He’s a Gronk, not a Grinch.
He’d like you to know it.
So football star Rob Gronkowski and family – plus a thickly muscled WWE wrestler – joined nine families of kids battling cancer for a Saturday afternoon shopping outing at the New Era Cap flagship store in Buffalo.
He danced, he shopped, he posed for photos – and then he danced some more.
Though raised in Williamsville, Gronkowski, 25, doesn’t typically elicit the cheers of Buffalo football fans. He’s the record-breaking tight end for the Super Bowl champion – and Buffalo Bills rival – New England Patriots.
That makes “The Gronk” the archenemy of Bills fanatics.
“It is a little weird sometimes that people are yelling stuff at him, and he’s a hometown kind of kid that got his hardworking attitude from Buffalo,” said his brother Dan, who played tight end for the Cleveland Browns. (Chris Gronkowski, a third brother who reached the NFL, was also in attendance.)
The family understands Buffalo’s loyalty-driven disconnect with Rob, but they’d like to change it. Their Gronk Nation Youth Foundation, which donates about $40,000 a year to youth football programs in the Boston area, is going to start focusing on the Buffalo area as well. That could include financial support, events, and appearances such as the one at New Era.
The Gronkowski brothers are also joining Garth Brooks’ Teammates for Kids Foundation youth program Sunday at the Bills’ training complex in Orchard Park.
“I think Rob, especially, is trying to bring it back to the hometown, trying to give back a little more here as well,” Dan Gronkowski said.
Clearly, a little more Gronk will be good for the community – and if Saturday is any indication, he’ll deliver some laughs as well.
When Gronkowski and family walked into New Era’s meeting room, the kids and siblings from Carly’s Club were predictably shy in the presence of the 6-foot-6, granite-jawed football star.
A surprise guest – WWE wrestler Mojo Rawley, who was in town to attend the evening’s Garth Brooks concert with the Gronkowskis – added to the intimidation factor.
But Gronkowski had an idea. He had the lights dimmed, pulled out his phone, played some music, and prompted Rawley – whose real name is Dean Muhtadi – to dance.
Gronkowski, whose partying exploits are storied and whose party bus was parked in the New Era lot, joined in the fist pumping, urging the kids to cheer along.
“When we get our main man Mojo to whip out some dance moves, everybody gets a little bit going, everybody feels a little more comfortable, which is good,” Gronkowski said. “You to make the kids feel comfortable so they can come out and have a good time.”
In the store, the Gronkowskis served as personal shoppers.
Rob reached up high to grab a backpack for a 6-year-old, helping him strap it and saying, “You’ll grow into this.” He used the same reach that caught a Super Bowl touchdown to grab a high-mounted New York Mets snowcap for a teenager.
“(Rob) has that reputation for being that party boy and everything,” said Muhtadi. “People might think he lives to score touchdowns or have a great party, but this is the thing that has the biggest place in his heart. You can’t talk enough about his character.”
Or what a character he is. As the shopping concluded – total bill, $1,486.03, donated by New Era – Gronkowski and Muhtadi joined a little boy, glasses peeking from beneath the bill of his new gray Yankees cap – and did one more dance.
“ ‘Work hard, play hard’ is kind of a motto of ours,” said Muhtadi, adding that Gronkowski has “a willingness to participate and give back to the community and the people who support him. Maybe even the people who don’t support him.”