With 7:43 left in Super Bowl 53 and the game tied at three, the New England Patriots found themselves in a 2nd and 3 situation at the Los Angeles Rams’ 31-yard line. The AFC champions, who struggled to consistently move the football against one of the league’s best defenses up to that point, finally were in an offensive rhythm and with momentum on their side after all three previous plays of that series gained positive yardage.
Rob Gronkowski started the play in the left-side slot of the Patriots’ 2x3 empty formation, running up the seam one the football was snapped. Rams linebacker Cory Littleton was trailing him in one-on-one coverage, with cornerback Marcus Peters also coming over to help. Safety John Johnson also reacted to the situation — but it was too late: Gronkowski was open just enough for Tom Brady to deliver a pin-point pass:
The big tight end, whose 29-yard reception set up a first-and-goal situation and ultimately the Super Bowl’s only touchdown, calmly tossed the football over to the referee before walking back to the huddle. At that point, nobody thought about that this catch might be the final one of Gronkowski’s illustrious career — that number 602 would be the last reception the future Hall of Famer would come down with.
But it was: earlier today, Gronkowski announced his retirement from the NFL. After nine seasons, three Super Bowl victories, five Pro Bowl selections, and numerous other accolades, the 29-year-old decided to call it a career. Looking back at his time since joining the Patriots as a second-round draft pick in 2010 and up to that 29-yarder on Super Bowl Sunday, he couldn’t have ended this chapter in any better fashion.
For one, Gronkowski is going out on top — a champion yet again to cap what was a difficult and from a statistical point of view disappointing season. That being said, it was still one that saw vintage Gronk moments when the spotlight was at its brightest and the pressure to make a play on him. Just look at the aforementioned Super Bowl, his final game in the league when he caught six passes for 87 yards. 87, of course, also being his jersey number.
It is more than just this sentimental connection that makes his retirement now perfect in a way, though. Gronkowski, for one last time, also showed why he was the most complete player the tight end position has ever produced: he dominated as a blocker in the running game and made outstanding plays as a pass catcher. On top of it all, of course, he played a key role in helping the Patriots win another championship.
But there is still more to it: Gronkowski, who ended three of his nine seasons in the pros on injured reserve and underwent multiple surgeries along the way, is going out on his own terms. At the end of the day, this is how you want to see an all-time great step away. Would it have been great to see him continue his already legendary run? Of course, but ultimately Gronkowski pulling the plug now is the storybook ending his storybook career deserved.