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Gronkowskis make two TEs double trouble for Pats' foes

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Dan is quieter, more scholarly and disciplined in virtually all facets of his life. Rob is more free-spirited and fun-loving, the life of the party, the resident goofball. Dan is a good athlete who is trying to solidify an NFL career. Rob is a gifted athlete who left college two years early and is destined for greatness.

Dan, 26, is the second-oldest and Rob, 22, the second-youngest of the five Gronkowski brothers who grew up in Amherst and starred at Williamsville North High. They shared the same ultra-competitive, sports-crazed household and found their own paths to the NFL.

And, now, Dan and Rob are sharing the same huddle with the New England Patriots.

Incredible.

It's difficult to fathom so much snapping into place considering the odds. About 1.5 percent of high school athletes earn Division I scholarships. About 2 percent of college football players reach the NFL. Thirty sets of brothers have simultaneously played on the same NFL team. Dan and Rob, the first brothers to play tight end on the same team at the same time, return home Sunday against the Bills.

"It's definitely amazing," Rob said by telephone Thursday. "It's a blessing and a dream come true. We have a good time out here, and we push each other to do well. It's just awesome having your brother in the huddle. At first, it was pretty wild. Now, we're just getting used to it, and it's pretty cool. It's awesome."

You would think the Pats would have asked Rob about his brother, or Rob would have told the Pats about him, but that wasn't the case. Rob had no idea New England was interested in signing Dan, who had been released by the Broncos. Rob found out when Dan called him. They reunited in the Patriots' locker room.

"I didn't know nothing," Rob said. "They just brought him in and did their thing. I heard from Dan that he was being signed. It was cool seeing him for the first time knowing that he was going to be here. It was a great feeling and a great moment."

It doesn't end with them, of course.

Chris Gronkowski, 24, plays fullback and special teams for the Indianapolis Colts. He started out with Dan at the University of Maryland and transferred to the University of Arizona when Rob arrived. He spent his rookie year with Dallas. Yeah, you might say the Gronks, like many good teams, are very strong down the middle.

To review: Gordie is the oldest of Gordy and Diane Gronkowski's boys. He played college baseball for Jacksonville University, was drafted by Anaheim and spent several years playing professionally as a first baseman. Glenn is the youngest. He's headed for Kansas State in January after spending the fall working out at home. He'll play football and is considering baseball for K-State.

Their father played for West Seneca West in the 1970s, earned a scholarship to Syracuse and co-founded G&G Fitness. He's also a lifelong, slightly torn Bills fan. He's hoping for a Patriots win Sunday and a good showing by the Bills, which is well within reason.

It's easy to get the boys confused, but the Patriots quickly learned upon getting a double-dose of Gronkowski, which one was not like the others. That would be Rob.

"My guns are way bigger than [Dan's]," Rob said.

For the record, Dan was unavailable for comment.

The Pats already had a full season watching Rob's comedy act -- in between 10 touchdown catches, by the way -- when Dan signed days before the season opener. Dan quickly learned the Pats' extensive playbook and played well while Rob caught a touchdown pass in a win over Miami. Rob had two TDs while both played well last week against San Diego.

"I thought it was going to be very interesting, like I was going to have two idiots right next to me on both sides," Pats receiver Wes Welker, who sits in stereo between Brothers Gronkowski in the locker room, told reporters in Boston. "But the other one [Dan] is actually pretty bright. I was actually surprised."

Beautiful.

"It was funny," Rob said. "Wes thinks he's a funny guy, and he knows I can take jokes. That's why he said it. I'll definitely get him in the future."

In truth, the Patriots adore Rob's wisecracks and antics. He brings an element of levity to New England's all-business approach with straight-laced quarterback Tom Brady and poker-faced head coach Bill Belichick. You would think Rob would drive them bonkers, but it sounds like they get a kick out of him.

"He's one of a kind, that guy," Brady said.

Of course, it helps that Rob is tough and sure-handed, a terrific player whose approach to the game is no laughing matter. He's a relentless worker and an intelligent guy who landed in an ideal situation.

Belichick is many things but, in case you haven't heard, he's a football genius. The Patriots grabbed Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez in the second and fourth rounds of the 2010 NFL draft. It didn't make much sense until the season began, when they started playing both and exposed defenses trying to stop them.

Hernandez and Gronkowski cause major matchup problems. Hernandez, at 6-foot-2, 245 pounds, is often in the slot against smaller defensive backs. Gronkowski, at 6-6, 265, usually lines up across from slower, less-athletic linebackers.

Rob found immediate chemistry with Brady and finished with 42 catches for 546 yards and the 10 TDs last season. He has 10 catches for 172 yards and three TDs in two games this year. If he continues, he'll become the NFL's most dangerous tight end and a lock for the Pro Bowl.

"I have a much better understanding," he said. "You can go out and focus on the little things that make you better and focus on the big picture overall. I have a way better understanding and feeling of the program coming into my second year. It makes for a smooth transition. It's going good. There's been a lot of hard work in practice."

And the machine that is the Patriots' offense rolls along.

The early signs this year suggest it's even more explosive with Brady in top form and having more weapons. He hasn't tapped into Dan Gronkowski, who at 6-5, 255 is known more for his blocking than receiving. The Bills better be aware of him, too. He also has good hands and could be incorporated at any moment into the Pats' passing game.

Dan and Rob have been lined up on opposite sides in double-tight end formations. Dan could get more playing time against the Bills with Hernandez possibly out after suffering a knee injury against San Diego. It could be double-trouble. Imagine if both scored touchdowns Sunday.

"It's never been done, two brothers on the same team catching a touchdown pass in the same game," Gordy said. "If that happens here in Buffalo -- their hometown? -- oh my God, they may fly out of that stadium on Cloud Nine. It would be the happiest day. I'm so happy right now. Every day, I thank the man upstairs."

email: bgleason@buffnews.com

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