There’s a phrase that New England Patriots players and fans know well. A poster of it adorns the hallway walls of Gillette Stadium. Thousands of t-shirts and hats sporting its logo have been sold. It’s three simple words: ”Do Your Job.”
In Foxboro, it’s a way of life. For nine seasons in a Pats uniform, Rob Gronkowski epitomized the phrase in every sense of the word. Whether it be on the field, in the locker room, or in the community, the man who so many affectionately call “Gronk” left an indelible mark on the region.
The former Pats and Tampa Bay Buccaneers tight end announced his retirement on Tuesday, capping a highly-decorated and unique career which earned him numerous on-field records, as well as the admiration of legions of fans across the region.
Still, the once universally-beloved Gronkowski has seen his regional popularity wane a bit in recent years. Following his brief one-year retirement turned defection to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Patriots fans felt a bit betrayed by Gronkowski’s decision to team with ex-Patriots teammate Tom Brady. When linked with some seemingly verbal salvos hurled toward the organization, as well as his failure to mention the Patriots in his social media farwell on Tuesday, has further cultivated an undercurrent of resentment.
Despite some mixed emotions from the New England fanbase, however, it should be noted that the Patriot Way was always within his line of sight.
Simply put, Gronkowski never stopped ‘doing his job.’
Forged in Foxboro
In terms of on-field prowess, Gronkowski has few, if any, equals. He finishes his illustrious career having compiled 9,286 yards on 621 receptions with 92 touchdowns. He earned four first-team All-Pro selections, five pro bowl nods and four Super Bowl championships — three of which he earned with the Patriots. In his final reception as a member of the Patriots, Gronkowski hauled in the game-sealing catch to catapult the Patriots to a Super Bowl LIII title over the Los Angeles Rams.
Based on statistics alone, it is undeniable that Gronkowski is destined for enshrinement in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. It is difficult to imagine anyone being able to replicate the size, speed, strength and skill that made him nearly impossible to defend. Many head coaches and defensive coordinator surely endured sleepless nights trying to devise a scheme to contain the 6-6, 265-pound phenom.
However, one cannot simply dismiss the impact of injury on his already brilliant career. Since entering the league in 2010, numerous injuries restricted him to playing 143 of a possible 177 regular-season games. He suffered season-ending injuries in both 2013 (torn ACL and MCL) and 2016 (back vertebral disc hernia.) During his final year in New England, he finished the season while playing through painful ankle and back injuries. In a week 3 matchup against the Los Angeles Rams in 2021 [a game in which he had 4 receptions for 55 yards], Gronkowski took a hit that resulted in multiple rib fractures and a punctured lung. The injuries kept him essentially out of action for the next seven weeks
Despite the health setbacks which have plagued him throughout his career, Gronkowski will still be remembered as one of the most formidable offensive talents in NFL history. Although it presents an interesting “what-if” scenario, Gronkowski's injury history should not diminish his accomplishments. Whenever he took the field, he was a dominant force. Opposing coaches and players have heaped endless praise on Gronkowski’s on-field prowess since his announcement of retirement on Sunday. They lamented the “matchup nightmares’ that he caused them. He routinely drew double and even triple team defensive sets. Sometimes, that was not even enough to stop him. That type of supremacy not only makes one a star, it makes him a Hall-of-Famer — and most of this success was achieved by Gronkowski while wearing a Patriots uniform.
‘Be Like Gronk’
While his on-field value is worthy of the numerous accolades he has received, Gronkowski’s lasting legacy is one that is still being written. In fact, it is one that has made him a model citizen in the NFL. It is unusual to describe someone as being the ‘life of the party’ while simultaneously showing a maturity beyond his years. However, that description fits Rob Gronkowski like a glove. Despite the ‘frat boy’ image that has been prevalent in describing his character, Gronkowski has proven to be prudent and benevolent away from the field of battle. In recent years, the NFL Players Association (NFLPA) has begun advising rookies to be more like him. In a 2016 interview with The Boston Globe, Ahmad Nassar (president of NFL Players Inc.) stated that the NFLPA has been encouraging its rookie classes to develop their own brand. And, it is using Gronkowski as its primary example.
“When we say, ‘Be like Gronk,’ we mean plan out who you want to be and stay true to that, because brands and fans will sniff it out if you’re not authentic,” Nassar said. “If you’re not authentic it’s not going to resonate well, and people will think that you’re just doing it to make a buck.”
As a result, his fun-loving and comedic persona has become quite the marketing juggernaut. Because of his earnings from branding and endorsements, he was able to save his entire NFL salary during the early years of his career. Who knew that ‘Gronk being Gronk’ meant being so fiscally clever?
Ironically, the ‘life of the party’ proved to show a financial wisdom beyond his years.
A Deeper Legacy
While history will chronicle his career with numerous highlights, Gronkowski achieved legendary status by remembering that there is more to his job description than scoring touchdowns, or promoting his brand. He has, and will continue, to cement his value by staying connected with both the New England and Tampa communities. Gronkowski is sometimes labeled a ‘big kid’ and he certainly wears this as a badge of honor.
Whether he is getting his hair shaved off at the annual One Mission Buzz Off—which is an event in honor and support of children with cancer—or spending countless and often unannounced hours visiting New England area children’s hospitals, Gronkowski gives back in many ways.
Perhaps the best example of this is the work of his Gronk Nation Family Foundation. This foundation runs regular fundraising efforts to donate sports equipment and cheerleading outfits to youth programs throughout the New England area. In speaking of its impact, Gronkowski was once quoted as saying:
“I created the Gronk Nation Youth Foundation with my family and my friends because growing up, I had a lot; I had everything as a kid, from playgrounds to sports, and a lot of people to play with, and thus everything I needed to be successful later, and in life.”
Just Doing His Job
As the sun has now seemingly set on Gronkowski’s remarkable NFL career, we remember that his ride into that proverbial ‘sunset’ is forever heralded in joy and gratitude. For Patriots fans, it is a time to reflect on the numerous great memories with which he has provided for the nine years in which he considered Foxboro his home.
Assuming he has truly played his final down on an NFL football field, Gronkowski leaves the game having redefined his position. The skill with which he played the game has set a higher bar for each tight end that takes the field following his exit. Whether it be pass-catching, route-running or blocking, he played hard on every snap and every down. Away from the field, he set an example of generosity, compassion and frugality., That example will continue to be set each and every day. Anyone that knows Rob Gronkowski would advise that he will never retire from delivering smiles and assistance to those in need.
However, if you asked him what set him apart from his peers, he would likely reply by telling you that he was simply ‘doing his job.’
Rob Gronkowski personified that phrase ... forever making him a Patriots legend.