The NFL has lost a captivating superstar with the retirement of Rob Gronkowski

Ben Coles
The Telegraph
Rob Gronkowski, who retired on Sunday, won three Super Bowls playing for the New England Patriots - AP
Rob Gronkowski, who retired on Sunday, won three Super Bowls playing for the New England Patriots - AP

Throughout his nine-year NFL career Rob Gronkowski was described as a dinosaur, although not in a derogatory way. The tight end's size and speed frankly made him unplayable even up against superhuman athletes.

In a Q&A back in 2015 with CBS, when asked what he considered to be his spirit animal, 'dinosaur' happened to be his answer.

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Couple that level of natural talent and physique with a flair for spiking the ball hard enough to penetrate through to the earth's core, and you get a superstar.

'Me Gronk. Me score touchdown. Me do Gronk spike' automatically became one of the most popular catchphrases among NFL supporters during the last decade, his popularity soaring not only because of Gronkowski's on-field play but his off-field lust for the party.

If anyone in today's NFL decided they were going to host their own Party Ship cruise from Miami to the Bahamas, as Gronk famously did in 2016, then naturally they would be endlessly parodied and mocked. Not so with Gronk. His endless exuberance seemed to silence the cynics. 

“In the nine years that I have known Rob Gronkowski, I have never known him to have a bad day," Patriots owner Robert Kraft said in his tribute on Sunday.

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It all started at 20 years old on stage at the NFL draft when my dream came true, and now here I am about to turn 30 in a few months with a decision I feel is the biggest of my life so far. I will be retiring from the game of football today. I am so grateful for the opportunity that Mr. Kraft and Coach Belichick gave to me when drafting my silliness in 2010. My life experiences over the last 9 years have been amazing both on and off the field. The people I have meet, the relationships I have built, the championships I have been apart of, I just want to thank the whole New England Patriots organization for every opportunity I have been giving and learning the great values of life that I can apply to mine. Thank you to all of Pats Nation around the world for the incredible support since I have been apart of this 1st class organization. Thank you for everyone accepting who I am and the dedication I have put into my work to be the best player I could be. But now its time to move forward and move forward with a big smile knowing that the New England Patriots Organization, Pats Nation, and all my fans will be truly a big part of my heart for rest of my life. It was truly an incredible honor to play for such a great established organization and able to come in to continue and contribute to keep building success. To all my current and past teammates, thank you for making each team every year special to be apart of. I will truly miss you guys. Cheers to all who have been part of this journey, cheers to the past for the incredible memories, and a HUGE cheers to the uncertain of whats next.

A post shared by Rob Gronkowski (@gronk) on Mar 24, 2019 at 2:53pm PDT

Gronkowski's place in the NFL Hall of Fame at Canton, Ohio, is already assured once he becomes eligible, after winning three Super Bowls including this year's triumph over the Los Angeles Rams, and four first-team All Pro nominations.

Sunday's announcement through Instagram that Gronkowski was hanging up his cleats before he turns 30 in May was no surprise.

While he so often looked invincible when towering over mismatched cornerbacks and safeties, his list of injuries throughout his career was extensive.

Two forearm fractures led to Gronkowski wearing a sizable padding on his left arm. In one single play, Gronkowski suffered a torn ACL, MCL and a concussion. Back and leg injuries have noticeably hindered him over the last two seasons.

<span>Gronkowski goes aerial to score against the Kansas City Chiefs</span> <span>Credit: REUTERS </span>
Gronkowski goes aerial to score against the Kansas City Chiefs Credit: REUTERS

And yet when healthy, or at least healthy enough, there was no disputing his status as the best tight end in the league. Certainly of his generation. Maybe even in history.

That last point is naturally contentious. Ozzie Newsome and Kellen Winslow were the standout performers in the 1970s and 1980s before a wave of Hall of Famers - Shannon Sharpe, Tony Gonzalez and another certain future inductee in Antonio Gates, who at 38 could be about to return for his 17th season with the Los Angeles Chargers.

Travis Kelce (Kansas City) and Greg Olsen (Carolina) have provided competition this decade but come up considerably short in comparison to Gronkowski, the first tight end to lead the NFL in receiving touchdowns in a single season (2011) and a revered blocker. Too quick for linebackers, too strong for defensive backs, he was a constant dilemma for defences.

Two questions now linger. What does Gronkowski do next? And how do the Patriots replace him?

Gronkowski has been linked with WWE wrestling, following a cameo at Wrestlemania a few years back, and also with Hollywood, with Gronkowski part of the cast for the upcoming film 'Boss Level' starring Mel Gibson this year.

Alternatively, he could do nothing, having earned over 53 million dollars throughout his NFL career. 

The Patriots riddle is more interesting. Gronkowski has been Tom Brady's primary receiving weapon, even more so than Julian Edelman, this year's Super Bowl MVP. Brady turns 42 in August but his resources appear alarmingly slim outside of Edelman and running back Sony Michel.

Gronkowski opens up around $9m worth of cap space - the Patriots currently only have $3.2m, the second lowest amount out of the 32 teams - which should go some way towards giving Brady's arsenal the help it clearly needs.

What is certain is that a Gronk-less Patriots side, and in the act the NFL as a whole, becomes less fun to watch in every way.

While being interviewed by Mexican television after winning his first Super Bowl back in 2012, Gronkowski responded to a question with "Yo Soy Fiesta", or "I Am Party". He was certainly not wrong.

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