New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski, who announced his retirement on Sunday, will not just be remembered because of his tremendous abilities and production on the football field but also for his upbeat persona off it. During Tuesday’s NFL coaches breakfast, three former Patriots — the Houston Texans’ Bill O’Brien, the Miami Dolphins’ Brian Flores, and the Detroit Lions’ Matt Patricia — all spoke glowingly about the future Hall of Famer.
“You could tell right away this guy was going to be something special,” said former New England offensive coordinator O’Brien when asked about Gronkowski. Neo-Dolphins head coach Brian Flores, who served as the Patriots’ defensive signal caller during their 2018 Super Bowl season, added that while Gronkowski’s abilities on the field stand out, he was even better as a person.
“He brought an energy to our team that was different than anybody else’s that has been there. I think he’s just one of the best players that has ever played that position, but I would say that he’s a better person.” said Flores. “Great football player, better person,” was also said about the 29-year-old by long-time Patriots defensive coordinator and Flores predecessor Matt Patricia.
Patricia continued that Gronkowski’s ability to have fun but be serious when he needed to be was one of his biggest skills, and one story he shared perfectly and hilariously illustrated this. “We do a goal-line, seven-on-seven period every day in Friday practice,” the Lions’ head coach started his anecdote. “I would usually stand over the cans — we put the trash cans out there as the O-line. They’d be running crossing routes.”
“A lot of times when you do seven-on-seven passing plays, the advantage goes to the offense,” Patricia continued. “Being a defensive coach, I was trying to make it as difficult as possible. So Rob is running. He’s running a crossing route behind me, and I knew he was. I took the garbage can, and I just slung it backwards, and it caught him right in between the legs. He goes down hard and he’s laying on the ground and he’s not getting up.”
Naturally, Patricia was concerned about one of the NFL’s premier offensive weapons — one that had its fair share of injuries over the course of its career. “This is Friday before a game. I’m like, ‘This is it. I’m done. Gronk’s not getting up. This is about it,’” he continued before revealing that the tight end was in fact fine. “He’s playing it off. He was fine. But I was like, ‘Get. Up. Right now, before I get fired. Like, what are you doing?’”
Not only will the Patriots and the NFL lose one of their best players, but also one of the most unique characters the sport has ever seen.