When Rob Gronkowski announced he’d be leaving retirement to play alongside pal Tom Brady for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, his fans were ecstatic. Especially his mom.
After raising five pro athletes (Gordie Jr., Dan, Chris, Glenn and Rob), Diane Gronkowski settled near Fort Myers with her second husband, Mike Walters. When Rob became a Buccaneer, he also became a fellow Floridian. She was able to see her son play during all eight of his home games and is looking forward to cheering him on Sunday.
The Tampa Bay Times caught up with Diane ahead of the Super Bowl to discuss bringing up her boys, enjoying time in lockdown with Rob, and the upcoming big game.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
I watched an interview where you talked about going through over 2 gallons of milk a day when your children were growing up. What was your grocery shopping strategy when you were raising five future pro athletes?
My strategy was buy as much as I could buy for the least amount of money. It was kind of like a game. Everybody ate everything. So whatever was on sale, and you could get it for a good price that week, that’s what we had. I had two full-size freezers and two full-size refrigerators.
I was very prepared. Everything was planned out, at least the day before for the following day. Whatever I needed for the next day was already in my van the night before. I knew how many lunches had been made. It was really nuts, not waiting for the last minute for anything. Dinner usually was made the night before for the following night because all day long, I had to run them around everywhere. I mean, there were times where I had 13 baseball teams going at once. You know, they had their house teams and then like a select team and then a travel team.
Rob obviously has a big personality now and you’ve said that he was fun as a kid. What is your favorite memory of him as a child?
When my boys, the five of them were always all together. They were a group. They did everything together. So Rob entertained them and they laughed at him. He was such an entertainer to them that that continued on as he as he got older and went out into the world, and it wasn’t just his brothers anymore, but other people that he could entertain. But there’s really not one particular instance that I remember.
What was his retirement like for you?
His retirement was something that he needed to do for himself because he wasn’t going to heal if he only had a couple months, because of all those surgeries. And then what was good for me was when he went back to football, he came to Tampa Bay because it’s so close to me. I see him all the time.
We went to all the home games, and if he has an away game, he usually comes to see me the day after. He has dinner, and we hang out and he gets a good night’s sleep, and then he drives back to Tampa the next day.
In June or July, he spent two weeks with me. And I haven’t had two weeks with Rob, if you added all my days together, in the last 13 years. I never could see him alone.
How did you spend those two weeks together last summer?
We did a lot of walking and a lot of bike rides and we went out in the boat. There was nobody else with us, it was just us. He learned to juggle. He was running around, you know, ”Hey, Mom, watch!”
We have a beach where we live, and he would just run on the beach here. He still worked out a lot. You can’t really go to the gym because people don’t leave you alone, so he just had his own places where he knew nobody would be there.
We didn’t do a lot, not because of COVID, but because he can’t anyway. You can’t go to a restaurant, you can’t go shopping, because people don’t leave him alone. So COVID didn’t really change that part of it. But what COVID did was it brought him to me. I saw all my boys a lot more this past year because Rob was playing in Tampa. It was like a trickle effect.
What are your family’s plans for the Super Bowl? Do you have any traditions?
I had the five boys and for a while, not very long ago, they were in five different states. And I was in Florida, so there was six states. It’s hard to get together. They’re all working and they all have families.
I’m still waiting to get the schedule of events for the families. And I know it’ll be different this year, because I’m assuming that they’re not going to be having as many things, if they have anything at all. In the past, they had activities for the families. Usually the day before the Super Bowl, there were buses to the stadium, and we could go down on the field and get our picture taken with our son or with any of the players. Everybody’s mingling together and everybody’s taking pictures. But you know, we can’t we can’t do that this year. So I’m just kind of waiting to find out.
What do you want readers to know about your sons?
It was a lot of work raising them. But I wasn’t raising them in any specific way. They love sports. They all did hockey, football, basketball, baseball. They went snow skiing. They went waterskiing, they played tennis, they swam. They played golf. So pretty much whatever anybody wanted to do, it’s like, “okay, we’ll go do it.” But it wasn’t like you did something specific every single day, because you’re going to be a professional football player.
Rob loves Tampa. He loves being there. I can see it in him, how happy he is being there.
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