A few thoughts on Gronkowski, and his place in Boston sports. I saw a piece today on Boston.com saying that only Gale Sayers and Jim Brown made the football Hall of Fame without playing in their thirties. This is not true. Seattle Seahawks safety Kenny Easley is in the Hall. And I think there's some chance Gronkowski returns at some point next season. What is interesting to me, though, is how often Boston sports teams have had someone who is the best ever at something. For instance: Bobby Orr is the best defenseman of all time. (I'm fine with calling Ray Bourque #2, and I'd take his career over Orr's.) Ted Williams is the greatest hitter ever. David Ortiz is the best clutch hitter ever. Roger Clemens might be the best pitcher ever (it's Clemens, Walter Johnson, Lefty Grove, or Christy Mathewson). Tom Brady is the best football player ever. Adam Vinatieri is the best kicker ever. Bill Belichick--who I put higher in their field than everyone else on this list in theirs--I think Belichick is Gretzky and Jordan level, and better at what he did than Jordan was at what he did--is the best coach ever. In any sport. And Rob Gronkowski is the best tight end ever. Why is Bill Russell not here for, I don't know, best winner ever? Because those Celtics teams beat some dog food teams, and I think you have to consider the quality of the competition when evaluating number of titles. It's a very padded resume. You beat who you play, but there can still come a "Yeah, but" or two with it. You could argue that the 2004 Patriots are the best NFL team ever--which I believe--or that the 1985-1986 Celtics were the best NBA team ever (I don't think so--I'll take the 1995-96 Bulls, the most defensively intense team I've ever watched play, in any sport).
Gronkowski was not the idiot he was portrayed as. If you listen to him speak, as I did, as a writer, you heard someone who could wield language pretty well. I know he got in trouble a couple years back for stomping someone, but, really, I don't care about any of that. Stomp, spear, attempt to injure. I think it's part of the game. Go for it. So long as you don't do it from behind. One reason I was confident all of last season--and you can check the radio tapes to verify this--that the Patriots would win it all was because I saw no drop-off in Gronkowski. I saw some injuries, and also a new role. If he had not been given that role and kicked ass in it, they wouldn't have won. More than any player on the field, including Brady, Gronkowski is why that team won. He was central to establishing the team's new mode of play and their attitude, and he blew people up at the line, and then downfield off of the line. Speaking of lines: the Patriots also have the all-time best offensive lineman in John Hannah. How strange that so many "best ever" people in sports played the majority of their careers in one place. As for Gronkowski playing next year: I put it at 25%. I think he's going to miss it. He strikes me as a focused guy, who likes to work hard, to be disciplined. I get that. I'm that way. Bach was that way. It's just a way you are, or you aren't. Brady is obviously that way. Trying to get better, not taking time off, for the most part, putting in the time.
Do you know how hard I work at writing well? I'm not even talking about how much I formally compose. I spend literally every waking moment working to get better. If someone has used a word in a way I've not seen it used, going to its fifth definition, or used a kind of construction I've not seen anywhere else, I immediately learn that and add that to the powers of what I can do, and within my ability, that thing I've learned becomes different and amplified. Writing is easy for me. But that is because it's all I do and all I am. Well, and having more ability. I will pump anyone with questions if they do something or have some experience I don't do or have. Because they might say something that triggers me to think a certain way that will inform some character of mine eventually. My days are exhausting, in part because each is a super-extended practice session. It's all reps. There are no pauses. I think Brady became that way after his first couple years in New England. And I think he helped Gronkowski become that way. I don't think being an action movie star is going to do it for him, and I also don't think he's going to have this audience there that people assume he will. I don't think there's a lot of appeal, to be honest, to see Rob Gronkowski do anything but play football. Then the sound bites are cute or whatever. They're extra. Garnishing. But if that's what there principally is, or close to it, I just don't think people are going to care very much. What's he going to be? A character actor? He's Ward Bond? Obviously not. He'd have to be the star, and he's too vanilla, ho-hum, in my view, to carry anything like that, once you strip away the football stuff. I could be wrong.
Gronkowski always seemed absent from or limited in the Patriots' Super Bowls in which he participated, but certainly not in this last one. He was central to that victory. Seems a pretty selfless guy, too, by the standards of professional athletes (I'm not talking hockey players--as a rule, hockey players are almost always better people than athletes in other sports. A hockey player would never, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever get away with being the super mega-dick that is Kyrie Irving).