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Appreciating Rob Gronkowski, a Player and Person this Patriots Dynasty Needed

We ran out of things to say about these Patriots a long time ago, but fortunately Gronk has been there to remind us this is supposed to be fun.

ATLANTA – All hail Gronk. We didn’t know we needed a Gronk, let alone this Gronk, but man, did we ever. He is simple but never boring, the tonic for a nation with Patriots fatigue. If Rob Gronkowski never makes you smile, you have no teeth.

It starts with how he plays. He is the Shaquille O’Neal of football, so big and agile and fast that the only real defense seems to be clawing at his ankles. Cornerbacks bounce off him. Linebackers can’t keep up with him. If you were inventing a player for the fun of it, you might come up with Gronk.

“A lot of tight ends in this league are mainly big receivers,” Patriots reserve tight end Stephen Anderson said. “But he blocks like a lineman and runs like a receiver. I can only give you an old-school reference because there is nobody in the game that does the things he does: He’s the Tony Gonzalez. He’s what you would imagine, what you would hope for, as an all-around tight end.”

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But he is bigger than Tony Gonzalez.

“Yes, he is bigger than Tony Gonzalez,” Anderson said. “He probably runs better than Tony Gonzalez.”

Gonzalez was listed at 6'5" and 251 pounds. Gronkowski is listed at 6'6", 268.

So it starts with how he plays, but it extends to how he is. Yes, I know Gronkowski made a dumb sexually suggestive comment to a female reporter this week. Yes, I know he has done a similarly offensive thing before. Yes, he deserves some criticism for it. But he is never menacing. He takes the goofy act too far sometimes because it’s not an act. As Anderson says, “What you see in the commercials, what you see on the field, off the field, that is Rob’s personality. He’s not putting on a front for anybody.”

As long as the Patriots decided to add a dynasty to their dynasty, we needed Gronk. (I define the first Pats dynasty as their first four Super Bowls: three wins and the David Tyree game. The second dynasty is what has happened since: two more wins, two more losses and another game Sunday.)

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We needed him because the Patriots story gets more amazing and less interesting with every Super Bowl. Tom Brady has now made it to more Super Bowls than 10 franchises combined, to which we say: So? Sure, it’s incredible. But we knew he was incredible. I don’t think people are tired of Brady and the Patriots as much as they are tired of people talking about Brady and the Patriots. Watching them, rooting for or against them—that’s still a ton of fun. But everything between the games has become tedious. Reporters are scrambling to find new ways to tell a story we have told many times before. What do you even ask a Patriot these days? Have you guys seen Groundhog Day?

And that’s where Gronk comes in. He reminds us with his presence and persona that this is all supposed to be fun. And you can generally enjoy him guilt-free, because his fun doesn’t hurt the team. Pats people always talk about his work ethic, his desire to be a complete player, and yes, his brain. Bill Belichick prizes smart players. Gronkowski is unlikely to earn a Ph. D someday, but he plays intelligent football.

Gronk has been a great player for so long for the league’s premier franchise. But his career stats are not overwhelming. This is partly because he is only 29, partly because he has missed so many games due to injury and partly because early in his career the Patriots had another amazing young tight end named Aaron Hernandez. Gronkowski has started 100 career regular season games. Ndamukong Suh, drafted the same year, has started 142.

He has caught 521 passes for 7,861 yards. By comparison: Heath Miller caught 592 passes for 6,569 yards, and if there is a Heath Miller For The Hall of Fame movement, I am glad it has not reached my inbox. And yet, Gronkowski is not just a Hall of Famer; he is, at least to me, an obvious Hall of Famer, the kind of player whose exclusion would diminish the Hall.

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Gale Sayers is in the Hall of Fame because, even though knee injuries ended his career early, people who watched him had never seen anything like him before. That’s how it is with Gronk. And once the Hall committee voted in Terrell Davis in 2017, any debate over Gronk probably ended.

He has had a Hall of Fame career and has a Hall of Fame personality. We have been fortunate to enjoy both.

The last step for Gronk is to suddenly retire. He doesn’t have to do it this year. He just has to do it suddenly. Just announce one day that he is outta here. No retirement tour, no overwrought tributes, nothing that might make us sick of him. Just: See ya. It will be the last gift from Gronk, from him to us.

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