August 11, 2022

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You are Your Only Limit

Rob Gronkowski retires: Top on-field, off-field moments of the tight end’s legendary NFL career

7 min read

Rob Gronkowski has once again called it a career. For the second time throughout his tenure in the NFL, the legendary tight end has announced his retirement after 11 years in the league. While there is already some scuttlebutt that the 33-year-old may answer the call from Tom Brady and return at some point in the future, similar to what happened in 2020, it’s never a bad time to marvel at what will almost certainly be a first-ballot Hall of Fame career.

As Gronkowski sails off into the sunset, we’re going to look back at his time in the NFL and highlight some of his greatest moments (in no particular order). Of course, given the character that Gronkowski was, we’re going to separate this into two pieces showcasing his top moments on the field and off. 

Top on-field moments

Last catch for the Patriots

While Gronkowski spent his final years in the NFL as a member of the Buccaneers, he’ll go down as one of the all-time great Patriots. New England is where the tight end spent the bulk of his career and established himself as an all-time talent. He also was a key piece to multiple Super Bowl teams, including the Super Bowl LIII club in 2018. 

In what would later prove to be his last game as a Patriot, Gronkowski delivered one last gasp of greatness that helped New England to the 13-3 win over the Los Angeles Rams. With the score knotted at three in the fourth quarter, Tom Brady dropped back on a second-and-3 attempt from the L.A. 31-yard line. He then found Gronkowski on the left side of the field and — with three Rams around him — the tight end extended to make the clutch reception that put New England on the doorstep of the end zone where the Pats would score the game’s only touchdown. 

That catch proved to be Gronkowski’s last for New England. 

Demolition in Washington

Gronkowski’s massive frame and freakish athletic ability are what made him not only a future Hall of Famer, but one of the most enjoyable players of his era to watch. One of his more dominating displays came back during his second season in the NFL in 2011 when that greatness was on full display against Washington. Gronkowski put together his best game of the season in that Week 13 matchup, catching six of his 10 targets for 160 yards and two touchdowns. 

One of the more memorable plays from that game and of his career came in the first quarter when he rolled over and caught a pass from Brady at midfield. Untouched, Gronkowski regained his footing and proceeded down the field. When he was met by two Washington defenders, he effortlessly carried them for about 5 yards before shedding them and had the Patriots in the red zone. One play after that 49-yard catch and run, Gronkowski scored an 11-yard touchdown.

Throwing Sergio Brown ‘out the club’

Naturally, most folks are going to flock to Gronkowski’s highlights as a receiver, but what made him so great was that he was an extremely well-rounded tight end and just as good of a blocker as he was a pass-catcher. One of the best examples of that came in a November matchup against the Indianapolis Colts in 2014 in what is more popularly remembered as the “Jonas Gray Game.” 

During a goal-line rush in the fourth quarter, Gray ran up the left side where Gronkowski was slotted as the outside blocker. Gray followed Gronk into the end zone for the score, but Gronkowski continued to muscle his defender — Sergio Brown — all the way out of bounds. While Gronkowski was penalized for the block, it certainly showcased his prowess in that area.

‘How the [expletive] did you catch that?’

Gronkowski’s play on the field felt like it was previously reserved for video games. His ability to work as a legit No. 1 pass-catcher in an offense and be an all-time mismatch for opposing defenses due to his size was historic. 

One of his more acrobatic moments came during the 2014 season against the Denver Broncos. Gronkowski was able to make a one-handed catch where he turned his body back toward the middle of the field and extended his left arm to make the catch with a defender draped over him. That catch even dropped the jaw of Brady, who would later ask him: “How the [expletive] did you catch that?”

Stuns the Steelers

What Gronkowski did to the Pittsburgh Steelers in the fourth quarter of New England’s Week 14 matchup during the 2017 season was one of the more dominating displays we’ve seen in the NFL. Trailing by five with just over two minutes to play, Brady zeroed in on Gronkowski, who would catch four of his five targets (including a 2-point conversion) on what would prove to be the go-ahead drive. Gronkowski was matching shoestring catches, grabs in coverage, and single-handedly put New England on the goal line. 

The cherry on top of that drive was his menacing cackle at his defender after scoring the 2-point conversion to go up by a field goal before spiking the football into the earth.

2015 AFC Championship

Because the Patriots fell to the Broncos in the game, the 2015 AFC Championship often gets overlooked as one of Gronkowski’s all-time performances. On the day, he caught eight of his 15 targets for 144 yards and a touchdown, but this game goes beyond his gaudy numbers. 

With 90 seconds left in the game, Gronkowski was close to putting the Patriots on his back and on to the Super Bowl. Down by eight and faced with a fourth-and-10 situation and the season on the line, Brady found Gronkowski for a 40-yard reception that put the Patriots at the Denver 10-yard line. A few plays later, Gronkowski hauled in a 4-yard pass by Brady where he needed to leap over his defender to give the Patriots the opportunity to force overtime with a 2-point conversion. 

Unfortunately for Gronkowski and the Patriots, that 2-point conversion targeted for Julian Edelman failed and New England’s chances of a Lombardi were dashed. Still, this was an all-time moment for Gronkowski that shouldn’t be forgotten. 

‘Two Tuddies’ in Super Bowl LV

Gronkowski’s top moment as a member of the Buccaneers came in his first season with the club as they won Super Bowl LV against the Kansas City Chiefs. In that game, Gronkowski wasted no time helping Tampa Bay to its second Super Bowl title in franchise history, scoring the Bucs’ first two touchdowns of the game. 

Those scores game him and Brady the record for the most postseason touchdowns scored by a quarterback and a receiver, besting Joe Montana and Jerry Rice. Gronkowski finished his day catching six of his seven targets for a team-high 67 yards and those two touchdowns as he won the fourth Super Bowl of his career. 

Top off-field moments

’69’ jokes galore 

If you’ve followed Gronkowski for even a minute of his career, you’ll know that 69 jokes really hit his funny bone. In the same vein as Michael Scott never missing a “That’s what she said” quip, the fruit was never hanging too low for Gronkowski when it came to 69 jokes. The most famous came when he physically taped the number on the back of a blank practice jersey and wore it onto the field. 

He also had a No. 69 Patriots jersey on during the team’s Super Bowl XLIX championship parade around Boston.

Lombardi Trophy shenanigans

Gronkowski has four Super Bowl rings to his name, so you’d think that he’d know his way around the Lombardi Trophy, right? Wrong. Over the years, the tight end has certainly had his fun with the trophy and has even left his unique mark on one of them along the way. Following New England’s win in Super Bowl LIII, the team was the guest of the Red Sox for Opening Day where it would show off its trophies and throw out the ceremonial first pitch. 

As some players were warming up to throw out the pitch, Gronkowski got in the box as a batter and held the Lombardi Trophy up like a bat. As Julian Edelman delivered a pitch, Gronkowski laid down a bunt and dented the back side of the trophy. 

Denting one of New England’s trophies wasn’t the only Lombardi moment for Gronkowski, however, as he was on the receiving end of Brady’s infamous boat toss following the Buccaneers’ victory in Super Bowl LV. 

‘Yo soy fiesta’

Nothing may encapsulate Gronkowski’s boyish charm than his interview with ESPN Deportes. He took his best stab at reciting some Spanish during the interview and, naturally, came away with one of the more famous slogans of his career — “Yo soy fiesta,” which literally translates to “I am party.” 

Iconic. 

Crashing the White House press briefing

Back when the team was visiting the White House in 2017, Gronkowski seemingly wandered off from the rest of the Patriots and found himself in the midst of the White House press briefing that was being held by Sean Spicer. Gronkowski interrupted Spicer — a New England native — and asked if he could be of any assistance, to which Spicer declined with a grin. 

‘Stealing’ Brady’s jersey at Fenway Park

A few months after the Patriots had mounted the 28-3 comeback against the Falcons in Super Bowl LI, they were the guests of honor at Opening Day at Fenway Park. One of the more wild storylines that came out of that victory was someone stealing Brady’s jersey from inside the Patriots locker room. It was eventually recovered and Brady presented it to the Fenway Faithful, but Gronkowski couldn’t help himself and had some fun with the ordeal. As Brady held up the jersey, Gronkowski snatched it from his hands and the quarterback chased him into the outfield to the crowd’s delight. 

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