Gronk retires. Footballs rejoice.
By Ben Shpigel
Much to the relief of defensive coordinators, end zones and footballs — and to the dismay of party boats, keg suppliers and content aggregators — Rob Gronkowski announced earlier this week that he was (again) retiring from the NFL. This time, he means it.
Gronkowski revealed his plans Tuesday on Instagram, where he often shares merry tidbits of his merry life, such as the Gronk Beach extravaganza in Las Vegas and clips promoting the Nickelodeon Kids’ Choice Awards, which he co-hosted in April. Of course he did.
Across his 11 NFL seasons, Gronkowski, 33, a very serious football player with a very unserious personality, leavened the stodgy league with sort of a playful destructiveness. His joie de vivre spawned countless memes, perhaps none more endearing than his “Yo soy fiesta!” exclamation — butchered Spanish that translates to “I am party!” — after a playoff game in 2012.
His onomatopoeic surname begot the perfect nickname for a 6-foot-6, 265-pound tight end, as Gronk joined the lexicon as a noun, verb and, sometimes, even an adjective. Were he prosaically named, say, Herman Weissman, Gronkowski might never have emerged as quite the phenomenon that he did. Instead, he oozed gronkness, celebrating touchdowns by gronking Gronk spikes. He gronked plenty: 92 in the regular season, more than any other player since he debuted in 2010, according to Pro Football Reference, and 15 more in the postseason.
Blessed with enormous hands — from thumb to pinkie, they measure 10 3/4 inches, nearly as long as a football — Gronkowski leveled pass-rushers, stampeded safeties, and grabbed passes over cornerbacks, as marvelous a blocker as a receiver. Redefining his position, he was named an All-Pro four times and was selected to five Pro Bowls.
He won four Super Bowls. Three came with New England, where his body eventually betrayed him and hindered him from maximum gronking. He tore a knee ligament, broke his forearm, hurt his back.
All that discomfort prompted him to retire, the first time, after the 2018 season, before he turned 30. He spent the interregnum — as expected — at wrestling events, promoting cannabidiol products as pain relievers and working on his charitable foundation. But, coaxed back by his old pal and former Patriots teammate Tom Brady (and Florida’s forgiving climate), Gronkowski joined the Buccaneers in 2020, catching two touchdowns in Tampa Bay’s Super Bowl victory against Kansas City that season.
“While his on-field accomplishments will surely earn him a gold jacket and a place in the Pro Football Hall of Fame,” Buccaneers general manager Jason Licht said in a statement, “it is his humble attitude and team-first approach to the game that truly defined his career.”
Gronkowski will almost certainly be enshrined in Canton, Ohio, in five years, when he is first eligible, presuming he indeed stays retired this time. It isn’t difficult to imagine his shearing off the sleeves of the Hall’s signature gold jacket to flaunt his bulging muscles. Maybe he’ll wear it over a bare chest, an homage to his shirtless cavorting during all those Super Bowl championship parades. That would be the gronkest thing ever.