Rob Gronkowski was visibly excited to hear a familiar voice on Thursday.
Speaking to reporters via Zoom, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers tight end was greeted by Herald columnist Karen Guregian. When Gronkowski heard Guregian’s voice, his face brightened.
“Oh Karen,” he enthused. “Hello! Where are you, Boston?! This is crazy. You’re Zooming into our press conferences. This is nuts.”
— JennaLaineESPN (@JennaLaineESPN) January 21, 2021
In reality, this is the new normal for sports coverage — reporters no longer have 1-on-1 access to players, but they are able to call in from across the country and talk to players like Gronkowski who have moved on to other teams. Guregian explained this to Gronkowski, who nodded, still beaming.
The former Patriots star will likely hear from familiar reporters frequently over the next few days and beyond if the Buccaneers beat the Green Bay Packers on Sunday and advance to the Super Bowl. Both Gronkowski and — of course — Tampa Bay quarterback Tom Brady remain of high interest in New England, where they played most of their careers.
After reuniting in Tampa Bay this season, Brady and Gronkowski have been able to recreate some of their former chemistry off the field, even if the on-field chemistry has some sticking points. In Tampa Bay’s 30-20 victory over the New Orleans Saints last weekend, Brady overthrew Gronkowski and made sure he spoke to his long-time friend about it.
“He told me I was running too slow, so that’s why the ball was overthrown,” Gronkowski said. “I told him he’s just got to stop working out, because his arms are too strong, and he can’t read my speed.”
Then Gronkowski grew serious.
“If we’re being for real, those are plays him and I have to connect on,” he said. “We have to connect from here on out. There’s no, ‘Oh, next game we’ll connect. We got next practice.’ No, it’s go-time now. It’s you win, or you go home if you lose. So those plays that we missed on, obviously, it would have helped the team tremendously if we hit them. You never know down the road, it could be the game-changer play if you hit one of those. We have to hit those coming up.”
Gronkowski would know how important those plays can be. With the Patriots, the star tight end played in three Super Bowls and 16 total playoff games.
When asked which game is most memorable to him, Gronkowski said that — aside from the Super Bowl victories — the 2018 AFC Championship against the Kansas City Chiefs is a big one. The Patriots claimed an overtime thriller as Tom Brady led a 75-yard drive down the field on the first possession of the extra frame, which included three third-down conversions. Rex Burkhead capped off the drive with a two-yard touchdown run through Kansas City’s exhausted defense.
The victory sent the Patriots to the Super Bowl for the third consecutive year, where they defeated the Rams 13-3.
“That game is very memorable, big time,” Gronkowski said. “And like you said, all the games are super tough, and some can be more memorable than others, whether it’s divisional round or for the championship, but it definitely can sometimes have big meanings just for one game only.”
This year’s Buccaneers team is good enough to play in some games with “big meanings.” Guregian’s question, after she finished educating Gronkowski on sports writing in 2021, was whether the Buccaneers’ offense is the most talented on which he has ever played.
“Oh yeah, I would say it definitely ranks up there, if not No. 1,” Gronkowski said. “I’ve been around a lot of great talented players, but I would say overall as a group, just from position to position and just how many guys we have at each position, I would say that this definitely ranks up there, if it’s not No. 1, for talent-wise as a whole.”
A team that talented might warrant a return. Gronkowski, 31, has hinted he’s open to coming back and 43-year-old Brady seemingly might play forever. A reporter asked Gronkowski — who has already retired once — whether he sees himself in Tampa Bay again next season.
“Oh yes, definitely,” Gronkowski said. “I don’t see why not. Obviously, there’s logistical things, and I’m on a one-year deal, and my main focus obviously is the season, going to Green Bay, but if I had that question now, I don’t see why I wouldn’t be coming back for the 2021 season.”
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