Well, there you have it – Gronk is hangin’ ’em up. There was retirement chatter before he even suited up this year and he alluded to it a number of times during and after the season, so it came as a surprise to no one when New England’s beloved man-child announced via Instagram that he was calling it a career. All thoughts and prayers are accepted at this time, as we enter into a period of obligatory mourning for the greatest god damn tight end that ever did it, both on and off the field.
Here is some off the field film to appreciate, if you’re looking to spend the next 24 hours watching Gronk highlights:
Back to business.
When I saw the notification flash across my phone, my gut reaction was not anger, spite, or dismay; it was pride. I thought back to his draft day, when, after being picked 42nd by the Patriots, he trotted to the stage (presumably still sweating out the hangover from three years at the University of Arizona) and gave Roger Goodell (who was not public enemy #1 at the time) an extended bro hug while sporting the sheepish, adolescent grin of a 21 year old who was in the process of living out his lifelong dream.
I smiled about the Patriots-Steelers game in 2010, when he became the youngest rookie (and first Patriot rookie) to ever catch three touchdown passes in a contest. My blood started pumping with excitement when I thought about the 2011 season, when Gronk teamed up with Aaron Hernandez (who was not a murderer at the time) to create the most lethal tight-end combination the world has ever seen, with Gronk racking up 1,327 yards and 17 TDs. That duo was the stuff of nightmares – having one tight end who could block at a high level while also posing a very real downfield threat was rare enough at the time, let alone having TWO. The deadly combination was short-lived due to the fact that Hernandez turned out to be quite deadly off the field as well, but that season established Gronk as something the NFL had never seen before.
That is the beauty of Gronk: there had never been, and there never will be, anybody quite like him. Sure, you will always have your Jimmy Grahams or your Travis Kelces – glorified slot receivers who can light up the stat sheet and get themselves into the conversation for top TE. But you will not always have Gronk, who presented an even bigger pass threat (especially down the field and/or after contact) while also being a phenomenal run and pass blocker. When healthy, he was consistently the most useful and dangerous offensive weapon in the NFL. And of course, there was nothing quite like watching him rumble down the field with a horde of defensive backs dangling off him like an elephant shaking off a pack of ambitious hyenas. I mean, just look at this shit:
That play right there is a great indication of why he’s hangin’ em up, and also why I am entirely okay with it. You could not have asked Gronk to play harder or to sacrifice more of himself to the team. The man spent the better part of nine years playing with a level of brutal physicality that would wear down any body, no matter how superhuman that body is. Gronk had to endure the worst parts of being a wide receiver and the constant wear and tear of being an offensive lineman; he would be subject to massive downfield hits that were often overlooked due to the fact that he dwarfed the players hitting him (being a man-fridge and being a defenseless receiver are not mutually exclusive, assholes) and would then have to line up and go head to head with a linebacker or defensive end in a matter of seconds.
Fuck anybody who says 29 is too young to retire or thinks he is betraying some obligation to the Patriots or New England – I can’t name a person who has sacrificed more over the past nine years of domination, and it should be with a full heart that we all watch Gronk ride off into the sunset with his smokeshow girlfriend and fat sack of cash. And as far as last catches go, I would say his was a fitting end to a league-altering, first-ballot Hall of Fame career.
And so we bid farewell to the most dominant tight end to ever lace em up. A man who loved the club, but not as much as he loved throwing safeties out of them. A guy who could make himself giggle with a 69 joke on the sideline, then go into the game and stiff arm a grown man through the Earth’s crust; a career and a man best encapsulated by that duality of playful childishness and barbaric domination. A wise man (or maybe an Instagram meme account?) once said, “don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.” And that is what we shall do.
P.S. Put this on loop for the rest of my life.