A disagreement was brewing between the boys, and as usual, Gordy Gronkowski was right in the middle of it.
Back in the day, to settle such a dispute would require clearing the living room of furniture.
Gordy would put his combatant sons in separate corners, hand them each a couch pillow, and let them charge at each other until the matter was settled.
This time, the conflict arose during a television interview. Four of the brothers and their father were asked whether Rob, who had walked away from the NFL after nine seasons and countless surgeries with the Patriots, should end his retirement.
“We all raised our hands and said, ‘No, we would rather he not go back,‘” Gordy said. “He shocked us all, because we thought it would never happen.
“The bottom line, Rob is back in my opinion because of Tom Brady. I mean, Tom called him, and Tom got in his ear, and I’m sure Rob probably didn’t go out the way he wanted to.”
Brady pushed hard for a return to football for Rob, who sat out the 2018 season. He pushed even harder for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to trade for the rights to the future Hall of Fame tight end and a deal was completed in April.
The Gronkowski clan should have seen this coming. Rob was the brother who always kept returning for more.
No matter how much punishment he would endure in the game of Zoom Zoom their dad invented to resolve conflicts — “My rule was no hitting in the face and no hitting in the midsection” — Rob never knew when to quit.
“It’s funny, because Rob, they just beat the hell out of that kid because he was such a wise guy all the time,” Gordy said of his second-youngest son. “They would nail him, doing those Charlie horses and things but when they were through, he would go right back after them. It was non-stop. He had no fears. The kid had no fears growing up. I still think he’s like that.”
To understand what it means to grow up Gronk, you must be introduced to the patriarch of football’s larger-than-life family.
• • •
Gordy, 60, was raised in West Seneca, N.Y., and still lifts weights every day, maintaining much of the physique he owned as an undersized offensive lineman at Syracuse University.
He signed an $18,000 contract with the New Jersey Generals of the United States Football League in 1983. He was cut at the end of training camp and started working as a salesman for Penzoil, then later founded a fitness equipment company.
His first of five sons, Gordie Jr., arrived about the time his football career died. Two years later, in 1985, Dan was born. Chris came the next year and Rob in 1989. Four years later, they had enough for a basketball team when Glenn came along.
“I worked two jobs for six years straight until I got my (fitness equipment) business up and running,” Gordy said. “I had to. The food bill was $600 a week, roughly, give or take every week. They drank 2 ½ gallons of milk every day.”
Gordy didn’t force his sons to play sports, but he nudged them in that direction.
When they were about 4 years old, he would throw tennis balls at them to develop hand-eye coordination.
“Then as they got older, I started hitting the balls harder to them or launching them into the air so they knew how to get under them and get those nice, soft hands,” Gordy said.
Gordy coached their teams. They were all good baseball and hockey players. They weren’t allowed to play football until the seventh grade. They didn’t pump iron until eighth grade, and only then with a careful high-rep, low-weight program under their dad’s direction.
Gordy had turned the basement of their first house in Amherst, N.Y., a suburb of Buffalo, into a makeshift fitness center, with a multi-stack machine, a pull-up bar and a bench press.
At first, Gordie Jr. avoided the basement, unsure if he wanted to keep playing sports.
Gordy told his oldest son: “Look, if you’re going to play sports, we’ve got to get you in the weight room. But if you don’t, hey, that’s fine, too. You know, just go your way and do your thing. Make sure you get your schoolwork done and make sure we get to college.”
The other brothers were all in.
“I knew they had special talents,” Gordy said. “And I knew if I could take them down to the weight room and build into that, they could definitely go far.
“It was a crazy household, as you can imagine. We had a good brawl every single day. I had to break somebody up. I mean, a very competitive household and that’s how I was growing up. I always had to win and they got that from me. You got to win, you know?”
While Gordy handled the sports, their mother Diane took care of everything else, especially the schoolwork.
Gordy didn’t have a lot of rules, but he was a stickler about two: finish what you start, and you don’t play unless you make good grades.
“They knew they had to get the work done and they did the work and she was a great tutor in that home and made sure the work did get done,” Gordy said of his ex-wife, who lives in Fort Myers.
From this brood, more than one star emerged.
• • •
All five brothers, square-jawed with broad shoulders, are big. Their heights range from 6-foot-2 to 6-6.
“Growing up Gronk is a special term to me,” said Rob, 31. “As kids, we grew up fearless, ready to take on any opponent, any time and compete at the highest level possible while giving it your all.
“We had so much fun doing it.”
Gordy had one significant goal for each of his boys.
“It was to get five scholarships to pay for their college,” he said. “I got five bonuses afterwards.”
Gordie Jr. chose to focus on baseball. But spring arrives pretty late in Buffalo and the bleachers are not exactly full of college coaches.
So Gordy got together some film, a bio on his son and flipped through the pages of a book that listed the address of every single college. He sent out 18 letters a day. He taught Gordie Jr. how to pick up the phone and follow up with calls to coaches.
They would leave New York on a Thursday night for a four-day road trip, visiting campuses, then be home in time for Monday classes.
“Our last trip, we flew down to Florida and worked our way up the coast,” Gordy said. “And it’s funny it was the University of Jacksonville, because we took a day before we were to go to Florida State to go to the beach. It was raining like crazy and I said, ‘We’re here anyway, why don’t we go to visit this school’ and he fell in love with the place.‘'
Gordie Jr. could play, too. He was named to the freshman all-America team as a first baseman at Jacksonville. By his senior year, he had a career-high 88 hits, 10 home runs and 51 RBIs. The Dodgers drafted him in the 49th round, and he spent six seasons in the minors.
Dan earned a football scholarship to Maryland as a tight end. He had only 40 career receptions but was a seventh-round pick of the Detroit Lions in 2009. He played four seasons, including stints with the Broncos, Patriots and Browns.
Chris followed Dan to Maryland to play football and baseball. He transferred two years later to Arizona, where he was a linebacker and later a fullback. He was signed as an undrafted free agent by the Cowboys and spent four years in the NFL, a career that included appearances with the Colts, Broncos and Chargers.
Glenn played four seasons at Kansas State. Undrafted, he was on and off the practice squad for the Bills and Patriots, picking up Super Bowl rings as Rob’s teammate in New England.
“You get one guy in the NFL, that’s amazing,” Gordy said. ‘‘Then you start getting two. Then three. Then four. ...Then it was just like, ‘‘Wow. Is this really happening?‘”
Rob was the best of the bunch, with intimidating size at 6-foot-6, 268 pounds, great speed, Velcro hands and acrobatic body control.
“I always called Rob, ‘Gumby.’ Because his body is all flexible. That’s what he reminded me of,” Gordy said. “Some of the catches he made. For a big man? It was unbelievable how much looseness he had in his hips.”
Had he not missed his redshirt junior year at Arizona with a back injury, Rob would never have fallen to the second round, where he was drafted by the Patriots. But he had an instant chemistry with Brady, catching 10 touchdown passes as a rookie before recording 90 receptions for 1,327 yards and a league-best 17 touchdowns in 2011.
He brought energy to the Patriots, spiking each football in the end zone as if it were Poseidon’s trident.
“It was an incredible ride,” Gordy said. “Going to all those Super Bowls. It was like, ‘We’re going to another one!’ But the nice thing, because I’m from Buffalo, is that we won some. That was a big factor. I mean, there’s nothing like a Super Bowl.”
• • •
Rob’s career in New England came with a price.
That incredible physique, the one that was displayed nude for ESPN The Magazine’s body issue, took a worse beating than the ones his brothers could ever give him.
He broke his forearm blocking an extra point in 2012, then did it again in January of the same season. A staph infection post-surgery cost him the first six games of 2013. He was knocked unconscious on a hit by Browns safety T.J. Ward and woke to discover he had torn the ACL and MCL in his knee.
There was a chest lung bruise and herniated disc in 2017. He sustained a concussion and lower lumbar sprain in 2018.
The Patriots defeated the Rams 13-3 in Super Bowl 53. Beaten up physically and perhaps mentally drained, Gronkowski retired.
Fans wondered what Gronk would do with the more than $50 million he earned with the Patriots. He wrote in his book, It’s Good to be Gronk, that he only spent money made through endorsements. He has worked with major brands like Dunkin’ Donuts, Tide, JetBlue and Monster Energy.
He has been portrayed as the ultimate frat boy but has been with girlfriend Camille Kostek, a Sports Illustrated swimsuit model, since 2015.
Perhaps the biggest misconception about the Gronkowski brothers is that they only crack beers, jokes and skulls — with equal passion.
The reality is that they all excelled academically and are accomplished businessmen.
Rob graduated from Woodland Hills High School in 2007 with a 3.75 grade-point average and a 1560 SAT score. He earned approximately a 3.0 GPA at the University of Arizona, where he spent three years as a pre-business major before jumping to the NFL.
Dan earned a bachelor’s degree in marketing and an MBA from Maryland. He was a Rhodes Scholar nominee. Chris had a 3.8 GPA at Arizona where he majored in business. Glenn had a 3.9 GPA as a business major at Kansas State.
A lot of successful businesses live under the Gronk Nation umbrella: Gronk Fitness, G&G Fitness Equipment, Ice Shaker (a water bottle and protein cup created by Chris), the official Gronk Party Bus and the Gronk Bros Show.
Before landing with the Bucs, Rob was crowned the WWE 24/7 champion and taped the CBS television show Game On! with tennis star Venus Williams.
“He’s a brilliant marketer,” Gordy said of Rob. “You got to give him credit. A lot of times, I’ll say, ‘Rob, where did you get that from?’ He’ll go, ‘Well, I figured if I do this and say that, they’ll do what I want.’ He knows how to market himself.
“It’s so funny, because they all think he’s a big goofball or dumb jock or things like that. But he knows exactly every move that he makes and he knows exactly every dollar he’s got.”
Rob hopes he can get back to just being Gronk, the tight end who will keep catching touchdown passes from Brady.
'‘I feel like my childhood was the ultimate preparation for my life now,” Rob said. “All my brothers are great role models, work hard and paved the path for my family throughout high school and college. They all have wonderful traits, work hard and always are ready to have fun doing it, living life to the fullest.”
Gordy says he and his sons are Bucs fans now. The Gronk party bus may be parked outside Raymond James Stadium for every game this season.
“He and (Brady) see something together, and they started something together and they’re best friends,” Gordy said. “We’ll see where it all ends.”
And Gordy expects it to be one heck of a ride.