Gronk's party muted as concussion issue looms at Super Bowl

Yahoo Sports

ST. PAUL, Minn. — Three years ago, the last time Rob Gronkowski played in the Super Bowl for the New England Patriots, his vaunted Party Bus came with him. Or, actually it followed him.

The former church bus that Gronk and his merry band of revelers nicknamed the “Sinners Bus” proved to be the personification of Gronk himself on wheels. And as the Patriots barreled toward their improbable Super Bowl victory against Seattle three years ago, the bus hauled across the country to join them. The vaunted driver of the bus, Robert Goon, tweeted out pictures at landmarks and state lines before the bus finally pulled into Arizona.

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With Rob Gronkowski still in concussion protocol for Sunday’s Super Bowl against the Eagles, the tone around Gronk heading into this Super Bowl is appropriately muted. “It has to be,” said Patriots assistant coach Ivan Fears. “He’s in the protocol.”

Gronkowski took a vicious hit from Jacksonville Jaguars safety Barry Church in the AFC championship game and his status for Super Bowl LII is still unknown because of the concussion he suffered. All signs point to Gronkowski playing, as he’s participated in the past two Patriots practices and looks to be in the final phases of the concussion protocol.

“You’d have to see the medical report and see how that is,” said Brian Hoyer, the Patriots’ backup quarterback. “I’ve had to deal with concussions before, so you just never know.”

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While in the league-mandated concussion protocol, Gronkowski isn’t able to speak with the media. At the league’s Opening Night media availability, Gronkowski didn’t participate. That deprived us of gems like Gronkowski voting himself the team’s best dancer and his opinions on erotic fan fiction.

So far during this Super Bowl, preparation has been quiet for Gronk. His Twitter feed has been populated with only a few promotional appearances and a video showing his kindness toward a sick Patriots fan. The looming medical issue has subdued Gronkowski and his inner-circle of revelers.

Rob Gronkowski (87) is hit by  Barry Church (42) as he breaks up a pass during the first half of the AFC championship game. (AP)
Rob Gronkowski (87) is hit by  Barry Church (42) as he breaks up a pass during the first half of the AFC championship game. (AP)

In other words, Gronk’s noted catch phrase – “Yo soy fiesta” – has been replaced by an understandable Gronk siesta. It seems his inner circle has embraced the quiet memo for obvious reasons – respecting the concussion protocol at a time when the league struggles to deal with head injuries.

Calls to Gronkoswki’s father, three of his brothers and Robert Goon, his close friend and party bus driver, were not returned Monday. Agent Drew Rosenhaus also declined comment. The typically affable and cooperative Gronk crew is clearly respecting the wishes of the Patriots to remain quiet until he’s cleared. There’s no word if the party bus will be making a triumphant trip to Minneapolis, as the Bus’ twitter feed – @GronkPartyBus – has been silent since Jan. 16.

Last season, Gronkowski didn’t play in the Super Bowl because of a back injury that sidelined him for the season. He took a vicious hit in Week 10, tried to go in Week 12 and then shut himself down for the season in December. The Patriots won anyway in miraculous fashion after trailing 28-3. But with Julian Edleman out and no other tight end threat on the roster, the Patriots desperately need his presence to repeat as champions.

Gronkowski has stayed relatively healthy this season, as he endured a groin injury and thigh contusion and missed two games in the regular season.

Gronkowski has caught 69 passes – no joke – for 1,084 yards and eight touchdowns. In his eight years in the league, he has become a more polished player.

“When he was younger, he ran around and used his size and speed to kind of just get open,” Hoyer said. “Now he can finesse some things and use leverage. He’s a veteran savvy player and knows how to use scheme and his unique skill set to get himself open.”

Has Gronk changed off the field? Well, there’s a sense among those who knew him in his early years in New England that he has evolved. Early on in Gronk’s tenure with the Patriots, he lived with former teammates Dane Fletcher and Niko Koutouvides. They had a house called “FKG” for their initials, replete with Corn Hole tournaments, backyard archery and a fake mouse named Henry that they’d use to scare Gronk. These days, Fletcher owns a gym back in his native Montana, but has an appreciation for a slightly more refined Gronk.

“Yeah, I think he’s growing up,” Fletcher told Yahoo on Monday afternoon. “That’s not his life anymore. He can’t get away with anything and going out because he gets bombarded. Plus, I don’t know if he looks forward to the party scene like he used to.”

Koutouvides said he holds an appreciation for his former teammate’s ability to come back from injuries. Gronkowski missed his entire junior year at Arizona with back issues, and his NFL injuries have included a broken left forearm (twice), fractured vertebrate, torn ACL, torn MCL and last year’s back issues. This concussion is his second documented one in the NFL.

“Being able to come back and be able to play at that high level, it’s very rare you see guys do that,” Koutouvides said. He added: “I think we can all sit here today and say he’s a first-ballot Hall of Famer. What he’s done at that position is probably best of all-time that we’ve seen.”

Gronkowski has a chance to add to that legacy Sunday. It’s the Patriots’ fourth Super Bowl during his tenure with the team, and the third he’ll have taken part in (if he plays). This year, whether he plays or not, the atmosphere around Gronkowski will be a little more serious as he deals with a concussion. The aura around him is appropriately muted.

Will the party be if he plays and the Patriots win? Well, don’t bet on it.

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