An appeal to the exuberant tight end, the man synonymous with the number 87 jersey, and the Patriots star who is arguably one of the best offensive players in the league, to not leave the game that loves him so. By Erin McRitchie
Let’s get one thing straight first, the ‘R’ word – retirement – has not yet been mentioned. So, I shall go on in the hope that talk of Rob Gronkowski’s uncertain football future is merely a Super Bowl loss-induced pondering that will not come to fruition.
The Patriots’ tight end didn’t have his greatest game on Sunday. Statistics from the first-half do not well represent his abilities – he caught just one pass, only gaining 9 yards. However, unwilling to go down without a fight, ‘Gronk’ – as he is affectionately known by fans and pundits alike – scored two touchdowns, ultimately connecting with quarterback Tom Brady for 68 yards.
As a whole though, the Patriots usually clinical offense seemed to be swamped by Philadelphia Eagles defence on nearly every play. This eventually led to the Eagles winning their franchise’s first Vince Lombardi trophy.
Even before the outcome of the game became apparent, it was suggested that there may be some serious reshuffling to happen in the Patriots’ camp. No one ever expected this news. Offense favourite Gronkowski was thought, by many, to be a mainstay of the New England set-up. Surely the future Hall-of-Famer won’t just walk away from the game at the age of 28? Right?
With a college playing career that included being voted freshman All-American, Gronkowski was a second-round pick in the 2010 NFL draft, going to the New England Patriots as pick 42.
His rookie season would be filled with firsts, including becoming the youngest rookie in history to catch three touchdown passes in one game. This would also prove to be a Patriots’ first as well.
The 2011 season would be no less profitable for the rising star of the Patriots’ offense. He set another two tight end records; the single-season record for touchdowns – with 18 in total – and the single-season receiving yards, a record he smashed by his staggering total of 1,372 yards.
In these early years, despite becoming the first tight end in history to lead the league in receiving touchdowns, Gronkowski would also suffer injuries. Perhaps most traumatic of these were the ACL and MCL tears he suffered which brought his 2013 season to a premature end.
This couldn’t stop Gronk, however, he would prove his worth by returning with a bang in 2014. Having worked his way back to full fitness in the season’s early games, his presence would be a serious factor in the Patriots Super Bowl XLIX win.
Ultimately, his triumphant return from injury would earn him the honour of ‘NFL Comeback Player of the Year’ at the 2015 ESPY awards.
Things wouldn’t stop there. Gronk would continue to entertain and thrill NFL fans. Over the years he has gained five Pro Bowl selections, five All-Pro selections and, of course, two Super Bowl rings – one, courtesy of the Patriots’ astonishing overtime victory over the Atlanta Falcons in 2017.
But perhaps it isn’t just his outstanding football skills that makes Gronk one of the most recognised, and revered, players in the league. Maybe it’s his personality. Love him or hate him, he possesses the ability to just unashamedly be himself. Or maybe it is just the cheeky smirk that makes it seem he always knows something you don’t, but you sure would like to!
This is a man who swore that upon signing a professional contract, he would buy a party bus. And he did just that.
And the same man who, when quizzed by Jimmy Kimmel about the fight which broke out during Super Bowl XLIX, light-heartedly stated: “I got pushed, or something. So, I was like, screw it. Last game of the year – I’m throwing some Haymakers.” Mind you, for that last one he was fined $8,628.
It has been that thunderous enthusiasm and brute strength that has allowed him to come so far in his career in just a few short years. Rob Gronkowski has accomplished more than many who preceded him, and we may never see the likes of him again.
However, he made the valid point to the media following Sunday’s game that he had just lost the Super Bowl and he would need time to relax before considering any major decisions.
On the other hand, he did not deny any speculation, saying: “I’m definitely going to look at my future, for sure. I’m going to sit down the next couple of weeks and see where I’m at.”
Gronkowski, many would agree, has been one of the greatest New England Patriots to ever pull on the jersey. More than that, he has become synonymous with regenerating the tight end position, much in the same way that players like Tony Gonzalez did before him.
If he does decide that Super Bowl LII in Minneapolis, was his last hoorah, then all that is left to say is simply – thank you. Thank you for every storming run, for every Gronk spike touchdown celebration, for every game he played a part in.
Remember, though – retirement doesn’t mean goodbye. And surely, it would only be a matter of time before we would read the words ‘Hall-of-Fame inductee, Rob Gronkowski’?