Bill Belichick Honors Robert Kraft's 500th Game ... Gives Owner Game Ball

THE HAND OFF
New England Patriots

Bill Belichick presented Robert Kraft with the game ball after the team's 17-14 win over the Steelers in Pittsburgh ... in honor of Kraft's 500th game as the team's owner.

"We've had a lot of big wins here in Pittsburgh," Belichick told his team ... "We've had a lot of big wins here. I think it's fitting that this one comes on Mr. Kraft's 500th game."

Kraft -- who's owned the Patriots since 1994 -- was choked up ... but managed to speak a few words after his players implored him to deliver a speech.

"What you guys did here today is so sweet for my family, and I thank you all," Kraft told the team. "And, doing it here in Pittsburgh is pretty special. Thank you."

RK said he and his son, Jonathan, have the opportunity to work in different business industries, but none of them compare to the NFL -- mainly because of the players' impact.

Kraft has enjoyed a lot of success during his tenure as the Pats owner -- the team has won 6 Super Bowl championships and was a perennial powerhouse during the Brady/Belichick era.

Miami Dolphins Massive Fire In Stadium Parking Lot ... Several Cars Destroyed

TAILGATE TROUBLE
WSVN

A huge fire broke out in the parking lot at the Dolphins vs. Patriots game on Sunday -- destroying several cars -- and according to at least one witness, it all started after someone left a tailgating grill on.

A spokesperson for Miami-Dade Fire Rescue tells TMZ Sports ... firefighters were called to Hard Rock Stadium at around 1:28 PM after multiple people had seen flames pouring out of cars just outside of the venue.

Thankfully, according to the spokesperson, "firefighters immediately worked to contain and place the fire under control" and there were no reported injuries.

Video shot by multiple people at the arena showed the inferno was massive -- causing huge amounts of black smoke to pour into the stadium.

One witness says the owners of the cars had no idea their rides were destroyed until they returned to the parking lot. Another said the blaze appeared to start after someone had failed to properly extinguish their BBQ.

The MDFR spokesperson said the cause of the fire is still under investigation.

One of the car's owners, Scott Dellorfano, told NBC Miami that his Mercedes S63 -- plus $3k he had in the vehicle -- were destroyed in the fire.

UP IN SMOKE
Miami-Dade Fire Rescue

The somewhat good news to come for Miami fans during the day? Their team at least won, beating the Patriots 20-7.

Mike Tyson Suite Life With Robert Kraft ... At Patriots Game

Robert Kraft had a champion in his corner as New England kicked off its 2022 season ... with the Patriots owner hosting none other than Mike Tyson in his suite.

Iron Mike was on hand at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, FL. ... where he watched as the Pats fell to the division rival Dolphins, 20-7.

Mike had a seat right next to Kraft, who was sitting next to his son, Jonathan, -- and the two appeared to be chummy throughout the game as the Pats and 'Fins duked it out on the field.

No word on what exactly led to the meetup ... but Mike and Kraft seemed to have a lot to talk about throughout the duration of the game.

The day didn't go without an awkward moment, though -- At one point, Tyson went to give Kraft a fist bump, who missed the cue, but the two managed to clean it up at the end.

RK has hosted several high-profile celebrities at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, MA -- but having the former knockout specialist as a guest is pretty hard to beat.

Hakeem Nicks Giants Super Bowl Ring ... Fetches $117K At Auction

Parting ways with his Super Bowl ring just got much easier for Hakeem Nicks ... 'cause TMZ Sports has learned the former NY Giants star's bling fetched a whopping $117,000 at auction this weekend.

The gavel officially dropped on Saturday -- netting Nicks around $40K more than what Heritage Auctions officials had initially expected it to sell for.

It's great news for not only Nicks ... but charities as well -- as we're told the former wideout had planned to donate a portion of the proceeds to those in need.

Nicks initially put the piece up for sale earlier this month ... after he helped Eli Manning and the G-men win it back in 2012.

Nicks piled up 10 catches and 109 yards in the SBXLVI win over Tom Brady's New England Patriots.

No word on who the buyer was -- but congrats on obtaining the piece of football history!

Panthers, Patriots Brawl At Joint Practice ... Fan Injured In Melee

The Patriots and Panthers' joint practice Wednesday looked more like a WWE match ... 'cause the two teams got into a huge brawl -- and the skirmish was so big, a fan was actually injured in the melee.

The fight initially started after Carolina star running back Christian McCaffrey was pissed over a tackle Patriots defensive end Deatrich Wise Jr. put on him during 11-on-11 drills.

The 26-year-old got up after the hit and threw the ball at the Pats D-lineman ... and that's when all hell broke loose.

Video shows a bunch of Panthers players going after Wise and his teammates right near fans who were sitting in the bleachers -- and, at one point, players were thrown into the spectators.

According to Pat's reporter Tom Curran, a woman sitting in the stands was injured after one of the players' helmets hit her foot.

She reportedly refused any medical help, and did get an offer for tickets to a game later this season.

This is the second brawl between the Panthers and Pats this week -- on Tuesday, several players, including Pats' Kendrick Bourne, Kristian Wilkerson, and Panthers' Kenny Robinson, went at it.

Their preseason game on Friday just became a must-watch!

Patriots' James White 3x Super Bowl Winning RB ... Retires From NFL

James White is hanging up his cleats ... the New England Patriots running back announced Thursday he's retiring from the NFL after 8 seasons in the league.

White -- AKA "Sweet Feet" -- shared the announcement on social media ... in a heartfelt post where he addressed the Pats organization.

"It has been an honor to represent my family, my teammates, and the people of New England as a Patriot!" said White.

"Reflecting on my nine years in the NFL, and all the sacrifices it took to get here, there are many people that were just as much part of this journey."

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The three-time Super Bowl champ thanked Robert Kraft and Bill Belichick for "giving me the opportunity to live out my childhood dream" ... calling it a "tremendous blessing" and "honor."

"To say that Foxboro will always hold a special place in my heart is an understatement. It's been the most significant chapter of my adulthood; my kids were born here," James wrote.

"It's the place we know the best as adults and where I have grown and created my family."

Kraft released a statement on White's retirement ... saying, "James White has always been one of the most reliable and dependable players on the field."

"Our fans will remain eternally grateful for his record-setting performance in Super Bowl LI when he helped the Patriots overcome a 20-3 deficit by scoring 20 points, including the game-winning touchdown in overtime."

White -- selected by the Pats in the fourth round of the 2014 NFL draft -- was one of the most reliable weapons for Tom Brady out of the backfield and as a receiver.

The highlight of White's career was his performance in Super Bowl LI against the Falcons. With the game knotted at 28-28 in overtime, "Sweet Feet" scored the decisive touchdown ... sealing the game for the Pats.

JW finished the game with 14 receptions for 110 yards (129 yards total), scoring 3 touchdowns and a 2-point conversion. A legitimate argument could be made he earned SB MVP honors ... and Brady may have agreed. Tom gave James his MVP prize ... a brand new truck.

White only played in 3 games last season ... due to a hip injury that sidelined him for most of the year.

White's ex-teammate, Julian Edelman, showed respect to James' career, writing, "Mr. Reliable. Congrats on a legendary career bubs @SweetFeet_White."

In March, White signed a 2-year, $5 million contract extension keeping him in New England ... but, it appears he's had a change of heart.

Congrats on an awesome career!!

Ex-Patriot Rich Ohrnberger I Intentionally Crashed My Car ... Running Late, Scared Belichick Would Cut Me

TOTALLY TARDY
XTRA1360/ Hartman & Rich O Show

Former Patriots O-lineman Rich Ohrnberger was so afraid of being cut by Bill Belichick ... he intentionally rear-ended a van while on his way to practice after running late to a team meeting!!

Ohrnberger -- a fourth-round pick in the 2009 NFL draft -- made the confession Thursday on the "The Hartman And Rich O Show" ... saying he purposely got into a fender bender so he wouldn't have to face the wrath of the future Hall of Fame head coach.

"I was driving a Chevy Tahoe, and it says I'm late already," Ohrnberger recalled, continuing, "Or, I'm gonna be. I'm like 5 minutes to being officially late, and I've got a 15-minute drive ahead of me."

Rich -- who only spent two seasons with New England -- said he was terrified of what the notoriously strict coach might do.

"I had this sinking feeling in my stomach," and the entire time, he kept thinking to himself, "I'm gonna get cut."

Ohrnberger said he noticed a beat-up van and came up with the idea that if he got into an accident, that would be the perfect excuse for why he was late for the team meeting.

"And I'm cruising down this slight sloping hill that brings you to the first traffic light," Ohrnberger said, "that I have to turn right to get to the stadium for the morning meeting."

"I see a church van in front of me that's all dinged up, and it's got the black smoke coming out of the exhaust pipe, and I'm just like, 'I'm gonna hit this car.'"

Ohrnberger said he figured it's better to deal with the consequences of the collision -- banging up his car, etc. -- than dealing with Bill scolding him for being tardy.

Little did Rich know ... the church van he hit had an elderly man inside, but luckily, the old guy didn't sustain any injuries during the minor collision, and his van was okay, too.

Bottom line ... be on time for Belichick's meetings!!

Robert Kraft Gifts Elton John Pats Helmet, Ball Before Last Gillette Gig

New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft had special gifts for Elton John before his final performance at Gillette Stadium ... giving the music legend a customized football and autographed helmet!!

The team posted the touching moment on social media Thursday ... showing Kraft and Sir Elton sharing a smile and holding the presents before the second of two sold-out shows at the Patriots' home venue.

As it turns out, the two are very close friends ... and John is a big fan of the 6-time Super Bowl winners. In fact, the "Tiny Dancer" singer even served as the Pats' honorary captain when they played at Wembley Stadium in 2009.

The commemorative game football reads "Sir Elton John" and the tour's logo ... while the helmet appears to have a special hand-written message from Kraft to his buddy.

"A gift fit for the 🚀 man," the Pats said in a tweet.

The "Farewell Yellow Brick Road" tour is Elton's last go-round in North America ... which means Thursday night was the last time he'll headline at Gillette -- that is, unless he pulls a Tom Brady.

Mark Wahlberg Still High On Baker Mayfield ... After Panthers Trade

LOOKIN' TOWARDS THE FUTURE
TMZSports.com

Mark Wahlberg is still pulling for his guy, Baker Mayfield ... telling TMZ Sports the new Carolina Panthers quarterback has a "bright future ahead of him" -- even if it's not in Foxborough.

Remember, Wahlberg previously told us TWICE he saw #6 as Tom Brady's successor with the New England Patriots ... saying Mayfield was the "heir to the throne."

7/6/19
HEIR TO THE THRONE
TMZSports.com

Of course, that was before a guy named Mac Jones came along ... and while he's "absolutely" still a fan of Bake, Mark is coming to terms with the fact he won't be seeing him in a Patriots uniform anytime soon.

"It's a very stacked field at the quarterback position," Wahlberg said in New York this week. "It also has to do with the coach and the team, but he's got a big, bright future ahead of him."

6/9/18
DOWN TO BAKE
TMZSports.com

Mayfield was recently traded to the Panthers after a bad falling out with Cleveland ... which was sparked by the Browns' pursuit of Deshaun Watson.

Baker says he felt disrespected by the Browns' handling of the situation ... but says he's moved on and is excited for a fresh start in Charlotte.

As for his beloved Pats, Mark says they had an okay season last year ... and understands they're rebuilding to return to dominance.

Rob Gronkowski I'm Really Retired For Good ... Even If TB12 Calls Me

AIN'T GOIN' BACK FOR BRADY
Mike Reiss / ESPN

The speculation can be put to rest -- Rob Gronkowski says his football-playing days are officially behind him ... and not even Tom Brady can change his mind.

The 33-year-old future Hall of Famer doubled down on his decision to walk away from the game just minutes ago ... saying he's excited to focus on new opportunities after 11 seasons on the field.

"Yeah, I'm done with football," Gronk said Tuesday. "Love the game. Definitely blessed with all the opportunities the game of football has given me and the relationships I’ve met, obviously, here in New England for nine seasons and down in Tampa for two."

"But, no, done with football. Stepping my feet into the business world, the business ventures and just seeing what’s out there and where I can find my place."

The comments come one week after teammate Mike Evans addressed Gronk's status ... saying he was hoping to see him back on the field for the Buccaneers in 2022, but knows it's probably for the best.

"He takes a pretty big beating," Evans told KPRC 2 Houston. "I've seen his body after some of them games and I understand why [he would retire]."

As for whether the GOAT could step in and get his beloved target back on the field for one more shot at a Super Bowl together, Gronk makes it clear he'd answer if his buddy called ... but there's no chance he could persuade him.

Ex-NFL Star Martellus Bennett Calls Jimmy Garoppolo A 'Bitch' ... Julian Edelman Says He 'Understands' Jab

Ex-NFL star Martellus Bennett just unloaded on Jimmy Garoppolo ... saying his former QB in New England is a "bitch" -- and Julian Edelman seems to be cosigning the jab.

Martellus made the remarks when he joined his former Patriots teammates, Devin and Jason McCourty, on their "Double Coverage" podcast ... claiming no NFL team can win with Jimmy G at the helm because he believes the signal-caller is soft.

Bennett went on to explain he developed that opinion following the way Garoppolo filled in for Tom Brady during the GOAT's four-game suspension back in the 2016 season.

You'll recall, Garoppolo helped the Pats win the first two games of the season ... but he injured his non-throwing shoulder in Week 2, and sat out the ensuing two games due to the ailment -- something Bennett clearly thinks was a no-no.

"We lost two games," Bennett said. "One of them is because Jimmy Garappolo was being a bitch. He quit before us on the last -- decided not to play right before the game."

"So, we went out there, Jacoby [Brissett] came out and played with a f***ked-up thumb, [and] played his heart out. But, Jimmy was just being a bitch about it all."

Bennett added, "And he's still being -- like, that's why, you can't win with a bitch for a quarterback."

Julian Edelman, who played alongside Bennett on the Pats, was asked about Martellus' feelings toward Jimmy on a recent episode of the "I Am Athlete" podcast ... and the 3x Super Bowl champ said he felt similarly to Bennett.

"A lot of guys got mad about it," Edelman said. "I'm not going to lie, I got mad about it. I sacrifice my body all day long. I was taking shots for this, numbing up that."

"Ribs, broken ribs, shoulders. You know, Grade 3, hanging on by limbs, just to play," Edelman said. "And, you know, I can understand why Marty thinks like that."

So far, no comment from Garoppolo on the shade.

Rob Gronkowski I'm Retiring ... Again

UPDATE

12:44 PM PT -- Tom Brady just weighed in on his BFF's retirement ... writing in a sweet note on Gronk's Instagram page, "Love you as a man, teammate and friend. One of a kind in every way❤️"

UPDATE

He later added in a lengthier post on his own IG page, "Having Gronk in your locker room was every NFL players dream. I'm proud of all that we've accomplished together, and even more excited for all you have ahead of you.

UPDATE

Waiting for your permission to load the Instagram Media.

UPDATE

The Buccaneers also wished Gronk a goodbye in a statement Tuesday afternoon, calling the tight end "a true professional who left it all on the field for us the past two seasons and helped establish a championship culture in our building."

Rob Gronkowski is once again hanging up his cleats ... the legendary tight end has just retired from football for the second time in his career.

The Tampa Bay star announced the news Tuesday ... this after he initially came out of retirement to play with Tom Brady and the Bucs in 2020.

In his two seasons with TB12 in Florida since, he won another Super Bowl ring ... and caught 100 more passes for 1,425 yards and 13 TDs.

"I want to thank the whole entire first class Buccaneers organization for an amazing ride, trusting me to come back to play and help build a championship team," Gronk said in a lengthy retirement post on his Instagram page.

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"I will now be going back into my retirement home, walking away from football again with my head held high knowing I gave it everything I had, good or bad, every time I stepped out on the field."

Gronk first called it quits following the 2018 season ... saying after a 9-year stint with Brady and the New England Patriots, his body didn't feel well enough to keep going.

Gronk had toyed with the idea of coming back for a third season in Tampa Bay this offseason, telling TMZ Sports he was staying "in shape" just in case he got the itch to play again. But, apparently, that itch never came ... and he seemed sure of his decision in his announcement Tuesday.

4/29/22
FOCUSED ON PARTYIN'
TMZSports.com

"From retirement, back to football and winning another championship and now back to chilling out," Gronk said, "thank you to all."

What's interesting ... Gronk's agent, Drew Rosenhaus, said there is at least a small chance this isn't the end of Rob's historic career ... telling ESPN's Adam Schefter, "It would not surprise me if Tom Brady calls him during the season to come back and Rob answers the call. This is just my opinion but I wouldn't be surprised if Rob comes back during the season or next season."

But, for now, it seems the 33-year-old is really done.

See ya in five years in Canton!

Originally Published -- 11:30 AM PT

Robert Kraft Surprises Tuskegee Airman For 100th Birthday ... Gifts Custom Jersey

KRAFTY GIFT
New England Patriots

A Tuskegee Airman got an amazing surprise at his 100th birthday party ... New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft showed up -- and gifted the man a custom jersey!

Sgt. Victor Butler -- who's believed to be Rhode Island's last surviving Tuskegee Airman -- had the celebration on Saturday in North Providence, and just minutes into it, Kraft made a surprise appearance.

The 80-year-old shook Butler's hand, offered a bunch of praise -- and then handed over a Patriots jersey that featured Butler's name and the No. 100.

"We wanted to give you something no one else could give you," Kraft said at the event. "And, maybe it wasn't always easy, but you did what was best for America."

"So, we thank you for that."

The 6-time Super Bowl champion owner also gave Victor a signed football and took pics with the legend as those in attendance cheered, applauded and sang, "Happy Birthday."

What made the event even cooler? The former Sgt. had originally only asked that people send him birthday cards for his big day.

In addition to Kraft's gifts, others also showed up bearing presents -- and there was even a parade thrown his Butler's honor.

Happy 100th, indeed!

Tom Brady Tuck Rule Play 'Might've' Been Fumble ... Woodson Responds

UPDATE

1:59 PM PT -- Charles Woodson is breaking his silence on Brady's comment ... keeping it short, but sweet.

UPDATE

"This what we doing, Brady?"

UPDATE
UPDATE

Something tells us this ain't ending any time soon.

After 20 years of endless debate, Tom Brady is finally caving into the possibility that the controversial "tuck rule play" from the Patriots' 2001 playoff game "might have" been a fumble ... and naturally, the Raiders had something to say.

The 44-year-old took to social media to make the revelation with the help of none other than Justin Bieber on Thursday ... admitting there's a chance he may have gotten away with a fumble that the refs didn't call in the classic AFC Divisional Round game.

Here's the deal -- Bieber posted a TikTok asking his followers to tell him something honest (to promote his new single called, you guessed it, "Honest") ... which opened the door for Brady to make the public admission.

"The Tuck Rule game against the Raiders might have been a fumble," Brady said in the vid ... adding, "Keep this on the down-low please" in the accompanying tweet.

Remember, the Raiders were leading 13-10 with 1:47 left in the 4th quarter when Brady -- who started the season as Drew Bledsoe's backup -- dropped back to make a pass as defensive back, Charles Woodson, was blitzing off the edge.

Brady "lost the ball," but the refs ruled that because his arm was going forward, the play was an incomplete pass -- much to the dismay of Raiders fans.

The rest was history ... as the Pats went on to defeat the Raiders in overtime, 16-13, then march to the Super Bowl, where they beat the Rams, 20-17.

The Raiders' Twitter account had a hilarious reaction to TB12's vid ... saying, "Knew it."

While Brady has seemingly softened his stance on the play, he still believes the refs probably made the right call.

"I said might. Such a tough call. No choice but to respect the official's probably correct decision."

Originally Published -- 9:51 AM PT

Sean McVay Laughs After Pats Pick Cole Strange ... I Thought He'd Be There At 104!!!

DRAFT DAY GIGGLES
Los Angeles Rams

Sean McVay couldn't help but chuckle after the New England Patriots drafted Cole Strange with the 29th overall pick ... admitting he thought the Chattanooga center would be available MUCH later in the draft!!

The L.A. Rams coach and GM, Les Snead, chopped it up with reporters after Thursday's first round ... and the two were in really great spirits as they answered questions.

The duo cracked jokes for 5 straight minutes -- after all, with zero picks until the third round, they didn't have too much to worry about.

But, the funniest part of the media sesh came when McVay and Snead found out about the Pats drafting Strange late in the first round ... which came as a shock to them both.

"Wow, Strange just went!" McVay said. "How 'bout that?! And, we wasted our time watching him, thinking he'd be at 104, baby."

Here's the thing -- some people are taking the reaction as shade at Bill Belichick and the Pats, with the interpretation being McVay thinks they reached for the center.

But, as Snead points out, Strange is an incredible talent ... and one of the quickest linemen in the draft.

So, chances are, the guys were laughing at how off they were on the possibility of landing prospect ... but either way, the reaction is hilarious.

We'll see who gets the last laugh come this season.

Vince Wilfork's Son Pleads Guilty To Stealing SB Rings

Vince Wilfork's son, D'Aundre Holmes-Wilfork, pleaded guilty earlier this month to stealing Super Bowl rings and other prized possessions from the New England Patriots legend ... TMZ Sports has confirmed.

According to court documents, Holmes-Wilfork pleaded guilty to felony theft of property greater than or equal to $300,000 as part of a plea deal that he struck with prosecutors on April 20.

Holmes-Wilfork received five years of deferred community supervision as part of the agreement ... meaning the conviction will essentially go away if he keeps his nose clean for the next five years and meets all the conditions of his probation.

As we previously reported, Holmes-Wilfork was initially charged in 2021 with stealing Vince's SB rings, AFC championship rings, 2001 Miami Hurricanes national championship ring and other jewelry.

At the time, authorities said Holmes-Wilfork took the jewelry and sold it without Vince's permission in 2020. According to authorities, police said Vince told them he believed the goods were worth around $400k.

Court records show the stolen jewelry was ordered on April 20 to be returned to Vince.

Holmes-Wilfork's attorney, Mark Aronowitz, told the Galveston County Daily News that Vince had forgiven Holmes-Wilfork for the theft ... saying in a statement, "The outcome that emerged from the case as a result of much self-reflection and healing on the defendant’s part and the willingness of his parents to forgive him and show him unconditional love with the sincere hope that he can be rehabilitated and go on to live a happy and productive life."

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