on his own, and I say that with a smile,” he said. “My father is someone who needs companionship. From the time he was a junior in college, he and my mom were inseparable.”
Trying to move on
Kraft and Lander were first photographed together courtside at a Celtics game in June, and the blogosphere was abuzz. The Patriots owner introduced Lander as a friend, but it wasn’t long before the actress, who’d appeared on “True Blood,” “Ugly Betty,” and in a couple of small films, was spending time with Kraft at the US Open tennis tournament, at the premiere of “The Bourne Legacy,” and at the high-powered Allen & Co. annual conference in Sun Valley. Lander could not be reached for comment for this story.Continued...