Patriots

Bedard: Rob Gronkowski concludes improbable HOF career – for now

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The news hit with the subtlety of one of his touchdown spikes.

Just a normal offseason Sunday night, right around dinner time, and then...

Rob Gronkowski announces his retirement.

Boom.

Autumns in New England will never be the same...

OK, maybe that's a little hyperbolic. It's not like it's Bill Belichick or Tom Brady walking away. The Patriots won three Super Bowls before Gronkowski. They won their second during the Second Hoodie Dynasty while he was sidelined with an injury.

So maybe Gronk wasn't essential to the Patriots' on-field success, but damn if he didn't make it all a whole lot more fun. From the spikes and goofy answers, to his little quirks and celebrations, Gronk was the 10-year-old in all of us who never had to grow up between the white lines. There weren't many games you watched Gronkowski play and you didn't walk away with a smile on your face and/or he didn't make you leap out of your seat.

And especially because it was the Patriots and their (seemingly, from the outside looking in) joyless pursuit of perfection — from Belichick's non-answers and ruthless wielding of the salary cap and rules, to Brady's often robotic pursuit of perfection on and off the field, and the organization's closed-door mentality — Gronk made the whole operation a lot more human and entertaining. While the Patriots' success and Brady's public perfection made the team the New York Yankees of the NFL — hated everywhere but New England — who could ever dislike Gronk? It'd be like rooting against amusement parks and team mascots. You would have to be against fun. You'd have to be, well, a miserable lout.

Even in his final season, when it was apparent his body would no longer let him perform great feats of amazement with regularity,  Gronk was worth the price of admission every time he took the field. You never knew what he might do. You never knew what he might say. You never know what course he might set in his Gronk Bus to celebrate.

Yo soy fiesta.

Gronk was an original. They broke the mold. But after 91 career touchdowns (regular and postseason) in nine seasons and with a spot in Canton waiting for him for in five years, it's easy to forget that his career was never supposed to happen.

And I'm not sure it's quite over yet.