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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Why Now: What Got Rob Gronkowski Out of Retirement

Spoiler alert: Tom Brady was only the ‘appetizer to the whole meal.’

New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski warms up before an NFL divisional playoff football game against the Los Angeles Chargers, Sunday, Jan. 13, 2019, in Foxborough, Mass. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)
New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski warms up before an NFL divisional playoff football game against the Los Angeles Chargers, Sunday, Jan. 13, 2019, in Foxborough, Mass. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)

The Bucs seem to have a knack for bringing people out of retirement as of late. First, it was Head Coach Bruce Arians prior to last season after a year away from coaching. Now, the greatest tight end of all time with quite frankly, nothing to prove, decided he wants to give this football thing another go in the Sunshine State. Rob Gronkowski is back – and it only partly has to do with the fact that Tom Brady had set sail for Tampa Bay.

"I was getting questions all the time," Gronkowski said on a Zoom call Wednesday afternoon. "I was getting opportunities throughout [my] whole retirement to come back, which is special. I'm definitely blessed to have had those opportunities big time, but I said it from the beginning that I wouldn't come back unless I was feeling it; unless I'm feeling good, feeling healthy and I'm feeling like I'm ready to go. Now this is the case.

"This is the time."

Gronkowski retired after the 2018 season following a nine-year career with the New England Patriots. It saw him accumulate record after record, many of which still stand, and earned him three Super Bowl championships. He had been selected to the Pro Bowl five times and had been named All-Pro four times. But it had all come with a cost.

At the age of 29, Gronk was beat up, fighting through perpetual injury that left him unable to walk in some cases following games. It was enough to make him hang up his cleats for what he thought was for good. His body needed rest, he admitted. And last year, after playing football for about 15 years straight, he finally got it.

"I wouldn't say I had that fire, even at the end of last season, to come back but as the time rolled on, the last couple weeks, I started really picking it up," Gronkowski said. "My body started feeling good, my desire to play the game of football was coming back and I knew that by the time the season rolled around again, I would want to be back out there. That desire, that passion has lit into me and I just felt like the last couple weeks it was the right time to hop on before it was too late."

Spending a year out of football will mean he'll get back into shape, but he doesn't have as far to go as some people think. Gronkowski recalled a story where a guy he ran into at the grocery store a few months ago said he had thought Gronk had lost 80 pounds.

"If I had lost 80 pounds, I would look a lot different than I do now," he laughed.

Gronkowski even weighed himself Wednesday morning before his introductory press conference. Turns out, he's still 250 pounds, which is only about 15 under his playing weight. Gaining those extra 10-15 pounds before the season is just a matter of some extra shakes with almond butter and blueberries, according to him.

What was more concerning than being the right size was that Gronkowski hadn't exactly handled a football in a while. But a couple months back, he picked one up for the first time in almost a year with who else but his BFF Brady. And that's where the seed of his return was either knowingly, or unknowingly, planted.

"We actually got together about two months ago and we rarely talked about what his decision was going to be [or] where I'm at," Gronkowski said. "But we talked real quick like hey, I'm kind of getting that fire underneath me again, I told him. And I said I'm definitely interested in your decision that you make. I mean, I didn't put any pressure on him but I said that if you go somewhere and the opportunity is right, even if you go back to the Patriots and I feel like the opportunity is right, there's a possible chance that I would definitely love to reconnect. That's where the conversation started a little bit and he was all fired up and juiced up about it. That was something pretty cool at the moment and in the end, it just happened over time, which is pretty neat."

'Possible chance I would definitely love to reconnect.' Gronk is your ex you stayed friends with that you always had a soft spot for who comes back into your life at just the right time to maybe try this whole thing again. A guy you can't help but love. And the reunion is easy and familiar - and you pick up right where you left off.

"It just happened to be the right opportunity down in Tampa," said Gronkowski. "Yes, Tom was like the appetizer of the whole meal. He got me hooked when he went down to Tampa. I saw what was down there. Just the opportunity to go down there and play with that type of offense. I mean, they got some special wide receivers out there. They've got other great tight ends. Let me tell you, I love working with tight ends, too, so I'm definitely looking forward to working with O.J. [Howard] and Cam [Brate]. That's definitely going to be a special opportunity but I'm just blessed to be in this situation and have this opportunity big time."

View pictures from TE Rob Gronkowski's NFL career thus far.

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