More than a tight end – even more than a tight end who just might be the most physically overwhelming guy ever to play the position – New England’s Rob Gronkowski is a cultural cartoon. One of his own making, let’s hasten to add. He seems to largely control the message of Good Time Gronk, which surely makes him wiser than you might think.
When wrestler/actor John Cena does a parody of Gronkowski on “Saturday Night Live,” depicting him as a big Labrador puppy of a fellow not smart enough to answer a game-show question when he is given the response, is he insulted? Is he angry?
No, he is Gronk.
“I thought it was an honor to be built in as a character for John Cena,” he said during Monday’s “Opening Night” to Super Bowl LIII at State Farm Arena. “He can make fun of me as much as he wants. It was pretty cool for me to see him do that.”
Such a free-spirited outlook within the sterile confines of the NFL is the kind of thing that makes Gronkowski stand out as wildly popular. The world is his wing man. He is that friend from high school who never quite grew up, only supersized.
And, yes, just call him Gronk; everyone else does. It’s a nickname from simpler times – the Pleistocene Era.
Gronk good. Gronk feel good now. Gronk have fun. Look out Rams, here come Gronk.
And you’ll be happy to know that while he is in Atlanta performing in the Super Bowl against the Los Angeles Rams, his place back home will be much better secured than during the last Super Bowl. Seems one of his roommates – he lives with the kind collection of brothers and buddies that you’d expect of an arrested frat boy – didn’t set the alarm system. While Gronkowski was off in Minnesota experiencing the rare feeling of not winning a Super Bowl, someone broke into the place. The perps, later apprehended, reportedly stole an Apple Watch, a Rolex, a couple of rare coins and multiple firearms. What, you were expecting they’d make off with some Lladro porcelain figurines?
But that won’t happen again, his brother assured TMZ earlier this week. The guys are on it, so that should make him feel secure.
The view of this dominant player in his fourth Super Bowl has been a simplistic one. But we like our caricatures simple, the more lovable and lug-like, the better. The scope of Gronkowski’s career – no tight end has more career playoff catches, yards or touchdowns – suggests it would be impossible to do all that while engaging in a non-stop party. His perseverance through a litany of injuries – fractured forearm (twice), back and knee surgeries, concussions, a lung bruise – lets you know the dude must have a focused and determined side.
No mistake, Gronkowski seemed to be having the most fun at Monday night’s “Super Bowl Opening Night,” the player who was most at one with the nonsense. From the moment he broke into a dance on the stage during the team introduction to his last smiling utterance on the podium, he won the event.
“A time like this, you gotta be able to come out and enjoy,” he said. “Times like this are good times.”
Gronkowski, after all, even has been able to inject humor into a Sean Spicer media briefing. When the Patriots made their White House visit following the 2017 Super Bowl amid some tension and controversy – Tom Brady, for one, skipped the trip – Gronkowski broke away and popped his head into the briefing and asked, “Need some help?” If he can lighten up that room, you don’t think he’s going to suddenly slip into rigor mortis at a Super Bowl event that included a guy in a clown suit working the floor?
He was made for such a stage.
So, when an Emory student asked him to come by the frat for a snow-day party Tuesday, he laughed, “I might be able to make that one.”
And when he wrapped up Hall of Famer and NFL Network personality Michael Irvin in a big hug, he felt compelled to blurt out, “Whoa, I’m sorry man. I’m motor-boating you.” That went out live over the network.
In a more serious light, there was cause to wonder if Gronkowski was enjoying it all with the determination of someone who might not pass this way again. The injuries have piled up against his door like a deep snow drift. He’ll turn 30 in May, and was coming off the least productive regular season in which he played 13 or more games since his rookie year of 2010. Seeming to slow down and losing more of the fights to get open, he had a resurgence this postseason, highlighted by a six-catch, 79-yard performance in the AFC Championship game.
That game inspired big kudos from his quarterback, as well as a reminder that there is more to Gronkowski than the caricature. “He was playing his butt off,” Tom Brady said. “He has done that all year. He is out there and, and whatever we ask him to do, he does with an enthusiasm about him.
“The kind of guy he is – I know everyone doesn’t know him personally – but he is just a great man. I’m just so happy to be able to play with him for as long as we have.”
Gronkowski reportedly is taking a page from Brady’s book and has started to take a little better care of his work tools, his body. Teammates have noticed a growing maturity around the training complex.
“I think he has this persona of this party animal that’s always out partying, but if you see him, when he was young, he was always in the weight room, always lifting the heaviest weights,” safety Devin McCourty said. “He was a big meathead.
“I would say he probably does less meathead things and more functional movement now.”
Persisting is the question of how much longer this 6-foot-6, 245-pound tight end – there is so much more of him to hit – can absorb downfield punishment.
On Monday, Gronkowski was happy and defiant. “How many more years could my body take? In my opinion? That's a good question. Many,” he said.
“Many, many, many, many years. ... There is no number. As much years as I want to go. Yeah, I feel good. But, I mean, if you just work hard enough through the work days, you can keep going.”
He will give it some serious thought – yes, he is capable of serious thought – once Sunday is done.
“I love playing the game. After a long season, a few weeks down the road, you sit back, you relax, you get some down time, enjoyment time. And you just see where you want to go with it.”
Certain things even Gronkowski does not take lightly.
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