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  • Sunday could be Rob Gronkowski's final game. Instead of looking forward, we asked players to look back on their favorite Gronk memories.
By Kalyn Kahler
February 01, 2019

ATLANTA — Rob Gronkowski ambles into the hotel ballroom where he takes questions from the media. He’s walking towards the group of reporters waiting for him at his station when he notices teammate Kyle Van Noy is almost all alone at his podium—only one reporter is asking him questions. Gronkowski skips up to Van Noy’s platform and pretends he’s a reporter. Amused, Van Noy shouts at Gronkowski:  “Go to your station and deal with a bunch of retirement questions!”

Gronkowski has been peppered with questions about his football future everyday this week. He’s been coy with his answers, only saying that he doesn’t have it figured out right now, and will have to sit down after the season to assess how he feels. Just in case Super Bowl LIII is Gronk’s last game, we thought we’d ask Patriots teammates and Rams opponents to tell us their favorite Gronk moment.

Patriots safety Duron Harmon: "I would say the Steelers game last season [Week 15], that last drive where he just took over and I think he made like three or four catches and he caught one ball down by his shoe laces [Gronkowski had receptions of 26, 26 and 17 yards, then a successful two-point conversion on the game-winning drive late in the fourth quarter]. I'm sitting on the bench, just like, Wow. He is the greatest tight end that I have ever seen. We have our own commentating going on among the DBs from the bench, like, How did he catch that?"

Patriots receiver Phillip Dorsett: "I just looked into his eyes in the huddle and then I see Tom, and I said, Oh, he is going to Gronk every time."

Patriots center Shaq Mason: "Everybody in the huddle knew he was unstoppable right then. We knew where the ball was going and he came up big for us."

Patriots running back Rex Burkhead: "He had some great plays on that drive. And probably my favorite one, an unbelievable catch for a first down, he's lying on the ground on his back and then reaches over his head for a first down, and I just thought it was hilarious. The whole drive he was so impressive, scoring the two-point conversion too."

Harmon: "You look at last game [against the Chiefs], how he came alive in the fourth quarter, the two third-down conversions that he had. He's a guy who just continues to show up for us in big moments. He makes big plays, puts the team on his back and that's why he will go down as one of the best—if not the best—tight end ever to play this game. And we just appreciate it because a lot of people don't see the work that Gronk puts in, he's been through so much with injuries, but what he does to be able to get back out there and play at a high level."

Patriots running back James White: "It's really tough to choose one play. I guess him stiff-arming a safety vs. the Chiefs earlier in the year in the open field. And then my rookie year [2014] vs. the Broncos, he made a backhand one-handed catch. He is just a beast out there."

Rams cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman: "I saw him make a play on the sidelines against the Colts, I don't know what game it was, but it was years ago and he made a catch and he arm-barred one of the players and that's when I knew he was serious. I was like, O.K., Gronk is for real."

Rams linebacker Samson Ebukam: "He might run like he's slow, but he's just trying to lull you to sleep so he can get open. The only way to basically stop him is to not let him get a free release off the line. Don't let him get a full head of steam because he is a big target."

Patriots special teams ace Matthew Slater: "There are so many moments that stick out. In 2011 he had 18 touchdowns. The trip to London against the Rams in 2012 [eight catches, 146 yards, two touchdowns], or even last year against Pittsburgh when he kind of took over the game. For me, I've always enjoyed playing Buffalo and watching him go home and play in front of his home crowd. I've had a great seat for all those moments, and it has been an amazing time spent with him."

Rams tight end Tyler Higbee: "The dude makes plays. I saw him one time he was coming across the middle, I want to say it was a couple years ago, and he was playing the Broncos. He had a one-handed catch over the middle. I don't think he scored, they were in the red zone, but it got down inside the five, but that was impressive. There was another one I saw where he one-hand snagged this ball and then reached it over the pylon."

Rams defensive coordinator Wade Phillips: "When I was with the Broncos, we double-covered him in the 2015 AFC championship game. We were ahead in the game, and at the end of the game we double-covered him and he caught it between two guys. That was a great throw but it was a great catch. And then he scored the touchdown that put them two points behind and we stopped them, intercepted the two-point play, but he made that drive. I remember that for sure. So, evidently doubling wasn't always the answer. That's the thing with a great player, you try to do everything you can but sometimes they make plays and he is one that can make plays."

Higbee:"He had a block in the divisional round against the Chargers, in combination with the tackle [Trent Brown] he worked up to the second level and they just drove the defensive end [Melvin Ingram] eight yards off the ball and walked the running back [Rex Burkhead] into the end zone. I'm a tight end so I see the blocking, but not many people see that."

Patriots receiver Chris Hogan: "Gronk really didn't have many opportunities in the passing game that game, but he worked so hard on his blocking that he was just trying to do whatever is asked of him. That was a key block for Rex to score a touchdown, and just to see how excited Gronk was for doing something like that, it just shows how selfless he is."

Rams cornerback Sam Shields: "I just remember him being so big!"

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PRESS COVERAGE

1. Why more and more players are adding Jr., II, III to their jersey nameplates.

2. Several players visited Atlanta's Civil Rights historic sites and reflected on Martin Luther King Jr. and his movement.

3. How Atlanta's Buckhead neighborhood changed after Ray Lewis's infamous night there.


THE KICKER

MMQB writer Andy Benoit brings us a tale of Super Bowl media mayhem...

Super Bowl week is littered with NFL stars hawking product along Radio Row. Every once in a while, we at SI will give in and accept a publicist’s offer to interview their player. Like when Sleep Number reached out about Dak Prescott.

My interview with Prescott was slated for 11:40. I knew there was a good chance it would end at 11:45. That’s the game. I departed the Rams’ press conference early, painfully excusing myself from a great conversation with QBs coach (and soon-to-be Bengals head coach) Zac Taylor. Five minutes before my Uber was to reach the NFL Experience at the Georgia World Congress Center, where I would interview Prescott, I noticed a strange abundance of road signage for the airport. That’s when I realized I’d mistakenly directed the Uber to my hotel.

And so I reached the Sleep Number booth inside the NFL Experienced at 11:47, panting. I was greeted by a handful of different publicists, all of whom looked heartbroken when a team of other publicists whisked Prescott away at 11:48. They apologized to me profusely—apparently forgetting that the missed connection was entirely my fault.

But then someone suggested I—or, actually, as many of the publicists referred to me, “Sports Illustrated”—could interview Prescott while riding in the golf cart that was taking him to a luncheon. (Judging by some of the publicists’ panic over getting Prescott there before noon, the luncheon was to decide the fate of mankind.)

We were ushered quickly into the golf cart by five people, all of them barking orders and tending to Prescott as if he were a world leader who just dodged gunfire. Our conversation took place amidst this clamor. I got the business over with first, asking Prescott about what he was doing with Sleep Number. He gave his spiel, which was actually not uninteresting. It went something along the lines of, We were 3-5 this season, then I got a Sleep Number mattress and everything changed. At least he genuinely believed in what he was selling.

But then my impatience and football nerdiness kicked in, and I asked Prescott why he was so comfortable running an offense from a spread-empty formation. He said it was the style of football he played as a little kid. Then the golf cart jammed to a halt, giving every passenger a jolt. Prescott exited to his left and, because it would have been weird to slide out that way right in his wake, I exited to the right, which is why I missed whatever else he said about playing from a spread-empty.

That’s when a whole new team of handlers emerged, whisking Prescott off to somewhere behind a fence. I stood there for a second, taking in the sudden silence. And that, folks, is how roughly 20% of Super Bowl week interviews go.

Question? Comment? Story idea? Let the team know at talkback@themmqb.com

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