Patriot Legend Rob Gronkowski Retires

Tight end legend and former New England Patriot Rob Gronkowski retired from the NFL Sunday. (Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

With the score tied 3-3, and 7:45 to go in Super Bowl LIII the New England Patriots offense needed a spark. Tom Brady dropped back, looked deep left, and arched a 29-yard ball into the hands of one of the greatest football players of all-time, Rob Gronkowski. 

That catch would be his last, and how poetic it was. Throughout his career, Gronk demonstrated an ability to make the game easier for those around him. Whether absorbing coverage to create options for his fellow receiving targets, or his unrivaled blocking ability at the tight end position. This catch was no different as it set up rookie running back Sony Michel for the Super Bowl-winning two-yard score. 

Although he caught ten touchdowns in his rookie season in 2010, the legend of the Gronk really began in his record-setting 2011 season. That year he played all 16 games and caught 90 passes for 1,327 and an NFL record 17 touchdowns by a tight end, a mark that still stands. He would not play a full 16-game season the rest of his career.

Gronk suffered 16 injuries throughout his nine seasons that either severely limited him or kept him out altogether. He missed 29 games. 

In the 2012-13 season he suffered a high ankle sprain, inguinal hip pull and a pair of forearm fractures. In the 2013-14 season he suffered a back vertebral fracture, and was simultaneously struck with a grade one concussion and torn ACL/MCL that ended his season. In 2015-16 he was hit with a bone bruise/right knee sprain. In the 2016-17 season he suffered a thigh hamstring strain, chest lung bruise, back vertebral disc hernia and a leg thigh bruise. And in 2017-18 he experienced a grade one concussion and a pair of lower lumbar strains. 

The most amazing part about the career of Rob Gronkowski was his dominant productivity despite being plagued with injuries. Since 2010, no player had caught more touchdowns than Gronk with 88, 13 ahead of the second place Dez Bryant. He also finishes his career as the leading postseason tight end in NFL history with 81 receptions for 1,163 yards and 12 touchdowns.

Where the future Hall of Famer was most feared was in the red zone. In a Brady led offense that loves to spread the ball around, there was no question who it was going to once the Patriots got inside the 20. Opponents would routinely double team Gronk, but to no avail. He averaged a touchdown once every 6.6 receptions and averaged 0.69 touchdowns per regular-season game. Both of these numbers rank third all-time among receivers with 500 catches or more. If not for his extremely limited 2018 campaign, he may very well have led in both categories. 

What truly separated Gronk from other tight ends was his ability to affect the game without the ball in his hands. In their three games to glory last season, the Patriots steamrolled opponents for 485 rushing yards behind the blocking of Gronk. He was an offensive lineman with wide receiver hands and speed. 

As a personality, Gronk defied the “Patriot Way,” something that no other player in the Belichick era has been able to do without being traded or cut. We have seen the pettiness of Belichick in the past (Malcolm Butler benching) and that he has no tolerance for any nonsense (Chandler Jones trade). The one exception, however, was Rob Gronkowski. That being said, no other Patriot worked harder than Gronk year after year to get his papier-mâché body as ready as physically possible every Sunday. He partied hard, but worked even harder. 

After their latest Super Bowl victory, the New England Patriots dynasty now has two relatively symmetrical era’s spanning two decades, each run consisting of three Super Bowl victories. The first three had no true offensive superstars outside of Brady, the second however, was dominated by Gronk. Who knows how the Patriot dynasty would have unfolded if they didn’t draft the head-butting frat star out of Arizona in the 2010 NFL draft. They certainly don’t win three more Super Bowls. 

“Just put football first, or your job first. Give everything you’ve got all week, work hard, work super-hard to take it to the next level every week,” Gronkowski once said. “And when you feel like you got to the point where you want to be, you definitely need the time to go out, relax, have a good time, and take all the stress off it.”