MIAMI BEACH, Fla. — Bill Belichick places his arm around his girlfriend Linda Holliday and smiles (well, kind of grimaces) for the cameras on the red carpet of Rob Gronkowski’s beach party. It’s the day before Super Bowl LIV, and the Patriots’ head coach is wearing a bright, multicolored plaid shirt tucked into a pair of khaki shorts. He’s also rocking one of his eight Super Bowl rings, and the diamonds glint in the flash of cameras. Belichick and Holliday pose in front of a step-and-repeat that says GRONK BEACH in neon colors, and behind the media tent, guests who have paid $20,000 for VIP tables walk through metal detectors. The pulsing beat of techno echoes out from the huge stage a few hundred yards away on the beach. Rain drips through a crack in the tent covering the red carpet and lands near Belichick’s flip-flops.
Nothing about this scene is normal. Belichick hardly ever smiles in public, and for the past three years, he’s been pretty busy on the Saturday before the Super Bowl. So has Gronk. But the Patriots were knocked out of the playoffs by the Titans in the wild-card round this season, and Gronk retired after New England won it all last year. The former Pats tight end has since leaned into his larger-than-life, party boy persona. He joined FOX Sports, partnered with a CBD business and built an empire with his four brothers, selling everything from their Gronk Nation clothing line to ice shakers. Gronk has flirted with events before; in 2016, he hosted his Gronk Cruise. This is more slickly produced with bigger names, but the offering is the same: a chance to party with Gronk.
The Super Bowl seemed like the right time for hosting a massive, six-hour-long party, and despite the pouring rain, thousands of people are attending—including Belichick. Gronk and Belichick text the morning of the party; Belichick said he’d show, but none of the PR people really believed it. When you’re at church, you don’t expect Jesus himself to walk in.
The Patriots’ head coach declines to talk to the media (shocking, I know) and heads backstage, where he takes a picture with WWE stars and executives Triple H and Stephanie McMahon, and wrestler Mojo. Belichick probably wouldn’t make a public appearance at a raucous beach party for many people on this earth, especially on a day plagued by torrential downpours. But Gronk is different. In retirement, he’s been able to do what only a select few former athletes have: publicly thrive.
Gronk is on the stage with his brothers (I think all of them are here, but I can’t be sure) and his father, Gordie. They are flanked by robots that are twice the size of the Gronkowskis and three times the size of normal people. I’m assuming there are humans on stilts inside the metallic costumes, but they could also be real robots, blasting dry ice into the crowd. When it comes to Gronk Beach, anything is possible.
The party is taking place at the North Beach Band Shell, and the section of sand blocked off for it is about the size of a football field. VIP risers sit under tents on either side of the general admission sand; tickets started at $150. Food trucks line the perimeter and a crowded bar under a tent in the middle serves only liquor. I watch a man order a drink wearing nothing but Converse sneakers and an American flag-themed Speedo. There are many Gronk jerseys, but also lots of mesh pants and slick Miami swimsuits; this isn’t just washed-up Pats fans. A few feet away, a huge sand sculpture of Gronk reclines under a Bose-branded tent. The whole event is sponsored; Gronk and his family’s wide reach on social media and television is a valuable asset.
Gronk arrives exactly on time for his party with his girlfriend Camille Kostek, an SI swimsuit cover model and star in her own right. Both are wearing denim vests with a GRONK BEACH decal splashed across the back. Only two were made, and in a few hours, Gronk will throw his into the crowd. Underneath, he’s wearing a teal tank top and salmon-colored shorts.
“You gotta perform,” Gronk told me when I asked what it felt like to be partying instead of playing football. “You gotta perform in a Super Bowl, but this game is longer. This is a six-hour party, the Super Bowl is three hours, so I’m actually in better shape coming into this party than playing in the game.”
“His body’s feeling good, his hips are nice and loose, he’ll give you a preview,” Kostek said, pointing to Gronk, who started shaking his hips and lifted his hands above his head. “He’s ready for the dance floor.”
When most athletes retire, their fame evaporates quickly. But Gronk was smart about his image during his NFL career, and in retirement, he’s been able to leverage it off the field. Every famous person plays a public version of themselves to a certain extent, but at his core, Gronk has always been Gronk. When you talk to him, it becomes clear that his enthusiasm is not an act. His authenticity and willingness to ham it up is probably what makes him one of the only former athletes, besides maybe The Rock or Shaquille O'Neal, who could bring people out for a spectacle like this. On the red carpet earlier, Triple H said, “Gronk is in his element. Gronk is the element. That could be his wrestling name: The Element.”
Look, this party is fun. The rain doesn’t matter. It’s still warm out, and most people who bought a ticket before they sold out weeks prior to the Super Bowl seem to have made it here. At 1:30 p.m., there was already a line stretching around the block to get into the $20,000 VIP section. Many of the party-goers are dancing with cocktails in Capri Sun-like bags hanging around their necks from lanyards. I watch one guy wearing a shirt that says CHEAP WORK AIN’T GOOD AND GOOD WORK AIN’T CHEAP trip in the sand when his sandal gets stuck.
It’s 3:35 p.m., two hours after the start of the party, and I am standing in the drizzle amid bikini-clad women and tank top-wearing men for something billed as a “Salute To Gronk.” I have no idea what to expect from this portion of the party—whose headliners are Flo Rida and Diplo—but I know this salute is supposed to last from 3:35 to 3:40. At 3:37 p.m., Gronk fires t-shirts from a cannon into the crowd, and the DJ shouts out each individual Gronk brother, as well as Gordie. The robots spray their dry ice. This is a salute if I’ve ever seen one, and the crowd of thousands goes crazy. People reach their hands toward the flying tees and point their phones toward the stage, capturing this image of Gronk forever. Gronk thanks everyone for coming, and instead of dropping the mic, he spikes it.
Next to the stage, there’s an extremely VIP section behind a gate. Flo Rida—the musical equivalent of Gronk: fun and catchy—has draped a towel over his head to protect himself from the torrential rain somehow making its way into the tent. (The two have a history; Flo Rida also attended the Gronk cruise.) Everyone looks famous, even if I don’t know who they are. Blake, a contestant from The Bachelor a few seasons ago, wanders around. At one point, Lizzo makes a brief appearance. By 5 p.m., Belichick is gone.
Gronk occasionally takes breaks from dancing on stage with his brothers to catch his breath back under the tent, but he’s never off the stage for more than ten minutes at a time. I thought he was joking on the red carpet, but he was right: this party probably is more physically taxing, from an endurance perspective, than playing in a Super Bowl. At 6 p.m., Gronk is gyrating on stage for the fourth straight hour. An IV station is set up in the back of the tent where people who may have gone too hard too fast rehydrate with vitamin B12. Mere mortals can’t keep up with Gronk.
Party-goers in the general admission area are smashed up against the railing, hands still outstretched toward the stage. No one seems to care that we are in the middle of an actual monsoon, the sand is starting to feel like mud and everyone’s sweating all over each other. All of the Gronks are wet—Chris Gronkowski is wandering around with ski goggles on—and have removed their shirts. Gordie is still holding court backstage, drinking a Bud Light and posing for pictures with adoring fans who love his son, and, by extension, him.
While it would be hard to call this afternoon party wholesome, that is, somehow, the word that pops into my head. Gronk has avoided huge scandals despite publicly partying for a decade. He goes all out, but he’s never sloppy, opting to stand on stage and bop around rather than dance with anyone besides Kostek. He doesn’t actually drink very much at all; he’s just dancing his heart out, twerking and fist-pumping to the bumping bass.
As Gronk does more television and events, he gets more polished and assured in public. He’s also generous with his time. Today he’s punctual, gracious with the media, and takes a selfie with everyone who asks. The majority of celebrities make brief appearances at events that bear their names and then duck into a private tent or leave altogether, but Gronk showed up. At 6:45 p.m., when the rain finally let up and people started to head out into the night, he is still on stage, giving his fans their fifth straight hour of him. As I leave, I turn around and see Gronk’s unmistakable form silhouetted against the bright green lights and plumes of dry ice floating off of the stage.
People on Twitter joked that Belichick went to the party to convince Gronk to come back to the Patriots (who could really use a good tight end right about now). But what Saturday made very clear is that Gronk doesn’t need football nearly as much as it might need him. He retired early rather than fight through another few years of injuries because this—his ability to command a crowd in a torrential downpour on the biggest party weekend of the year—was waiting for him. When you’re Gronk, life truly is a beach.
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