By Ty Anderson, 985TheSportsHub.com
I’m not sure that anybody deserved retirement more than New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski.
One of sports’ few larger-than-life figures, Gronk felt like a man on a farewell tour during the Patriots’ march to their sixth Super Bowl title. And the championship, complete with vintage Gronkowski coming through in both the AFC Championship Game and Super Bowl, felt like the perfect ending to a playing career that saw the 6-foot-6 Hall of Famer go under the knife nine times. With multiple surgeries on his back and what Gronkowski estimated to be 20 concussions, including five “blackout” concussions, he didn’t just put himself through hell for the Patriots. He made it his home.
So when Gronkowski shared his stories of miserable nights and weeks of internal bleeding following what was then the final football game of his career, even after winning another title, that misery felt real. When he almost broke down when discussing the toll football took on him, that raw emotion felt real.
It made everything about the permanent smile that accompanied his post-football life seem deserved.
Wanna partner up with a CBD company? Blaze it up (on your skin). Have an interest in being an analyst on Fox? Sure, just don’t tease “big stories” the way Jay Glazer does and I’ll tune in. Have a hankering to crush some Vanilla Ice on “The Masked Singer?” I’ll watch and sit in utter disbelief when the judges actually think Barack Obama is under the mask. Hell, wanna win a WWE championship by throwing yourself back-first into a sea of humanity? Crack a Steveweiser and have at it.
If there’s one thing Gronkowski’s final days and exit from football told me, it’s that this man deserved to rediscover joy.
But to turn around and unretire (and only if it meant leaving the Patriots) to throw your body back into the game that caused you enough pain to fight back tears when talking about it just half a year ago? I gotta admit, this has me feeling weird.
If we want to look at this from a Patriots-centric view, it’s all too easy to say that Gronkowski screwed you over.
It requires a short memory that erases the joy Gronkowski helped deliver — as well as his own short- and long-term sacrifices — to you over a nine-year run we’ll never see repeated at the position. But it’s a point you could make if you wanna look at this from a pure business standpoint. To the cold, calculated ring-counter, Gronkowski decided that he wanted to return (just not here) and told the Patriots where he wanted to go. That list was a team of one, and everybody knew where it was, as Gronkowski had previously stated that he’d only play with Tom Brady, effectively killing a potential market. As thin as it would’ve been. Now, if you chose not to move him, he would’ve sought a reinstatement that would’ve seen his $10 million contract added back to the Patriots’ books, and on a team that’s already in cap trouble entering this week’s draft.
Gronkowski basically put his Terminator arm brace back on and strong-armed his way to Tampa Bay in the nicest way possible.
Yet, this wasn’t the first Gronkowski has put the Patriots in a weird spot.
You could really go back to last year’s retirement announcement and the timing of it, which left the Patriots to scour the scrapheap of an already-thin position to bring a retired Ben Watson back for one more ride in New England. That went about as well as you could’ve predicted, as the Patriots had some of the worst production in football from the tight end position, which made the position an afterthought down the stretch. And that talent-drain led to some nightmarish matchups for a battered Julian Edelman and pass-catching back James White.
Had the Patriots been able to properly address the position knowing Gronkowski’s plans (Jared Cook’s 700-plus yards and career-high nine touchdowns would’ve looked perfect in Patriot Blue) — or if Gronkowski felt well enough to play half a season at the very least — you can legitimately wonder if 2019 and its subsequent fallout happens.
If Brady and the Patriots had one more target, particularly in crunch-time, do we all go through what was an undeniable mentally exhausting year of an out-of-sync offense that helped accelerate the 42-year-old’s exit from the Patriots after 20 years? Does that strain between the Brady-Belichick dynamic officially break with Brady’s favorite target still coming through in the clutch? Does Antonio Brown’s necessary exit from the Patriots after just 11 turbulent and idiotic days even matter?
I wish I had the answers to these questions, and I wish it didn’t create as legitimate of an argument as it does.
Now, this is probably diving too deep into the whole Butterly Effect aspect of it all (especially with what we’ve since learned about the Brady-Belichick dynamic), but it’s a point that’ll be brought up now that Gronk’s back with Brady… in another city. And I gotta admit, I’ve realized that looking at it from this angle can bum you out real quickly. The sadness almost graduates to full-on anger when realizing a team with a pirate ship at their stadium will get to enjoy this instead of us, too.
But this thought process and holding ill will towards Gronk (and Brady for making the push to get him to come out of retirement and join him in Tampa) also requires a mind-erasure of the accomplishments of the greatest quarterback and greatest tight end in franchise history. That feels like an awfully steep hill to die on after 20 years. It’s just too weird in the grand scheme of things, as souring on a once-in-a-lifetime run for what would’ve been one or two more runs feels insane.
So I’ve instead decided to look at this way: Bill Belichick, being the mastermind that he is, traded a WWE superstar and a seventh-round draft pick for a fourth-round draft pick. Your idiot coach and general manager could never. (That mindset, for what it’s worth, should have actual some value because the Patriots quite literally turned nothing into something consider Gronkowski was not going to come out of retirement to play for a 2020 Patriots team that didn’t have Brady.)
Still, that uneasiness about Gronkowski’s return comes back into frame when you think about Gronkowski’s tears.
“I needed to recover. I was not in a good place,” a choked up Gronkowski said back during his CBDMedic press conference. “Football was bringing me down and I didn’t like it. And I was losing that joy in life. I really was. And I was fighting through it. And I knew what I signed up for and I knew what I was fighting through, and I knew I just had to fix myself.
“I truly needed to be selfish in my life for once and walk away.”
These quotes were hardly inspiring.
Gronkowski turning around on ’em six months later opens up an uncomfortable line of questioning that wonders if it was really football that was bringing Gronkowski down and not just football in his current situation with the Patriots. Because those are two very different things. And that relatively quick turnaround from those damning comments against the sport of football as a whole to being “excited” to put the pads back on in a new city — and with Gronkowski extremely active during his “break” — would indicate that it was the latter. That possibility then gives real life to an idea that suggests that we lapped up tears that were actually spilled with the intentions of selling us CBD (snake)oil, which is gross, and that naturally leads to questioning the legitimacy of Gronkowski’s pain, which is even grosser.
It’s the absolute weirdest and I really, really hate it.
So I’ll instead choose to look at it this way: Like every other post-Patriots adventure to date, Gronkowski has earned the right to find happiness. Even if it means returning to the sport that robbed him of that as recently as 14 months ago to find it.
As weird a route as that may be for the 30-year-old we can’t help but want to see happy.