Rob Gronkowski’s decision to retire from the NFL on Sunday had many current teammates, former teammates, coaches, and peers reacting online.
The sporting world was caught a bit by surprise on Sunday when the major news wasn’t an unexpected upset in college basketball or a thrilling soccer match somewhere overseas, but rather Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski’s announcement on Instagram that he was retiring from the NFL after just nine seasons.
Though Gronk had openly flirted with retirement during the past two offseasons – even threatening to retire outright if he was traded to the Detroit Lions and away from running mate Tom Brady – it was still an unexpected development in both the New England and NFL worlds. The more time Gronkowski was taking to consider his future post-Super Bowl, the more speculation seemed to suggest that he was leaning towards returning in 2019.
Not so, apparently.
With Gronkowski out of the mix, the Patriots lose one of their most dangerous dual-threat weapons on offense from the past decade. Both a highly-efficient blocker and a reliably-gifted receiver, few tights ends in NFL history can compare with what Gronk accomplished in his short time in professional football. He absolutely belongs in the conversation of the greatest tight ends of all-time.
Predictably, athletes and public figures from all over the sporting landscape came out of the woodwork to pay their respects to Gronk. Whether current teammates, former teammates, current competitors, former competitors… all manner of NFL players chimed in on social media and online to wish Gronkowski the very best on this next chapter of his life.
Even a number of coaches and athletes from other sports took time to weigh in on what the fan favorite meant to the game.
But first things first, we have to share what Rob Gronkowski’s good friend and quarterback, Tom Brady, posted online. As the franchise leaders in passing and receiving touchdowns, this dynamic duo exercised a near-psychic chemistry on the field for nine years, and the results were always spellbinding to behold. So it’s no surprise that Brady gushed about Gronk as both a player and a friend.
Patriots owner Robert Kraft called Gronkowski “the most dominant player at his position for nearly a decade,” labeled him “a Patriot for life,” and predicted that he would soon be honoring him “as both a Patriots and Pro Football Hall of Famer.” Indeed, much of the debate surrounding Gronkowski nowadays isn’t centered on whether or not he’ll be inducted into Canton – it’s whether or not he’ll get in on the first try.
Patriots head coach Bill Belichick called Gronk “among the best, most complete players at his position to ever play,” and stated that it was “a pleasure and a privilege” to coach him for nine years.
Gronkowski’s teammate, Super Bowl 53 MVP Julian Edelman, posted a creatively-colored, Andy Warhol-esque salute to Gronk, calling him an “icon.” He also posted another image to Instagram simply referring to Gronkowski as “the other goat.”
Running back James White said he was “honored to have played with the best ever,” echoing Edelman’s assessment that Gronkowski is, in fact, the G.O.A.T. amongst NFL tight ends. Safety Patrick Chung also said Gronk was “the greatest to ever do it” in an Instagram post, as did running back Rex Burkhead.
Several Patriots teammates used the hashtag “#FirstBallot” to make their opinions known regarding Gronkowski’s future Hall of Fame inclusion chances, including safeties Duron Harmon and Devin McCourty. Linebacker Kyle Van Noy simply used the hashtag “#GOAT,” which was another popular one online throughout much of Sunday and Monday in the immediate aftermath of the news.
Former teammate Danny Amendola called Gronk “the most genuine man I’ve ever met,” before sharing a video of the two hugging on the sideline.
Former teammate Rob Ninkovich had a particularly humorous post about Gronkowski online, reminiscing on the laughs and the “pain we caused each other in One on Ones. We were smarter at the end (acting like we were going hard)”, suggesting a real depth and breadth to their relationship not just as teammates, but also as competitors in practice (Ninkovich at defensive end and Gronkowski at tight end).
Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt congratulated Gronk on his career and called him “one of the best to ever do it.”
Former Steelers and current Jets running back Le’Veon Bell interestingly used the goat emoji in a post thanking Gronkowski “for the amazing moments,” which probably won’t thrill either Pittsburgh or New York fans all that much to see. On that same note, Jets safety Jamal Adams called it “an absolute honor to line up and compete against the greatest Tight End ever!”
A couple of current NFL tight ends who call themselves Gronk’s contemporaries offered up their respect and admiration for him too: Greg Olsen of the Carolina Panthers vowed to “see you in Canton,” and David Njoku of the Cleveland Browns thanked Gronk for “paving the way and showing what it takes to be great!!”
The Boston Red Sox and the Boston Bruins both wished Gronkowski congratulations on Twitter. And even the NFL’s own official Instagram account called Gronk “one of the greatest ever.”
It’s no doubt a sad chapter in Patriots history to see one of the greatest players and playmakers in franchise history hang up his cleats and call it a career, but the feeling is bittersweet. One has to respect Gronkowski’s decision not to put his body or his brain in further jeopardy, and his frugality and intelligence with regards to the way he handles his football earnings is commendable.
Ultimately, as much as we might all wish No. 87 would keep serving up “Gronk spikes” in the end zone for years to come, it doesn’t seem like it’s meant to be. Whereas Brady wants to play until he’s 45, Gronkowski is happy just playing until he’s 29.
And that’s okay. He certainly has nothing else to prove to himself or to anybody else out there. What he did in nine years speaks for itself, and it should be enough to earn him a first-ballot trip to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Thank you, Rob Gronkowski, from all of us at Musket Fire.