News Sports reporter
MOBILE, Ala. – There are four years between Rob and Glenn Gronkowski. The two were just close enough in age for bruises, wounds, ridicule and, yes, an airborne fork. ¶ Glenn − known as “Goose” by family, friends – doesn’t even remember what he did to tick Rob off. But, suddenly, Rob was chasing him through their Amherst home. Rob stopped in the kitchen, grabbed a fork out of a drawer, fired a fastball at Goose and… ¶ “It got stuck in my elbow,” Glenn said. “I was walking around with a fork in my elbow. So I was like, ‘Lucky that didn’t hit me in the eye or something. Jeez!’ ” ¶ Look out, America. There’s one more Gronk on the way. ¶ Oh, he likes to party. Loves to party. ¶ He, too, sculpted his physique like a bodybuilder and makes sure you darn well see it. Like Rob, he’s known for popping the top. ¶ Most answers are preceded with “heh-heh-heh” bliss. He’s incredibly book smart – Goose carried a 3.8 GPA – yet can be incredibly, well, “simple” as one coach put it kindly. ¶ Yes, he’s a “Gronk” in all his gronking glory. ¶ Being the younger brother of arguably the greatest tight end in pro football history is no burden. It’s a blessing – the Amherst native
embraces it. From the Vegas trip that’s still a bit blurry to the daily texts/calls. This fullback from Kansas State isn’t so much making a new name for himself as he is enriching the family’s work hard/play hard folklore.
All week, he tried to show scouts in Mobile at the Senior Bowl that he can play tight end, too. And in May, the fifth “Gronk” will become the fourth entry into the NFL. Rob is still in New England, while Chris and Dan each played for four teams in brief careers.
“When it’s work time, it’s work time,” Glenn Gronkowski said. “Obviously, you have to have some fun in your life, too. When it’s fun time, you can have some fun. But when it’s business time, you have to work hard and do everything you can. I think that’s what’s got us here.”
Everything began in the Gronk basement. A sports war zone. And mini-sticks, always, was the family favorite. They’d check, stiff-arm and fire slapshots at each other.
“It was intense,” Gronkowski said. “Definitely a lot of fighting, definitely a lot of rough-housing. It was wild. It definitely helped give us that competitive nature that we have.
“Typical brother stuff. Fighting about nothing.”
Their dad made the arena as safe as he could. The basement was carpeted and they put up boards on the sides. But that couldn’t prevent “Goose” from getting six stitches on his chin ... at 3 years old.
On Dec. 24, 1996, the brothers snuck in a mini-sticks battle as dinner cooked in the oven. Rob checked Goose into the one part of the basement that was not carpeted, he started bleeding profusely and – just like that—the family rushed to the emergency room.
Today, the whole experience is remembered with pride. Not panic, not anger. Pride.
“I’m sure he checked me on purpose if you really think about it,” Goose said, breaking into laughter.
No holds barred
They all played conventional youth sports – whiffle ball was an outdoor favorite. But they also created their own, um, sports. Maybe the Olympics will one day adopt one favorite Gronk pastime.
Stuffing pillows into your shirt and running full speed at each other. Let Goose explain the rules and regulations: “Whoever got knocked down lost.”
And wrestle? Are you kidding? It’s a miracle there weren’t more stitches, more broken bones. The brothers loved to dust off old tables and then break them with a body slam. “Mojo Rawley” of the WWE is now a close family friend.
Rob was the one knocking Goose around most – Chris, Dan and Gordie Jr. were six, eight and 10 years older so they’d take it a tad easier. Glenn’s coach at Williamsville North, Mike Mammoliti, has heard all the stories. The fork. The stitches. It all gave the runt of the litter an “edge,” he says.
“He’s the youngest,” Mammoliti said, “so you’ve got the four other guys throwing him around all the time. I think you develop a little bit of that toughness just because you have to, to survive. And that’s, for him too, at the dinner table. You learn to survive and eat as fast as you can and as much as you can.”
He can still picture one Gronk punching Glenn in the arm, then Glenn popping that Gronk in the quad.
Nowadays, Rob is more apt to buy Glenn a shot than give him stitches. Of course Glenn was with him in Las Vegas last July. And this night at the Maritime Museum in Mobile – breaking into a smile that’s clearly hiding many legendary stories – Glenn clears up one misconception of that three-day party gone viral.
Yes, it was Rob’s birthday. But they were all in Vegas for Chris’ bachelor party, too.
“So it was a double celebration,” Glenn said. “It got pretty wild.”
Various poolside photos of Gronks Gone Wild leaked. There were wigs, inflatable footballs, cakes smashed into faces and much more.
“I’ll let you guys imagine that one.”
So, Glenn, we’re talking a combined 10 hours of sleep? “If that.”
Two? Three? He laughs.
The shirt off his back
No doubt, Glenn is a “play-hard guy,” Kansas State’s co-offensive coordinator Dana Dimel assures. Dimel coached Rob and Chris at the University of Arizona, too. The way he explains it, Glenn and Chris are strikingly similar.
“Chris can be really serious with stuff and then just turn the hat and be completely out of control,” Dimel said. “And Glenn’s the exact same way. They have this serious side to them and can really focus hard on academics.
“And then they turn the page and get really crazy. They get crazier than Rob does.”
Dimel called Goose and fellow Wildcat fullback Zach Nemechek the Festrunk Brothers after Saturday Night Live’s “Wild and Crazy Guys” skit. Glenn was the worst dresser he’s ever seen in his life – everything needed to be “funky,” outlandish. He loved the girls. Goose has a serious girlfriend now, Dimel says, but before this? “He was always interested in girls.”
He was not interested, however, in something else.
“You can’t get him to keep his shirt on!” Dimel said. “He always wants to take his shirt off.”
At which point, he’d then break into dance even though he can’t dance. He’s a modern-day Elaine Benes, always reverting to “The Dolphin.” Shirt off, Goose leaps into the air and twists his torso. He once plotted to pull a dolphin after a touchdown but didn’t get the chance.
Maybe he gets that chance in the pros. For now, social gatherings will have to do.
“Oh, he’ll bust it out multiple times,” Dimel said. “That’s his signature move: take the shirt off and do the dolphin.”
An intense focus
For all the partying, all the fun, all the furious football spikes, Rob is blazing a trail to Canton because of everything he does away from the cameras. Glenn knows this. If he’s going to last in the pros, a relentless work ethic is required. He sees Rob working with his personal trainer constantly, never skipping a workout, always getting treatment.
At 6-foot-2¼, 238 pounds, Goose is more of a ’tweener. Part fullback, part tight end. He’ll need to latch on as a versatile, multi-faceted weapon for an offense. In 13 starts last season at Kansas State, Gronkowski caught five passes for 76 yards and rushed 11 times for 45 yards.
He averaged 24.6 yards on his 15 total receptions at K-State and even threw for a touchdown once.
Dimel can envision Gronkowski lasting long term as a “move” tight end, a No. 2 who complements a starter like his big brother. In fact, the New England Patriots have been interested in him for a while.
“I think he can have a really good career because he’s so versatile,” Dimel said. “He’s tall and long and athletic and people are going to use him in match-up situations. From fullback, you can get him matched up on people. If you can get really creative with him, you can do some really neat stuff.”
Scouts don’t compare Goose to Rob Gronkowski. No, a different name keeps coming up in his meetings.
“Kyle Zu ... Baltimore Ravens fullback,” said Goose, his voice trailing. “J or Z. Something crazy. Zu-check or something. A lot of people have been comparing me to him. I heard that’s not a bad thing, that’s what they’re saying.”
That’d be fourth-year fullback Kyle Juszczyk, who caught 41 passes last year.
Working at tight end all week in Mobile, Gronkowski showcased his route running. And on game day Saturday, with his brothers patrolling the sideline, Baby Gronk snared one 34-yarder up the seam.
The athleticism is Gronkesque. Mammoliti said Goose could dunk a basketball as a junior. And he still has a picture of his former tight end leaping for a catch against Lockport – Goose’s knees are higher than the defensive back’s head.
All brothers, he repeats, are disciplined. Driven. Hypercompetitive.
And, like Chris, Goose can be stoic but when game time arrives “all bets are off.”
Finding a fit
To Mammoliti, being Gronk’s little bro isn’t a negative. Rather, it’s an unprecedented resource, an advantage. He can shoot the best tight end in the NFL a text any time he wants.
Today’s NFL is a game of match-ups. And whoever drafts Glenn Gronkowski will get a weapon for the X-and-O chess match.
“From the football IQ part, wherever he goes, he’s going to impress people by knowing what to do as fast as anyone can do it,” Mammoliti said. “That’s a big, big bonus for those guys. As much as they say Rob’s a goof and a dummy, my understanding is when he was at camp he was telling guys what to do pretty quickly in the huddle. He’s no dummy.”
Neither is Goose. But, man, he’d make Dimel shake his head. “Simple” is the word Dimel uses. The kid takes everything so literal.
At the team hotel one Friday night, Dimel chatted with Goose at bed check. Dimel joked that one of his dogs had asked him the night before if someone was Dimel’s brother because they looked so much alike.
Goose cut in.
“Your dog talked!?” he asked.
“I said, ‘No Glenn. Of course a dog doesn’t talk.’ So that’s how he is, and yet he’s one of the smartest guys I’ve ever been around.”
The world can’t get enough of Gronk. His jersey is the third-best seller in the NFL. “It’s Good to Be Gronk” hit bookshelves last year. He was made for the Twitter Age – a celebrity who sets social media ablaze with one “Yo Soy Fiesta!” sound bite, one photo with a porn star in his No. 87 jersey.
Nobody toes that work-hard, play-hard line like a Gronkowski.
As Dimel says, it’s not like the name is “Smith” or “Anderson” or “Williams” or “Walker.” Being “Gronk” is different. The name, the footsteps, the aura could all be too daunting for Glenn Gronkowski. But they’re not. Neither Mammoliti nor Dimel ever sensed such a shadow bothering Goose.
And whenever Rob and Glenn do chat, they rarely talk football.
Goose has already seen the blueprint to success. Lived it.
“You can have everything – the size, be able to catch, the athletic ability,” he said. “But if you don’t listen to your coaches telling you what to do, where to be, you’re going to have absolutely no success playing football. So listen to your coaches, always work hard, be disciplined, be on time for everything, give it your all.”
Now, it’s his turn. Before walking away, Goose extends a hand. The handshake is OK, not great. Not firm enough.
“Ahh, come on, let’s try that again!” he says.
This time, Goose engulfs you in a vise of a handshake.
“There we go!”
In this self-righteous, politically correct, No Fun League of an NFL that fines its employees for wearing the wrong-colored cleats, one Gronk has been a cool breath of fresh air.
So, hey, why not another?