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In a perfect world, they would have ridden off together in the sunset, perhaps with another Super Bowl ring for a franchise which was becoming the image of a sports dynasty.

Tom Brady, a strong candidate as the GOAT leader at QB in National Football League history and Rob Gronkowski, certainly worthy of mention among the all time great tight ends in NFL history.

In a perfect world, TB12 and Gronk would have been watching with anticipation, if not eagerness as the NFL held its annual draft and the Patriots and coach Bill Belichick (another GOAT contender) fined tuned the roster of a franchise which had produced 6 Super Bowl titles in the past 20 seasons.

The three day/night draft was held as scheduled Thursday night, with more fanfare and perhaps more anticipation, but less participation than any NFL talent gathering event in the past 30 years, courtesy of the restrictions caused by the CoVid-19 outbreak.

And make no mistake, when the NFL season resumes, in September or later, with or without fans in the stands, TB 12 and Gronk will be as excited and eager as they have ever been about the start of a football season.

They will again be together-with the Tampa Bay Bucs.

Brady,  of course, created headlines a few weeks ago when he ended a 20-year relationship with the Patriots and Belichick by signing on as a 43-year old free agent QB with Tampa.

Gronk joined the Florida beach party earlier this week when he ended his retirement after one year, told the Patriots he was coming back, but wished to be traded to Tampa.

Given the choice of keeping Gronk in retirement or getting something (a fourth round pick) for the TE who produced 79 TD receptions and 7,861 passing yards for the Patriots in an 9 season injury-riddle career, the Patriots took the deal.

And just like that, life in what at times was the NO Fun Football League in New England with a  mind set called the Patriot Way, run by Belichick, who never has been labeled a players coach, Gronk and Brady were about to have some fun playing football.

With a coach in Bruce Arians, who is regarded as much more user and player friendly than Belichick, at least in his public persona.

"We (with Brady) talked real quick,'' said Gronkowski at a press conference announcing his unretirement earlier this week. "and I said, "Hey, I'm kind of getting that fire underneath me again...He was all fired up and juiced about it. 

"Yes, Tom was definitely..like the appetizer of the whole meal. He me hooked when he went to Tampa.''

As my often acerbic and always perceptive friend Jim Donaldson, formerly a sports columnist fort the Providence Journal, pointed out, "Don't you find that odd that two of the greatest NFL players chose to end their careers AWAY from Belichick?

The analytic part of the argument has a ready answer. Belichick's talent philosophy has been to under pay and cut talent a year too early, rather than a year to late. Brady, after taking   "home town'' discounts in salaries his entire career in New England, wanted the money to match the respect he was receiving.

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The Patriots weren't willing to do that with a 43-year old QB. 

Gronkowski was another tough sell for the Patriots, knowing they had a talented tight end who was also injury-prone and more individualistic than the Belichick player profiile wanted.

When he retired at 29 last season, the Patriots merely shrugged and moved on.

Without Gronk, without Brady and with an assortment of other gaping holes to plug, the Patriots are not even pre-season favorites to win the AFC East.

Tampa with Brady and now with Gronk and an assortment of other young talent, has moved steadily up the odds chart, reaching the point where it is now a marginal Super Bowl contender.

Reality would suggest that brady will be hard pressed to match of any of his career superlatives and Gronk, after a year without football in which he slimmed down, will have a difficult team returning to form as well.

It could be a wash out-even if the season does get underway in some form.

The key here is the anticipation factor. 

The Bucs will be one of the most watched franchises in the NFL next season, with the focus, of course, being on Brady and Gronk.

The Patriots are only a few early season losses--something that happened even at the Height of Bradty's skills--away from a past tense contender.

The underlying story to watch is  just how much fun TB 12 and Gronk have with each other, in a new setting WITHOUT the rigid restrictions set by Belichick.

It probably won't be better or even as good, but listen to Gronk talk about his long time friend and now new teammate.

""He's one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time,'' said Gronkowski. ""and to build a connection with a quarterback too, is something special. "It's just like the old days. It doesn't matter if we take a month or six months apart. We go there and we're throwing the ball just like it's a normal practice no matter what. It just happened to the right opportunity down in Tampa.''

Boys, just wanting to have fun  in the NFL?

What a thing..