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The Last Happy Man
CHRIS BALLARD
September 03, 2012
Hero. Jester. Prodigy. Knucklehead. The league's best hope and worst nightmare. Rob Gronkowski of the Patriots is a 265-pound bundle of raw energy and rocking good times, and he could become the best tight end in history. Right now, though, he just wants to keep the party going
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September 03, 2012

The Last Happy Man

Hero. Jester. Prodigy. Knucklehead. The league's best hope and worst nightmare. Rob Gronkowski of the Patriots is a 265-pound bundle of raw energy and rocking good times, and he could become the best tight end in history. Right now, though, he just wants to keep the party going

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Glenn, the youngest and at 6'3" and 235 pounds the lightest, is considered a combination of the others. His NFL future is uncertain—he'll need to bulk up at Kansas State to become a pro-level fullback. If he does join his brothers, they will become one of only two quartets of siblings to have played in the league at the same time. (Chris, Rob and Dan form one of only 23 NFL trios and the first since the Baldinger brothers in the early '90s.)

When I visited Buffalo, Gordy was renovating the house, which he bought from Diane after the couple separated in 2006, while Rob was a senior in high school. These days there is an 80-inch TV in the living room and a beautiful new kitchen. There is, however, one room Gordy can't bring himself to update.

Gordy escorted me downstairs slowly, as one might a visitor to an art gallery. And there it was: a vast subterranean weight room with a 10-foot ceiling ("so you can do proper pull-ups," Gordy said), riven by heating ducts and exposed pipes. In all, the room contained the following: a power rack, a long barbell with rubber plates, a leg-press machine, a single-column pulley, a lat pulldown machine, an assisted chin/dip set, a hammer strength swim rack, a fly and rear delt machine, a leg extension device, a calf raise set, 28 dumbbells ranging from 2½ to 70 pounds, an inversion table, a vibration plate, a worn-out stationary bike, a Roman chair, a treadmill, a crunch board, heavy balls, a balance board, a heavy bag, a medicine ball, a blue balancing pod, a foam roller and several jump ropes. Against one wall stood five trophy cases, one for each boy, each jammed with plaques, trophies, commendations and awards of every imaginable kind. Rob's case alone held 73 items.

This is where three of the boys, particularly Rob and Glenn, did much of their weight training, roaring at each other the Gronkowski training motto: "Do it to get chicks!" During my visit, Gordy and Dan spent a good hour downstairs, grunting and yelling while an old, tinny Philips detachable stereo blasted pop music: Kelly Clarkson, Pink, Fun. At the end, sweaty and grinning, Gordy explained his reluctance to make the room as new as the rest of the house. "You saw what happened to Rocky in that movie when he got a fancy training center," Gordy said. "He got soft!"

ONCE UPON a time Rob Gronkowski spent his adolescent summers sweating in that basement. Now he was being paid to go to some girl's birthday party. First, though, he needed to recover.

"Can you pull over at the first mini-mart?" he said to his driver shortly after leaving Logan. Moments later Rob returned with a bottle of Monster Rehab, an energy drink that contains a staggering 170 mg of caffeine. Rob is a big fan of energy drinks. In college at Arizona, he would chug a bottle of 5-Hour Energy and then fill it with vodka or tequila to take out on the town. "Sometimes I even fooled myself," he said. "I'd be like, Hey, that's not 5-Hour Energy!"

In person Rob can come off like a muscle-bound version of Woody from Cheers. His favorite words are crazy (used to describe all manner of situations, from actually crazy to crazy-good to crazy-unlikely); insane (reserved for stuff that's supercrazy) and perfect (as in, "Does noon work for you, Rob?" "Perfect!"). Like every Gronkowski male, he rarely goes more than a sentence without laughing loudly, in three beats—Huh-huh-huh!—and then looking around conspiratorially for someone with whom to share the moment. At one point in the car ride he became wistful about his childhood. "Growing up was crazy," he says. "That was the best time. If I could go back, I'd just go be a kid again. You got no responsibilities, you can do whatever you want and not get in trouble."

This is not exactly true. Rob got in a lot of trouble as a kid, but by high school no one cared because he was so far above his peers as an athlete. He was, as Eric Dahlman, his quarterback at Williamsville North, puts it, "a complete freak, indestructible." During a game his sophomore year, Rob scored all of Williamsville's points, scooping up a fumble and running it back 46 yards, catching a touchdown pass and then sacking the quarterback in the end zone. He blocked so ferociously that players sometimes crashed into the fence 10 yards beyond the end zone. He was so dominant as a defensive end that, according to coach Mike Mammoliti, opponents stopped running to Rob's side.

It wasn't all football. Rob had a 33½-inch vertical leap, and as a center on the basketball team he once shattered a backboard with a two-handed baseline dunk. According to Gordy, the Pirates considered drafting Rob as a first baseman and offering him a $60,000 signing bonus. In fact, Rob claims to be talented at just about every game; when I asked him the sport he's worst at, it took him three minutes to answer. Then, grudgingly, he chose golf—only to add, "I mean, I'm still pretty good."

After spending his senior year at Woodland Hills in Pittsburgh—primarily because Gordy moved to the city after the separation to expand his business—Rob headed to Arizona, where he set a number of Wildcats records. In 2010 the Patriots drafted him with the 42nd pick. Since then he's enjoyed nothing but success.

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