November 30, 2022

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Rob Gronkowski: Career retrospective | Yardbarker

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NFL legend Rob Gronkowski is one of the biggest personalities in sports. The larger-than-life sports icon has done it all. His athletic talents made him a superstar and his off-field antics made him a fan favorite. He raised the bar on what a modern NFL tight end could accomplish and became the gold standard at his position. 

There’s a lot to remember from Gronk’s illustrious career. Here, you’ll find the best moments from one of the greatest tight ends in NFL history.

 

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High school superstar

High school superstar

NFL via Getty Images

Gronk spent the first three years of his high school career at Williamsville North High School outside Buffalo, New York. Gronk excelled in sports. He was the tight end and defensive end for the football team and played basketball and baseball as well.

Gronk’s family moved to the suburbs of Pittsburgh in 2006. He continued his athletic dominance at Woodland Hills High School. 

The Class of 2007 graduate was one of the top prospects out of Western Pennsylvania. He was heavily recruited by several powerhouse programs and committed to the University of Arizona, which is the sixth best party school in America, according to Barstool Sports.

Fun fact: Gronk was a member of the National Honors Society, per a CBS interview from 2015.

 

Campus legend

Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

It wasn’t long before Gronk got settled at the University of Arizona. At the picturesque college campus, Gronk started as a true freshman, finishing the year with 28 receptions, 525 yards and six touchdowns in 2007. He posted 47 receptions, 672 yards, and 10 touchdowns in 2008, proving he was immune to the sophomore slump. Gronk won First-Team All-Pac-10 and Third-Team All-American for his efforts.

Unfortunately, his junior season was put on brakes because of a herniated disc he suffered during practice in August 2009. Gronk missed the entire season.

Gronk finished his college career with 75 catches, 1197 yards, and 16 touchdowns in just two seasons. He majored in pre-business.

 

Drafted by the New England Patriots

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Despite missing his junior year due to injury, Gronk made himself eligible for the draft. Considered to be one of the best all-around prospects in the 2010 NFL Draft, Gronk had first-round potential written all over him. Injury concerns and NFL readiness plagued his draft stock. He fell to the second round where the New England Patriots drafted the 6-foot-6 265-pound talent with the 42 overall pick. Gronk was ready to show the league his potential.

 

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Gronk named to 2010 PFWA All-Rookie Team

Gronk named to 2010 PFWA All-Rookie Team

Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports

It wasn’t long before Gronk made his presence known in the NFL. His rookie numbers speak for themselves: 42 receptions, 546 yards, and 10 touchdowns. Gronk nabbed a spot on the 2010 PFWA All-Rookie Team for his clutch contributions. He quickly became a fan favorite among the New England faithful.

 

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Record-breaking 2011 season

Record-breaking 2011 season

David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

Gronk had a monster year in 2011. The football prodigy caught 90 receptions for 1,327 yards and 18 total touchdowns (17 receiving, one rushing). His 18 touchdowns lead the league and broke the record for most touchdowns by a tight end in a single season. He still holds the record today. Gronk was named to the Pro Bowl roster and earned First-Team All-Pro honors for his historic 2011 season.

 

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First Super Bowl apperance

First Super Bowl apperance

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The 2011 Patriots went 13-3 and advanced to Super Bowl XLVI, where they faced the New York Giants. It was Gronk’s first Super Bowl. He posted two catches for 26 yards in a 21-17 loss to the underdog Giants.

 

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Pro Bowl Season in 2012

Pro Bowl Season in 2012

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Before the start of the 2012 season, Gronk signed a six-year, $53 million contract extension, the largest contract ever in NFL history for a tight end at the time. At this point in Gronk’s career, he was the best tight end in the league. He logged 55 receptions for 790 yards and 11 touchdowns en route to his second Pro Bowl. The Patriots were trying to go to back-to-back Super Bowls. They lost to the eventual champion Baltimore Ravens in the 2012 AFC Championship Game, ending their playoff run. Gronk didn’t suit up for the 28-13 heartbreaking loss due to a forearm injury he sustained in a 41-28 divisional round victory over the Houston Texans.

 

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Forming a dynamic duo with Aaron Hernandez

Forming a dynamic duo with Aaron Hernandez

David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez were the best tight end tandem in the league during the 2012 season. Their combined receiving stats on the year were 106 receptions, 1273 yards, and 16 touchdowns. Having two do-it-all threats at tight end allowed the Patriots to get creative with their offense. Almost all their formations accounted for both players being on the field simultaneously. 

Aaron Hernandez’s NFL career ended after he was accused and later convicted of the murder of Odin Lloyd if Hernandez didn’t go down the path he did, who knows how great this dynamic duo could’ve been.

 

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Injury-riddled 2013 season

Injury-riddled 2013 season

Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

Gronk missed nine games in 2013. A forearm injury he sustained during the 2012 NFL Playoffs and a back vertebral fracture in May caused Gronk severe pain. He didn’t suit up for an NFL game until Week 7. On December 8, 2013, Gronk suffered a concussion, torn ACL and MCL on the same play. The gruesome hit took Gronk out for the rest of the year.

Gronk had 39 receptions, 592 yards, and four touchdowns in a season marred by injury.

 

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Winning Comeback Player of the Year

Winning Comeback Player of the Year

Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

Gronk bounced back in 2014 with 82 receptions, 1,124 yards, and 12 touchdowns. He won the 2014 Comeback Player of the Year award. The 12-4 Patriots were happy to have a healthy Gronk as they prepared for another deep playoff run.

 

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Gronk is a Super Bowl champion

Gronk is a Super Bowl champion

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The Patriots beat the Baltimore Ravens and the Indianapolis Colts on their way to Super Bowl XLIX, where they’d face the Seattle Seahawks. The Seahawks had the best defense in the league, known as The Legion of Boom. 

The Patriots came back from a 24-14 deficit heading into the fourth quarter to win Super Bowl XLIX by a score of 28-24. A Malcolm Butler interception in the final seconds sealed the deal. Gronk caught six receptions for 68 yards and a touchdown in the thrilling victory.

Super Bowl XLIX is the third-best Super Bowl of all time, according to a CBS article.

 

The Gronk Spike

Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

Every superstar on offense has a touchdown celebration. The Gronk Spike has become his signature move. After he scores a touchdown, Gronk spikes the football into the endzone. The Gronk Spike is something he did a lot of in the NFL. Gronk caught 92 touchdowns over his 11-year career.

 

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On the cover of Madden 17

On the cover of Madden 17

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The fans voted Gronk onto the cover of “Madden 17.” It was his only time on the cover. NFL legend Tom Brady was on the cover of “Madden 18” the following year. It was the first time in “Madden” history that two active players on the same team were cover athletes for back-to-back Maddens.

Detroit Lions legends Calvin Johnson Jr. and Barry Sanders were on consecutive “Madden” covers for “Madden 13” and “25” respectively, but Sanders was retired for almost 20 years when he became the cover athlete.

 

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Gronk’s underrated ability

Gronk's underrated ability

Tom Szczerbowski / Contributor Getty Images

When we think of Gronk, his receiving skills, Super Bowl wins, and offseason partying come to mind. What we forget to mention is his blocking. It’s on the same level as an offensive lineman. Some of the modern NFL tight ends prefer catching passes and scoring touchdowns over blocking, not Gronk. He doesn’t shy away from the dirty work. Blocking is something he loves doing. Whether opening a hole near the goal line or a war in the trenches on third and short, Gronk is ready to pave the way.

 

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Going to three straight Super Bowls

Going to three straight Super Bowls

Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

The New England Patriots went to three Super Bowls in a row from 2016-2018.

Gronk didn’t play in Super Bowl LI because of a herniated disc he suffered in the regular season. He watched from the sideline as his team came back from a 28-3 deficit in the fourth quarter to beat the Atlanta Falcons 34-28 in overtime. It was the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history. 

The Patriots were looking to go back-to-back when they faced the Philadelphia Eagles in Super Bowl LII. They lost to the backup quarterback Nick Foles and the Philadelphia Eagles, 41-33. Gronk had a great outing (9/116/2) in the loss. Super Bowl LII is remembered as one of the finest offensive displays the NFL has ever seen.

The Patriots made it to Super Bowl LIII, where they’d play the young and hungry Los Angeles Rams in their third straight Super Bowl appearance. The low-scoring affair ended with the Patriots prevailing over the Rams, 13-3. Gronk caught six passes for 87 yards.

 

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First retirement

First retirement

Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

In March 2019, just a month after winning Super Bowl LIII, Gronk announced his retirement. It was the first of two retirements for Gronk. He cited injuries as a big factor in his decision to retire from the game after nine seasons. Gronk became an analyst for FOX Sports during the 2019 NFL season. It was nice seeing Gronk give his takes on football, but you knew there was still some good football left in the tank.

 

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Gronk named to All-Century Team

Gronk named to All-Century Team

Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports

The NFL announced they were assembling an all-time team in 2019 to honor the 100th anniversary of the NFL. Gronk was given a nod into the NFL 100 All-Time Team. Fellow tight ends Tony Gonzalez, Mike Ditka, John Mackey, and Kellen Winslow rounded out the rest of the tight ends on the team.

Gronk, Tom Brady, Arizona Cardinals legend Larry Fitzgerald, and kicker Adam Vinatieri were the only active players selected for the team. Gronk was retired when the team was assembled, but he came out of retirement to reunite with Brady in Tampa Bay for two seasons.

Being a member of the All-Century Team solidified Gronk’s place as one of the best tight ends of his era.

Gronk was also named to the 2010s All-Decade Team.

 

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Becoming WWE 24/7 Champion

Becoming WWE 24/7 Champion

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

In March 2020, Gronk won WrestleMania 36 in Orlando, Florida, becoming the 24/7 Champion. His 68-day title reign as champion ended when R-Truth pinned him in June 2020. For his contributions, Gronk won Celebrity of the Year at the Slammy Awards, the WWE’s equivalent to the Oscars.

 

Traded to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Tom Brady signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2020. The New England Patriots traded the all-world tight end and a seventh-round pick to Tampa Bay in exchange for a fourth-round pick. 

It was official. Gronk was coming out of retirement, and Tom Brady had his go-to target back.

 

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The Bucs become first home team to win Super Bowl

The Bucs become first home team to win Super Bowl

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The bandwagon was real in Tampa Bay. New offseason acquisitions Antonio Brown, Lesean Mccoy, Leonard Fournette, and Rob Gronkowski joined a stacked roster that already had major star power in Mike Evans and Chris Godwin to go along with defenders Ndamukong Suh, Lavonte David, and Shaquil Barrett. 

The Buccaneers finished the regular season with an 11-5 record. But this team wanted to be remembered for the playoffs. They beat the Washington Football Team, New Orleans Saints, and Green Bay Packers en route to becoming 2021 NFC Conference champions. Up next were the 15-1 Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl LV. They crushed the Chiefs 31-9. Gronk caught six receptions for 67 yards and two touchdowns in the convincing victory. The 2020 Tampa Bay Buccaneers became the first team to ever go to a Super Bowl and win as the home team. 

And to top it all off, Gronk had four Super Bowl rings to his name.

 

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The life of the party

The life of the party

Gronk partying with NFL legends Jerry Rice and Emmitt Smith.
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Gronk’s party antics are well documented. It’s as if every offseason a new photo or video of this guy having a good time goes viral. 

Gronk had this to say about his frat boy lifestyle:

“There’s definitely a time to party and a time to focus on work, but you need to let loose a little bit so that you can go back on Monday feeling refreshed and motivated to work hard again. People act like dancing is breaking the law and partying is a crime. Everyone thinks I’m in trouble 24/7, but what have I really done besides dance?”

When you win as much as Gronk, who can blame you for partying?

 

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Second Retirement

Second Retirement

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The 2021 NFL season was about what you expect out of Gronk. He played solid all year, reeling in 55 receptions, 802 yards, and six touchdowns. The Bucs went 13-4 and lost to the eventual champion Los Angeles Rams in the divisional round. Gronk announced his retirement from football in the offseason, signaling the end of a legendary career.

 

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Gronk in pop culture

Gronk in pop culture

FOX / Contributor Getty Images

Gronk always finds his way into the spotlight. He hosted WrestleMania 36 and was an NFL analyst for FOX during the 2019 season. He starred as the White Tiger in “The Masked Singer” and appeared in “Family Guy” and “Entourage” as himself. He also had a cameo in “Shark Week.”

We should expect more cameos from Gronk now that he hung up his cleats for good.

 

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A football family

A football family

Gregg DeGuire / Contributor Getty Images

Rob Gronkowski comes from a long lineage of athletes.

His father Gordon Gronkowski Sr. was an offensive lineman for Syracuse University and established his own business, G&G Fitness Equipment.

Dan Gronkowski was a tight end in the NFL (2009-2012). The Maryland University product suited up for four teams in his career, including the New England Patriots in 2011, where he played alongside his brother Rob.

Fullback Glenn Gronkowski went undrafted in 2016 to the Buffalo Bills. He was released and signed onto the Super Bowl champion Patriots’ practice squad.

Chris Gronkowski played fullback and even made the 2010 Pro Football Focus All-Rookie Team with the Dallas Cowboys. He ended his career with the San Diego Chargers in 2013.

Gordie Gronkowski played in the minor leagues for a Los Angeles Angels affiliate.

It’s safe to say the Gronks ate their Wheaties!

 

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The legacy of a winner

The legacy of a winner

John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

Gronk won four Super Bowls as Brady’s go-to target. In 11 NFL seasons, Gronk caught 621 receptions for 9,286 yards and 92 touchdowns. Gronk holds the record for most touchdown receptions and yards by a tight end in postseason history. Gronk could do it all from catching, blocking, and route running. His generational talent and reckless playing style set the tone for tight ends who will come after him. And his career immortalized him into NFL history for years to come. 

Gronk is the second-best tight end of all time, according to a CBS ranking.

David J. Hunt is a freelance writer based out of Philadelphia. He ran cross country at Penn State, became a volunteer firefighter during COVID-19, and is a self taught journalist. He’s a diehard Philly sports fan. When he isn’t watching sports, he enjoys working out, fishing, and traveling. You can find more of his writing at The Chestnut Hill Local and The Temple News.

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