Gronk may retire, but he’s not going anywhere but up

Dan WetzelColumnist

ATLANTA — No matter what happens in Sunday’s Super Bowl between the New England Patriots and the Los Angeles Rams, this is likely the last time Rob Gronkowski plays professional football.

The Pats’ four-time All-Pro tight end hasn’t officially announced his retirement, so there remains a chance he could be back next season. He’s given every indication, however, that after nine seasons and a plethora of injuries, he’s going to call it quits.

In doing so, the NFL wouldn’t just lose one of its all-time great tight ends, but one of its all-time great characters. The 30-year-old has been America’s favorite meathead, a loveable mix of self-deprecating jokes, malapropisms, comical incidents and juvenile humor that he somehow manages to pull off.

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Yet no one should think Gronkowski is about to fade off into obscurity. He has the potential to be one of the rare athletes who is more successful and famous in retirement.

He has already appeared in the WWE and could find a home there, especially if it’s on a limited, big-show basis and not part of the nightly grind of shows and travel. He would also appear to have natural potential as an action movie star, what with his 6-foot-6, 265-pound frame.

Rob Gronkowski is a surefire Hall of Famer, but don’t expect football to be the end of his road in the limelight. (Getty Images)
Rob Gronkowski is a surefire Hall of Famer, but don’t expect football to be the end of his road in the limelight. (Getty Images)

“I haven’t really put thoughts like that into it,” Gronkowski said Thursday. “But I’ve always thought I would want to be a part of the fitness world, the fitness industry. I love staying active. So whenever that day is, it would probably be along the lines of staying fit and being active out there in the community.”

That, certainly, could be a start. Gronk remaining athletic, yet without the beating football delivers. It could also lead elsewhere. A lot of places. And while some might think Gronk is one-dimensional, there are far more unlikely transitions from former athletes into mainstream stars.

George Foreman went from heavyweight boxing champion to selling iconic electric grills. Arnold Schwarzenegger went from bodybuilder to massive movie star to the governor of California, essentially the highest political office someone born outside the country can hold in the United States. Meanwhile, former wrestler Jesse Ventura became an actor and then governor of Minnesota.

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“I think Rob can do whatever he wants to do,” said teammate Chris Hogan. “He likes being on camera. I wouldn’t be surprised if you see him on camera after he’s done playing. Some action movies, like The Rock. He could be the next Rock.”

Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson played football at the University of Miami and in the Canadian Football League before joining the WWE and becoming one of the biggest actors in the world.

“I think he could be like The Rock,” said teammate Brian Hoyer. “He has great personality, very comedic. He’s done the WWE thing. I could see that. For a person like Rob who is willing to work hard and have the personality that he has, I think, the sky’s the limit.”

Despite all the antics, jokes and laughs, Gronk is not lacking for intelligence, discipline or dedication, his teammates note. He may have a reputation for partying, but that was mostly in the offseason and he always arrived prepared and in shape. Football-wise he grasps both route running and blocking schemes. He’s had but one coach, the demanding Bill Belichick who has always sworn by him.

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Yes, he’s fun loving, but everyone said that he is likely to attack his post-playing days with the same focus and intensity as he has the NFL. Gronkowski claims he’s lived off his endorsement money and never touched the tens of millions he made in salary, which even if it isn’t completely accurate suggests a penchant for finance that may not appear obvious.

“Gronk is really, really smart,” teammate Marcus Cannon said. “You can’t always take what you see on TV and social media. He’s just a very smart guy.”

Rob Gronkowski delivers a body tackle to WWE Superstar Jinder Mahal during a match at WrestleMania 33 in 2017. (AP)
Rob Gronkowski delivers a body tackle to WWE Superstar Jinder Mahal during a match at WrestleMania 33 in 2017. (AP)

Put it this way, Gronkowski is not just going to spend his retirement sailing around on a Gronk Party Cruise – unless, perhaps, he one day owns the cruise line.

“I think the one misconception you can see about Rob is that he is this big, dumb football player,” said Hoyer, who played with Gronkowski from 2010-2011 and now since 2017. “It’s not that at all. He’s very smart. When it comes to a lot of things, I’ve had great conversations with him over the years.”

A Gronkowski fitness line, or fitness plan, or string of gyms makes sense. So, too, does some WWE appearances and some acting work to start. Gronk said he hasn’t spent too much time thinking about it; he has an important game to play, after all.

“Whenever that is, there [will be] plenty of downtime to figure that stuff out,” Gronkowski said.

Sunday may mark the end of a Hall of Fame career and a near incomparable talent – 79 career touchdowns and an ability and willingness to block that is rare anymore. When he is on, he’s nearly unstoppable. And off the field, his personality has entertained millions.

He’s Gronk, a one of a kind.

And here’s guessing he isn’t going anywhere, and he’ll be bigger than ever in the future.

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