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Rob Gronkowski leaves lasting impression on Bucs

The tight end has been all football in 2020, and that football has been excellent.
Bucs tight end Rob Gronkowski needs 6 more yards receiving to notch at least 600 yards for the seventh time in his career.
Bucs tight end Rob Gronkowski needs 6 more yards receiving to notch at least 600 yards for the seventh time in his career. [ DANNY KARNIK | Associated Press ]
Published Dec. 31, 2020
Updated Dec. 31, 2020

TAMPA — Tom Brady is doing a remarkable impression of Rob Gronkowski. Actually, it’s an impression of Gronk, the alter ego of the Bucs tight end.

It sounds a little like a cross between Cookie Monster and the Terminator, which is perfect because Gronkowski’s personality is a pretty fair mix of both. The story Brady tells is the time that Gronkowski called him up in April 2016 feeling totally out of shape before a cover shoot for GQ magazine.

They went down to a nearby baseball field. In the pouring rain, Gronkowski ran routes and Brady threw about 60 passes to him. “The ball never hit the ground,” Brady says.

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As Brady tells the story, he switches to his Gronk voice.

“And then him: ‘Dude. That was great! That was perfect! That was just what I needed! I feel ripped now!’

“He was ready for his photo shoot because of one day of the two of us working out together,” Brady said. “It was good execution, but I think for him it was more important that he felt like he was shredded now getting ready for his GQ photo shoot. That’s one of the great stories of him just being Rob and that’s why everybody loves him.”

Nobody loves Gronkowski as much as Brady right now. And there’s no one he trusts more this time of year either.

It was Brady who talked Gronkowski out of retirement after only one season. It was Brady who convinced the Bucs to trade with the Patriots for Gronk’s rights.

When they arrived in Tampa Bay back in March, they only knew each other.

But it’s this time of the season, when the games get much bigger and the margin for error so much smaller, that Brady leans on Gronkowski most.

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In the past three games, Gronkowski, 31, has caught six passes for 89 yards. Three have been for touchdowns.

“I love playing with the guy,” Brady said. “He knows how I feel about him. I’ve got a lot of trust and confidence in the biggest moments with him. Sometimes, I think about players. If it was the fourth quarter of the Super Bowl, who do I want in the game with me? And you know, he definitely fits that.”

This has been an unusual year in the NFL. Unusual for Gronkowski, too. Because of the COVID-19 protocols in the NFL, he has been all Gronkowski the football player. It’s either work or home with his girlfriend, model Camille Kostek.

As a result, Tampa Bay fans haven’t had a chance to experience the shirt-removing, dancing, twerking Gronk from a club or pool deck.

Bus tight end Rob Gronkowski winds up for his iconic spike after a touchdown against the Lions last Sunday.
Bus tight end Rob Gronkowski winds up for his iconic spike after a touchdown against the Lions last Sunday. [ RICK OSENTOSKI | AP ]

Gronkowski will start his 16th regular-season game Sunday against the Falcons, something he hasn’t done since 2011. With 6 more yards receiving, he will hit at least 600 yards for the seventh time in his career. His seven touchdown receptions are the most he’s had since tallying 11 in 2015.

“The experience has been great,” Gronkowski said. “It’s been a fun season. At times, you know it takes its toll. It feels like it’s going on for a while and then there’s times when it’s Week 17 and you look back and you’re like, ‘Man, time flew.’ ... Just overall, man, it’s been a successful journey so far.”

Through the first two games, Gronkowski only had four targets and two catches. That prompted him to exclaim, “I came here to block, baby.”

But as the season wore on, his targets increased. He had touchdown catches in consecutive games against the Packers, Raiders and Cheifs.

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“I just wanted to be a consistent player every week throughout the whole year and just try and stay steady and stay up there making plays,” Gronkowski said. “And if I wasn’t really making plays one week, figure out why I wasn’t.”

Coach Bruce Arians’ ability to protect veterans by giving them an extra day off of practice during the week — something that never happened in New England — has kept Gronkowski fresher.

As the Bucs look to win their 11th game and secure the No. 5 seed for the playoffs, there’s no one Brady will trust more. Just Gronk. Often imitated, never duplicated.

“When he can deliver like he always has, I think it’s a real compliment to him — and how (I and) all his teammates feel about him,” Brady said. “Just an incredible player, teammate — everything.”