Patriots fans who have been holding out hope that superstar tight end Rob Gronkowski will return for another year are now even more likely to be disappointed. On Wednesday, Gronkowski spoke to the press at length about dealing with collisions and subsequent injuries as a professional football player. The insights into his experiences provided support to the speculation that Sunday’s game will likely be the last in Gronkowski’s Hall of Fame career.
“The season’s a grind. It’s up and down. I’m not going to lie and sit here and say every week is the best,” said Gronkowski, per NBC Sports. “Not at all. You go up, you go down. You can take some serious hits. To tell you the truth, just try and imagine getting hit all the time and trying to be where you want to be every day in life. It’s tough, it’s difficult. To take hits to the thigh, take hits to your head. Abusing your body isn’t what your brain wants. When your body is abused, it can bring down your mood. You’ve got to be able to deal with that, too, throughout the season. You gotta be able to deal with that in the games.
“And no one realizes that, and everyone expects us players to be wide awake every single day, and it’s like ‘yo, i just took 50 hits to my head — or not to my head, but I’m saying I just took 50 collisions, and then like the next day everyone wants you to be up. They want practice full speed, next week they want the game to be full speed, but they don’t understand sometimes what players are going through with their bodies, with their minds. That’s why I’ve been saying you see a shift in players in games where people are down the whole game, and then you see, all of a sudden, the next week it’s like ‘how did this team just go from one switch to the other?'”
It was a rare serious response from Gronkowski, who usually maintains an affable and buffoonish image during press conferences and public appearances. The tone of his remarks speaks to the legitimacy of the rumors that Gronkowski will move on from football after this year.
Even among NFL athletes, Gronkowski’s injury history is extensive. In 2009, Gronkowski missed his entire junior year at Arizona following a back surgery on a bulging disk in his spine. Then in 2012 as a member of the Patriots, Gronkowski dealt with a high ankle sprain that required surgery after the Super Bowl. In December of 2013, Gronkowski tore his right ACL and MCL and became concussed after a brutal low hit during a game against the Browns. As the years wore on, the major injuries Gronkowski suffered seemed to affect him more and more, ultimately culminating in arguably his worst year as a pro this season. In all, Gronkowski has had a whopping nine surgeries in his football career, each one leaving him more vulnerable to re-injury. Combine these injuries with numerous documented and undocumented concussions, and it’s understandable to think Gronkowski might want to walk away from football sooner than later.
And yet, despite being sidelined with multiple severe injuries throughout his career, Gronkowski has also cemented himself as the greatest to ever play his position. A five-time Pro Bowler and four-time First Team All-Pro selection, Gronkowski has defined his career with countless winning plays in big moments.
In last year’s losing effort to the Eagles in Super Bowl LII, Gronkowski did all he could to push his team to victory, catching nine passes for 116 yards and two touchdowns. His athleticism, coupled with unmatched speed for someone his size have made him a matchup nightmare for opposing defenses.
Now in 2019, Gronkowski’s speed has declined considerably, which has allowed for defenses to have more success against him in single coverage. Even so, Gronkowski is still simply too talented to be a not make a difference in the games he plays. In the AFC Championship game two weeks ago against the Chiefs, Gronkowski again delivered when the stakes were highest. With 54 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter, he hauled in an impressive 25-yard catch on an important third down play. That catch set up a Rex Burkhead score, and helped in the Patriots’ eventual overtime victory.
Wednesday’s comments from Gronkowski seem to be clear evidence that his NFL days are numbered. He’s dealt with injuries throughout his entire career, yet has stubbornly performed at a Hall of Fame level in spite of each and every setback. Expect Sunday’s Super Bowl to be no different.
If it truly is the last time he suits up in Patriots blue, fans should be sure to appreciate the greatness of a supremely gifted athlete, the likes of which may never been seen again.