CHANDLER, Ariz. — Rob Gronkowski’s excellent existence isn’t all about fiestas on Goon-chauffeured party buses and charming women of various demographics (sometimes with furry props, as if he needs the help) and spiking footballs with such ferocity that they register on both the Richter and PSI scales.
I mean, a lot of it is about these things. As it should be. Already a five-year veteran of the NFL, he’s still only 25 years old. He’s young, crazy-talented, boyish-bro charismatic, rich, and famous.
Did we mention young? If you can’t have fun with that lot in life…
“I mean there’s a college kid left in everyone, right?,” philosophized Gronk Wednesday morning when asked about his appreciation of a good party, a skill he honed during his three seasons at the University of Arizona. “I bet you, too, if you could go back, you would [party] for a night or two, so why not? My brother’s still in college, my little brother, so it’s always good to go back and get a little glimpse of it and to hang out with him for a weekend or two.”
When asked why his partying piques so much interest, Gronk grinned.
“Because I’m a baller? Is that a good answer?”
It’s a good answer, and further confirmation that Gronkowski remains game for goofiness and good times. (“It’s all good, kittens are cool,” he said when reminded of that recent ESPN photo shoot in which he was accessorized in felines.)
But it’s not the only answer when considering all that he means to the Patriots. When it comes to the game, when it comes to being a baller on the football field, it’s serious business.
No, Gronk does not take life seriously. He does, however, take his job seriously. And he acknowledges that sometimes it feels like a reminder of that is necessary to those of us on the outside.
“I would say so,” he said when asked if he feels like his dedication to his career is sometimes overlooked. “I feel like they underestimate the hard work and dedication behind the scenes for everyone. Just going in the weight room when it’s your time to work out, the meetings behind the scenes, the practicing during the week. I mean, I feel like some people just look at it like you go out there on game day and play, but that’s not really the case.”
Patriots coach Bill Belichick has always been quick to laud Gronkowski’s work ethic and coachability. The coach was practically effusive with his praise yesterday.
“He works hard, he competes well, he listens, we tell him to do something and he really tries hard to do it. I have tremendous respect for Rob and the way he goes about his job,” Belichick said.
“Rob always has a great energy and enthusiasm for the game, is always ready to go, loves to practice, loves to work, works hard in the weight room, competes well all the time. You never really have to get on Rob and go, ‘You know, that wasn’t your best,’ or that kind of thing. He’s always out there working hard.”
Belichick acknowledged that Gronkowski further sharpened his focus after enduring more than his share of significant injuries, including a broken arm in 2012 and a severe knee injury that ended his 2013 season.
“Maybe just a little extra level [of commitment] there now,” Belichick said. “Coming back multiple times, he’s come back from various setbacks… I think that certainly any time you either lose something or go without something for a little while, you have that appreciation when you’re able to regain it or even possibly move up to a little bit higher level, which I would say probably is the case with him. His hard work and diligence in all areas from training to technique to just a lot of little things.
“But there are a lot of little coaching points that – things that Rob does better now than he did a year ago or two years ago. Part of that’s experience, part of that’s just a little bit better understanding and harder work on those little things – they become big things.”
Gronkowski concurs with his coach that having the game taken away from him only enhanced his appreciation for what he does for a living. He has scars now, reminders of opportunities lost that haven’t quite faded away. This is his first postseason since his rookie year in which he enters the final game in good health. It’s not an exaggeration to say that Gronkowski, who will certainly be a pivotal figure in Super Bowl XLIX, has already been a deciding factor in a previous Super Bowl. Three years ago, he was relegated to a decoy because of a serious ankle injury, something the Giants figured out quickly in their 21-17 victory over the Patriots in Super Bowl XLVI.
“I’ve been through a lot, for sure,” he said. “They [all of his injuries] are all the worst. You never want to be injured, no doubt. You always want to be out on the field with your teammates.
“I remember a few years ago being here, every single question was about my ankle. Every four seconds somebody asked me about my ankle. It’s cool to come here, just chill, just worry about the Seattle Seahawks, just worrying about practice and see what I’ve got to do. It’s a lot better. It’s awesome.”
Perhaps the most compelling testimonials regarding Gronkowski’s determination and dedication come not from Belichick, but from those who hang with him in the meeting rooms and try to hang with him on the practice field. Gronk’s fellow tight ends — Tim Wright and Michael Hoomanawanui — have a heightened appreciation of the effort Gronkowski puts in during the week to make it look easy on Sunday.
“You catch yourself sort of marveling at it sometimes,” said Tim Wright, the second-year tight end who came to the Patriots from the Bucs in August. “He’s incredibly talented, but if you rely on just ability, you will fade. It will slip away right before your eyes.
“When he comes in every day for a meeting, it’s always full-go. He puts everything he has into it. That’s what I’ve picked up from him. He’s accomplished incredible things on the field over the course of his five years. He’s a great leader to follow. I model my preparation and mold my game from some of the things that he does.”
Hoomanawanui, who has been teammates with Gronkowski since coming over from the Rams in September 2012, said there is an element of football savant to Gronkowski’s game, noting that he can recite in accurate detail specifics of what happened on a certain play without having seen the film.
“But even talented guys have to put in the time,” said Hoomanawanui. “I’ve seen a lot of talented players not make it. Put in a year or two, and you never hear from them again.
“Rob is a very blessed athlete and individual. I’m sure he’ll tell you that some days he doesn’t know how he does the things that he does. But he is a hard worker. He puts in the time. I don’t know how many surgeries he’s been through, but it’s a lot. For him to do what he’s been able to do, it probably goes against physics. But he does them.”
Some of the catches Gronkowski makes on game days defy the laws of physics. Hoomanawanui says we should be so lucky to see the spectacular plays he makes habitually during practice.
“He makes crazy catches all the time,” said Hoomanawanui. “All. The. Time. Then he gets up laughing and says, ‘How did I do that?’ He doesn’t know. You try to learn from him, but when the guy doesn’t know how he does what he does, it’s kind of difficult.
“Not many guys can emulate what he does on the field. But emulating his work ethic and loving the job like he does, I’d say that’s a pretty smart thing to do.”