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Why Rob Gronkowski is Running it Back with Tom Brady in Tampa Bay

The stars aligned, and the New England reunion is on for these two ex-Pats.

When Rob Gronkowski walked away from football after the 2018 season, his body was broken, and his so was his willingness to keep playing the sport he loved.

But just over a year later, "Gronk" feels healthy, rejuvenated, and ready to return to the NFL to play for the only quarterback he's ever wanted to catch passes from, Tom Brady.

It won't be in New England, though, the place where Gronkowski and Brady won three Super Bowls together. When Brady decided to leave the Patriots after a legendary 20-year career and sign with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in free agency, it piqued Gronkowski's interest.

Even before that, the groundwork had been laid for the reunion that became official when the Bucs traded a fourth-round pick in the 2020 NFL Draft to the Pats for Gronkowski and a seventh-round pick.

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"We actually got together about two months ago and we rarely talked about what his decision was going to be [or] where I'm at," Gronkowski said of Brady, speaking to the media via video conference call Thursday. "But we talked real quick like, "Hey, I'm kind of getting that fire underneath me again," I told him. And I said I'm definitely interested in your decision that you make. I mean, I didn't put any pressure on him but I said that if you go somewhere and the opportunity is right, even if you go back to the Patriots and I feel like the opportunity is right, there's a possible chance that I would definitely love to reconnect. That's where the conversation started a little bit and he was all fired up and juiced up about it. That was something pretty cool at the moment and in the end, it just happened over time, which is pretty neat."

As the Bucs pushed in all of their chips with Brady, Gronkowski felt the urge to return to game grow over the past couple of weeks, knowing he might have a shot at joining his old quarterback with his new team.

"I wouldn't say I had that fire, even at the end of last season, to come back but as the time rolled on, the last couple weeks, I started really picking it up," Gronkowski said. "My body started feeling good, my desire to play the game of football was coming back and I knew that by the time the season rolled around again, I would want to be back out there. That desire, that passion has lit into me and I just felt like the last couple weeks it was the right time to hop on before it was too late."

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Brady picked Tampa Bay for many reasons, from the star-studded coaching staff and the well-built roster on both sides of the ball, to the warm weather and the opportunity for a new challenge after 20 years with the same team. 

Gronkowski saw those same qualities, and knew he had to jump at the chance.

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"It just happened to be the right opportunity down in Tampa," said Gronkowski. "Yes, Tom was like the appetizer of the whole meal. He got me hooked when he went down to Tampa. I saw what was down there. Just the opportunity to go down there and play with that type of offense. I mean, they got some special wide receivers out there. They've got other great tight ends. Let me tell you, I love working with tight ends, too, so I'm definitely looking forward to working with O.J. [Howard] and Cam [Brate]. That's definitely going to be a special opportunity but I'm just blessed to be in this situation and have this opportunity big time."

Gronkowski brings even more national attention to a Bucs team that hasn't been relevant on the NFL stage since winning Super Bowl XXXVII following the 2002 season. When the team unveiled their new-but-old uniforms earlier this month, Brady's was flying off the virtual shelves and topping the league sales charts. Gronk's is likely to do the same, as soon as his No. 87 is available in the new red, white and pewter threads.

Bucs head coach Bruce Arians isn't one to play small-ball, and after hooking Brady, he and Bucs GM Jason Licht are taking another big swing for the fences on Gronkowski.

The Bucs surely aren't the first team to kick the tires on Gronk over the past year, but after taking the time he needed to get his mind and body prepared for a return to the game, the most dominant tight end in NFL history knew this was the time and place for it to happen.

"I was getting questions all the time," Gronkowski said. "I was getting opportunities throughout [my] whole retirement to come back, which is special. I'm definitely blessed to have had those opportunities big time, but I said it from the beginning that I wouldn't come back unless I was feeling it; unless I'm feeling good, feeling healthy and I'm feeling like I'm ready to go. Now this is the case.

"This is the time."