Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski is such a beloved player not just because he dominates football games in a way unmatched by anyone else who has ever played the position — though that is certainly a big part of it — but also because he has such an unabashed damn good time doing it.
No, Gronk does not seem like a complicated dude, and he finds such joy living in the moment so much that there isn’t time — or presumably even a need — for introspection.
He’s too busy throwing opposing defensive backs out of the club and making ridiculous one-handed catches to spend much time pondering his place in the football universe, you know?
Except sometimes he has done just that. As revealed in an interview with ESPN’s Lindsay Czarniak that will be posted in full on ESPN.com tomorrow and featured in the December 12 edition of ESPN The Magazine, Gronk opened up about several topics, including his fears about his football future after his devastating knee injury last season and how his relationship with Tom Brady has evolved since his rookie season.
Gronkowski confirmed that the low point of his career was probably what we would suspect: the hours and days after he suffered a torn MCL and ACL in his right knee after a vicious low hit by the Browns’ T.J. Ward last December 8.
“When I went down with the knee, I didn’t know what to expect. That night, I was thinking all these crazy thoughts in my head. ‘What’s going on? Why is this happening? I just got back.’
“[I was wondering whether] I was ever going to be able to play football again? What’s going on with my career? I was just thinking things like that. You’ve got tears going down your eyes. You’ve got your trainers right there and my parents right there. I was just thinking, ‘Is this it?’I didn’t know what a knee injury was. I’d never felt pain like that.”
Gronkowski said he doesn’t remember the aftermath with complete clarity because he also suffered a concussion on the play. But he does remember being overwhelmed with emotion as he waited for the diagnosis.
“I remember I was on the X-ray machine after they carried me off the field on the cart,” he said. “I mean, I kind of had a concussion too, so I really don’t remember. But I was actually bawling out on the machine when I was getting X-rays on my knee. And I was holding on to my trainer’s hand and my dad was right there and I was just bawling like, ‘Is this it? Am I done?’ I barely remember any of it. I just remember those little stages of it, because of the concussion.”
Gronkowski also provided insight on his relationship with Brady. While it may have seemed to outside observers that Gronkowski grasped the offense and clicked with Brady early in his rookie season, it turns out the demanding quarterback was tough on him in the beginning.
“We have a great relationship,” Gronkowski said. “We goof around in the locker room. Out on the field, we have great chemistry and a great connection. We’re good friends for sure, and we feel like we’re way different now than where we were my rookie year.
“He always used to yell at me and get on my case. I was like, ‘Man, this dude, why is he coming at me like that?’ He would always be making sure my routes were on point, yelling at me to be where I’ve gotta be. Then he came up to me one day and he was like, ‘Yo, Rob, you know I love you. I just see a lot of potential in you. I’m just trying to get on the same page. I want your max performance out there.’ And when he said that, it all clicked. I was like, ‘Oh, now I know why he’s being like that.’ That actually made me more motivated. I’ve gotta get on the right step. If Tom Brady believes I can do it, then I believe. It was meaningful when he said, ‘I love you and I see so much potential in you.’
Did Gronkowski share that conversation with anyone close to him after that happened?
“Nah, not really,” he told Czarniak with a laugh. “I always told my friends that he was always mean to me.”