After a toast to the birthday girl, the beers went vertical.
Gronkowski came in second.
FORTY-FIVE MINUTES later, Gronk was on his third beer—or maybe his fourth, who was counting?—and the afternoon was gaining momentum. After the chug contest the group moved on to beer pong. Then, flip cup. The woman from the speakers' agency checked the time regularly. Gronk was scheduled for an hour. It was now an hour. Gronk did not seem concerned.
It would be easy, watching the scene, to conclude that Gronkowski is just a big frat boy. And he is, but he is also a gracious, joyous one. He didn't hide behind designer sunglasses or check his phone or in any way act cooler than anyone else. Even when he lost at beer pong (teamed with the birthday girl) and, after that, flip cup (3--2 in a best of five), he didn't pull rank or get upset. He high-fived the birthday girl with exceptional exuberance after each made shot and laughed it off when the same man who shouted "You got Gronked!" yelled, while watching Gronk rim out beer pong shots, "Good thing he's catching passes, not throwing them!"
Indeed, Rob is eager to please, often to his own detriment. That notorious Super Bowl party the night of the Patriots' loss, at which he got drunk and took off his shirt? "Dude, it was the Patriots fans who got me drunk!" he told me, incredulous. "What was I supposed to do, turn down the shots?" Occasionally others become defensive on Rob's behalf. Diane bristles when talking about the Internet reports, questioning their veracity. His dad frames it as a failure by the rest of society. "He's not shooting guns, he's not raping nobody, he's not tattooed up, not having earrings flopping from his ears," Gordy says. "He's a good, clean-cut American kid having fun. What's wrong with that?"
Now, at the party, the flip-cup game was interrupted.
"O.K., who's going to be the designated driver tonight?" asked the birthday girl's father, a lifelong Patriots fan.
Before anyone could respond, Gronk did. "Get them a limo bus!" he shouted gleefully. "If you do, I'll come along."
THE LIMO bus never materialized. So at around 5:30, carrying an extra plate of food and praising the host's pasta salad, Gronkowski walked out to the waiting car service. An hour later he was home. Sort of.
Gronkowski lives in a two-story condo in a middle-class neighborhood so close to Gillette Stadium that he could jog to practice every day. His virtually empty kitchen could be that of a guest at a Residence Inn. The refrigerator held only condiments, eggs and energy drinks, and the counters were lined with a random assortment of Gronkanalia: a box of those ESPN magazines, a YO SOY FIESTA T-shirt (the family copyrighted the phrase), a bunch of orange Ping-Pong balls. There were few mementos—Gordy has Rob's AFC Championship ring, which he refuses to wear because the Patriots didn't win the Super Bowl. Every minute or so a fire alarm in the kitchen cheeped a low-battery warning. Gronkowski didn't notice.