Gronkowski fits the Belichick mold

Willie McGinest talks about the 'Patriot Way' at Super Bowl Media Day.
Willie McGinest talks about the 'Patriot Way' at Super Bowl Media Day.
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Mark Kriegel

Mark Kriegel is the national columnist for He is the author of two New York Times best sellers, Namath: A Biography and Pistol: The Life of Pete Maravich, which Sports Illustrated called "the best sports biography of the year."



Rarely has anyone said so little, so often and as charmingly as Rob Gronkowski.

“I have no clue,” he said when asked for the 974th time if he would be practicing. “Whatever the training staff has me do.”

With his backward baseball cap and that ever-present hint of a grin, he looked like what he is: only 22, blessed and blissfully unaware of it. Yes, sometimes it’s better not to have a clue.

“I’m not going to disclose information,” he said, referring to the state of his sprained left ankle, the single biggest variable in Super Bowl XLVI. Turned out, he didn't practice Wednesday. And if Gronkowski is still hurt Sunday, you go with the Giants, easy.

At 6-foot-6, 265 pounds, in only his second year, Gronkowski turned in a historic season, the best ever for a tight end: 90 catches, 17 touchdowns, 1,327 yards. He represents not only Tom Brady’s best option but Bill Belichick’s most adaptive stratagem yet (discounting Spygate, of course). Not for nothing, but could you envision, say, Bill Parcells or Bill Walsh, making a Super Bowl run with two tight ends?

Gronk, as he's called, has an intuitive understanding of what Belichick wants. But he’s put a new spin on a traditionally surly tactic.

In just two days, Gronkowski has become a master at avoiding the question — but in a very nice way. The crowd gathered at his Media Day podium was as packed as any, Brady included. He has shed the ankle boot. But was that for show? Was he really not limping? Or was he faking not limping? I’m still studying the tape.

Are you going to play? he was asked.

“I’m not sure,” he said.

With that matter cleared up, it was on to the hypotheticals. If your rehab goes as planned, will you be able to play?

“Hopefully. Like I said, we are making positive strides every single day.”

Do you expect to play? I finally blurted across the interview table.

Another guy would’ve ignored me; Gronkowski is apparently too guileless for that. “Do I expect to play?” he asked, searching for a moment, seemingly stumped before regaining his composure. “I’m just taking it day by day.”

Then again, why not? Despite his dalliance with a porn star — a mandatory rite of passage for any young star, it seems — Gronkowski retains an air of innocence. He is, at the core, a gee-whiz kid in a cynical, scripted age.

Lost in almost two hours of Belichick-isms were a few gems. “The game of football is just awesome,” Gronk said. “You know, just running around, catching balls?”

Maybe it was the way he said it, part musclehead, part Spicoli.

Then there was the riff on his brothers, Robert being the fourth of five. “Our parents would always be mad at us for breaking all that stuff — plants (presumable potted), chairs, tables,” he said. “It was dumb. But it was pretty fun.”

Dumb, but pretty fun. One assumes that also would apply to Miss Bibi Jones, the aforementioned porn star.

Finally, perhaps inevitably, Gronkowski was asked about his taste in superheroes. For the record, he likes Superman, but he is more effusive when it comes to the Hulk.

“I like how the Incredible Hulk is bigger than everybody and throws them all around.”

“So,” said the journalist, “he was an inspiration to you?”

“Sort of.”

It stands to reason the Patriots also believe in the Incredible Hulk theory of football or, at the least, that bigger is better. While Belichick traded up to draft Gronkowski (with the 42nd pick in the 2010 draft) and former Florida tight end Aaron Hernandez (with the 113th pick that same year), he couldn’t have envisioned the double-tight-end set as the staple of his offense.

The 2010 Patriots had an ostensible deep threat in Randy Moss. This year’s team was supposed to feature Chad Ochocinco. The Gronkowski-Hernandez set was a matter of adaptation, of Belichick seeing what he had, and what he didn’t. As NFL offenses became pass-happy, spreading out their formations, defenses got smaller, with additional defensive backs.

Belichick’s thinking, according to Ferentz: “OK, they put small guys out there? Let’s see if we can get big. Any time you can put bigger guys on the field, you have an advantage.”

Provided those big guys are great athletes able to run, catch and, most of all, block. “The more you can block, the more you can play,” says tight end coach Brian Ferentz. “ . . . I don’t think you’re going to see many more like Gronk.”

The Incredible Gronk? You’ll know on Sunday. To you, it’s the Super Bowl. To the kid himself, it’s still football, which is to say, running around, catching balls, pretending you’re a super hero.

Tagged: Patriots, Tom Brady, Brian Ferentz, Rob Gronkowski

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