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When Tom Brady’s the lure, the Bucs are quite a catch for Rob Gronkowski

The new Bucs tight end still has time to learn his new teammates’ names, but it’s the old one who made returning to the NFL too tempting to resist.
Tom Brady (12) and tight end Rob Gronkowski (87) were inseparable in New England, and that bond will remain strong right here in Tampa Bay.
Tom Brady (12) and tight end Rob Gronkowski (87) were inseparable in New England, and that bond will remain strong right here in Tampa Bay. [ JOHN GLASER | ]
Published Apr. 23, 2020
Updated Apr. 23, 2020

Rob Gronkowski spent only a minute on the phone with coach Bruce Arians, but heard he’s a “football master.”

He hasn’t met his new teammates, guys like “Chris Goodwin and Cameron Brat," as he called them during a video conference call with media on Wednesday.

He likes the idea of rolling out of bed in shorts and a T-shirt and slipping on sandals, so playing in the hot weather is cool.

But if you want to know what really got Gronkowski to un-retire to Florida and resume his NFL career?

He said his fuse was lit when he played catch with Tom Brady a couple months ago, the first time since last July when a similar throwing session at UCLA made big headlines.

"We talked real quick, and I said, ‘Hey, I’m kind of getting that fire underneath me again.’ ... He was all fired up and juiced up about it.

“Yes, Tom was definitely … like the appetizer of the whole meal. He got me hooked when he went down to Tampa."

If this is Brady’s last dance, he has his old partner.

Related: No more NFL Network for Tampa Bay. With Brady and Gronk, we’ve gone TMZ, baby.

Gronkowski had 7,861 receiving yards and 79 touchdowns in nine seasons with the Patriots, nearly every one of those passes thrown to him by Brady. He helped put three Super Bowl rings on Gronk’s fingers.

So all the talk about B.A., Chris Godwin, Cameron Brate and Mike Evans is nice. Good soundbites and shoutouts to his new teammates.

It’s not that he tired of WrestleMania or that he didn’t earn his stripes as a White Tiger on The Masked Singer.

He has dropped 15 pounds to 250, his body feels great and he had a good post-career life of a former frat boy.

But the chance to play again with Brady? Without Bill Belichick sucking the fun out of your marrow?

Well, suddenly Gronkowski was gone and Gronk was back in the NFL.

“He’s one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time and to build a connection with a quarterback, too, is something special," Gronkowski said. “You see it all the time with many other players. They switch teams and they may not have the same chemistry they’ve had with one of their other quarterbacks ... it’s just like the old days. It doesn’t matter if we take a month off or six months apart. We go out there and we’re throwing the ball just like it’s a normal practice no matter what. It just happened to be the right opportunity down in Tampa."

Related: He won't be the Gronk of yore, but there might still be magic there

The guy sitting at his home in the white crewneck sweater during Wednesday’s introductory call was Gronkowski, as he’s known to his friends and family. But the guy the Bucs want is Gronk, his football spiking, bone-crushing, acrobatic-catching alter ego that you see on Sundays.

“The alter ego, you know? That can be used,” he said. "Whenever I want to get away with the alter ego, I just use, 'Oh, I was just being Gronk.’

“Gronk definitely means something to me. It started here in New England, out here with the Patriots my rookie year. ... And when I hear that name Gronk, it definitely relates to me, it relates more to the football world. It relates to the fans. ... And when Gronk hits the field, I feel like there’s power and intensity and giving it all he has and big hits, big plays and all that good stuff."

Unfortunately, all that good stuff ― and partying as hard as he played ― left pieces of Gronk all over the NFL.

A herniated disc. Broken left forearm. Fractured vertebrae. Torn ACL and MCL. Chest/lung contusion. Concussions. A thigh contusion.

All that’s missing is the red nose and Gronk could be the guy in the game of Operation.

He said there was no way he could have played in 2019.

Related: If Rob Gronkowski needs inspiration, look to Jason Witten

“My body 100 percent needed a rest," said Gronkowski, who is 30. “You know, I played football for whatever, 15 years straight. College. High school. NFL and I was taking hits, surgeries, everything. ... I didn’t have that fire underneath me. But I knew I loved the game of football. I always have.

“But as the time rolled on the last couple of weeks, you know I started really picking it up. My body started really feeling good. My desire to play the game of football was coming back and I knew that by the time the season would be rolling around again, I would want to be back out there. ... I just felt the last couple weeks it was the right time to hop on before it was too late."

The word is that Brady orchestrated all of this. The Bucs deny a report that Brady made acquiring Gronk a pre-condition to joining any team. Arians has said merely that the six-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback was pushing the Bucs to get Gronk aboard.

But the truth is one of the greatest passing combinations in NFL history reunited doing what they have always done best.

Playing a simple game of pitch and catch.