There’s a phrase that New England Patriots players and fans know well. A poster of it adorns the hallway walls of Gillette Stadium. Thousands of t-shirts and hats sporting its logo have been sold. It’s three simple words…”Do Your Job.”
In Foxboro, it’s a way of life. For nine seasons, Rob Gronkowski epitomized the meaning of the phase in every sense of the word. Whether it be on the field, in the locker room, or in the community, the man who so many affectionately call “Gronk” has left an indelible mark on his generation. Although his playing days are most likely behind him, that mark will continue to be made. How, you may ask? It’s simple. Doing his job comes naturally to him.
A League of His Own
On the field, Rob Gronkowski will forever be remembered as one of the most prolific tight ends in football history. He was both a skilled receiver and talented blocker. During his nine-year career, Gronkowski set several NFL records. In 2011, he became the only tight end to lead the league in receiving touchdowns with 17. He also has the most seasons with 1,000+ receiving yards by a tight end with four. When all was said and done, he finished his illustrious career with 521 receptions for 7,861 yards and 79 touchdowns.
In the postseason, Gronkowski was equally brilliant. He has the most career postseason receiving yards by a tight end (1,163), as well as the most career postseason receiving touchdowns for his position with 12. He also rose to the occasion on the grandest stage of them all; compiling the most combined receptions (23) and receiving yards (297) by a tight end in Super Bowl history. In what might end up being his most-immortalized moment (as well as his final NFL reception), Gronkowski hauled in the game-sealing catch to catapult the Patriots to a Super Bowl LIII title.
What Might Have Been?
Based on statistics alone, it is undeniable that Gronkowski is destined for enshrinement in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, OH. It is difficult to imagine anyone being able to replicate the size, speed, strength and skill that made him nearly impossible to defend. Many a head coach and defensive coordinator surely endured sleepless nights trying to devise a scheme to contain the 6’6” 265 pound phenom.
However, one cannot simply dismiss the impact of injury on his already brilliant career. Since entering the league in 2010, numerous injuries restricted him to playing 115 of a possible 144 regular-season games. He suffered season-ending injuries in both 2013 (torn ACL and MCL) and 2016 (back vertebral disc hernia.) Last year, he finished the season while playing through painful ankle and back injuries. If there is a tender spot to be found in his impressive resume, it might be the impact of health issues on his career longevity.
…or does it???
Despite the injuries that have plagued him throughout his career, Gronkowski will still be remembered as one of the most formidable offensive talents in NFL history. Although it presents an interesting “what-if” scenario, Gronkowski’s injury history should not diminish his accomplishments. Whenever he took the field, he was a dominant force. Opposing coaches and players have heaped endless praise on Gronkowski’s on-field prowess since his announcement of retirement on Sunday. They lamented the “matchup nightmares’ that he caused them. He routinely drew double and even triple team defensive sets. Sometimes, that was not even enough to stop him. That type of supremacy not only makes one a star, it makes him a Hall-of-Famer.
‘Be Like Gronk’
While his on-field value is worthy of the numerous accolades he has been receiving, Gronkowski’s lasting legacy is one that is still being written. In fact, it is one that has made him a model citizen in the NFL. It is unusual to describe someone as being the ‘life of the party’ while simultaneously showing a maturity beyond his years. However, that description fits Rob Gronkowski like a glove. Despite the ‘frat boy’ image that has been prevalent in describing his character, Gronkowski has proven to be prudent and benevolent away from the field of battle. In recent years, the NFL Players Association (NFLPA) has begun advising rookies to be more like him. In a 2016 interview with Ben Volin of The Boston Globe, Ahmad Nassar (president of NFL Players Inc.) stated that the NFLPA has been encouraging its rookie classes to develop their own brand. And, it is using Gronkowski as its primary example.
“When we say, ‘Be like Gronk,’ we mean plan out who you want to be and stay true to that, because brands and fans will sniff it out if you’re not authentic,” Nassar said. “If you’re not authentic it’s not going to resonate well, and people will think that you’re just doing it to make a buck.”
As a result, his fun-loving and comedic persona has become quite the marketing juggernaut. Because of his earnings from branding and endorsements, he was able to save his entire NFL salary during the early years of his career. Who knew that ‘Gronk being Gronk’ meant being so fiscally clever? The ‘life of the party’ apparently proved to show a financial wisdom beyond his years.
While history will chronicle his career with numerous highlights, Gronkowski achieved legendary status by remembering that there is more to his job description than scoring touchdowns, or promoting his brand. He has, and will continue, to cement his value by staying connected with the New England community. Gronkowski is sometimes labeled a ‘big kid’ and he certainly wears this as a badge of honor.
Whether he is getting his hair shaved off at the annual One Mission Buzz Off—which is an event in honor and support of children with cancer—or spending countless and often unannounced hours visiting New England area children’s hospitals, Gronkowski gives back in many ways.
Perhaps the best example of this is the work of his Gronk Nation Youth Foundation. This foundation runs regular fundraising efforts to donate sports equipment and cheerleading outfits to youth programs throughout the New England area. In speaking of its impact, Gronkowski was quoted by Mike Reiss of ESPN Boston as saying:
“I created the Gronk Nation Youth Foundation with my family and my friends because growing up, I had a lot; I had everything as a kid, from playgrounds to sports, and a lot of people to play with, and thus everything I needed to be successful later, and in life.”
[To learn more about the Gronk Nation Foundation and all the great work the Gronkowski family does for the community, ClickHere.]
Just ‘Doing His Job’
As the sun has now set on Rob Gronkowski’s remarkable NFL career, we remember that his ride into that proverbial ‘sunset’ is forever heralded in joy and gratitude. For Patriots fans, it is a time to reflect on the numerous great memories with which he has provided them for the past nine years. For Gronkowski, himself, this is now ‘his’ time. That time may now be allocated to life-long pursuits, which may have only previously received a mere fleeting moment of his schedule. Being philanthropic in nature, he will almost certainly continue to cultivate his passions for the betterment of others. Ever the consummate showman, he will surely entertain as only he can. As always, it will be with a style, all his own.
Assuming he has truly played his final down on an NFL football field (and by most accounts, he has done just that) Gronkowski leaves the game having redefined his position. The skill with which he played the game has set a higher bar for each tight end that takes the field following his exit. Whether it be pass-catching, route-running or blocking, he played hard on every snap and every down. Away from the field, he set an example of generosity, compassion and frugality., That example will continue to be set each and every day. Anyone that knows Rob Gronkowski would advise that he will never retire from delivering smiles and assistance to those in need.
However, if you asked him what set him apart from his peers, he would certainly deflect praise. Most likely, he would reply by telling you that he was simply ‘doing his job.’
Rob Gronkowski personified that phrase…above and beyond.
It is that spirit that makes him, forever, a legend.
–Mike D’Abate is a Managing Editor and National Columnist for Full Press Coverage Sports Media. He covers the New England Patriots and provides NFL editorial content. Follow him on Twitter @mdabateFPC