Today, New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski announced his retirement.
Honestly, I didn’t see this coming. I was sure that the allure of playing another season with Tom Brady and competing for another Super Bowl would’ve been enough to convince Gronk to stick around for one more year. But can anybody blame him?
His production has slowed over time as his injuries piled up, but he never stopped being Gronk — which is to say he never stopped being an unprecedented force of nature on the field. Let’s look back on his Hall of Fame resume.
He entered the game as New England’s 20-year-old second round pick in 2010. He walks away from the game as its greatest, most dominant tight end in the league’s history. He’s a three-time Super Bowl champion, five-time Pro Bowler and four-time first-team All Pro selection. He’s the New England Patriots all-time leader in touchdown receptions (79). He’s amassed nearly 8,000 career receiving yards over just 10 seasons. He has more postseason touchdowns AND yards than any other tight end in league history. In 2011, he set a league record by becoming the first tight end to ever score 18 touchdowns in a single season. He did all this in less than a decade of professional football.
But Gronk’s career is marked by far more than just stats on a paper. It’s no secret that he likes to have fun, but I’m not sure anything is as much fun for Gronk than playing football. I’ll never forget the unbridled joy of a Gronk Spike, or the oven-mit like grip he caught passes with, or the way he’d dance around the endzone after a score. His joy was so palpable that it practically bled through the screen right into my living room every Sunday. Gronk made football fun in an era that’s been characterized by scandal, controversy and protest. That, in my opinion, is as much an achievement as anything else.
Here’s a look back at some of those moments (which, admittedly, are probably more fun for Pats fans than anyone else).
Remember his catch against the Denver Broncos back in 2015? Tom Brady called it the best grab he’s ever seen, and this is a guy that’s played with Randy Moss.
Or 2017’s matchup against Pittsburgh, when he and Brady single-handedly destroyed the Steelers defense on their game-winning drive. In a lot of ways, this game captured exactly what Gronk can do to any defense that dares leave him in single coverage. It perfectly characterizes his relationship with Brady. Gronk’s enormous catch radius was Brady’s safety net; an asset that New England took advantage of at any opportunity.
As timed passed and injuries lingered, Gronk was forced to reinvent himself. To be fair, he was always a great blocker, but it’s a skill he found himself increasingly dependent upon once New England realized they couldn’t possibly send him over the middle of the field every week. This particular play here, in a 2014 Sunday Night Football game against the Colts, will forever be the proof that no tight end blocked quite like Rob Gronkowski. Here he is quite literally flattening Sergio Brown:
Many will remember Gronk for his beer-chugging parade-rides or party-boy aesthetic. Others might remember his dominating, game-changing and unprecedented style of play. Nobody would be wrong to remember him that way. But personally, I’ll always hold on to something else. More than anything, he had fun, and so did we.
Happy retirement, Gronk. You will be missed.