FOXBORO - He is Spicoli in shoulder pads. Minus, presumably, the weed and the surfing. The best pure tight end in football, Rob Gronkowski, added to his burgeoning legend Monday night with four catches for 96 yards, two touchdowns and a pair of earth-denting "Gronk Smash!" spikes. He's got 56 catches for 805 yards and 10 touchdowns. He's second in the NFL in catches, third in yards and first in touchdowns. He will be an All-Pro. He will be in the Pro Bowl. He will also give himself away in a raffle to spend Christmas Eve in the company of Gronk. He will no longer be photographed willingly with porn stars. He will live the Gronk Life and everyone with even a molecule of fun in their being will smile at what appears to be the harmless, laid-back, fun-seeking idiocy of a 22-year-old blessed with a body that's perfect for his vocation. "I call it maximizing the adventure of the NFL," was the response of veteran Gerard Warren when I asked him Monday night about the odd soul a few lockers away. By the time I talked to Warren, Gronkowski's postgame interview with ESPN had ended. With reporters surrounding his locker, he decided to get his media commitments out of the way all at once. He began to peel off his coat then decided he liked the way it looked and left it on. Thinking aloud as he made each decision, feigning seriousness as he faced the throng, this is how the interview went. Gronk was asked about his neck which he landed on when he scored a touchdown in the third quarter. "Feels great. I think it feels better (than it did)."The thunderous spike. Did he almost forget to do it after his crash landing. "I wasn't really thinking of it until I did it. It's just what it is, what it is."Gronkowski punctuated that with a strange cackle. Perhaps a realization that he'd mangled perhaps theeasiest catchphrase New England's football team has: "It is what it is."The medical staff. What did they ask you after the spike?"They were just asking me questions like they gotta. IfI was fine and everything I was just fine. I just got the wind knocked out of me a little bit. You know how that is when that happens."Ya know, among the group he was addressing, there wasn't a one of us who appeared capable of executing the move Gronkowski made without ending up eating through a straw for the rest of their life. So, actually, no. Nobody's had the wind knocked out of them like that. But the trainers, you guys were laughing?"Yeah, they're always cracking jokes. Trainers are cool."What were they asking you, math problems?"I just, yeah. They kept asking me then I started throwing out my own math problems. "They were like, 'Dude, count to 10.' I started counting to 10. It was pretty easy though. They kept letting me play."Now, as I read back what I've written it's easy to see where someone would think I'm making fun of Gronk. But there's no malice. The kid is without guile, without polish, without apology. He is simply him. And he does his best to accomodate requests and do his job with a level of enjoyment that, simply,makes you wish there were a few more Gronks around.You say, "That's how I'd be . . . " if you were good enough and lucky enough to be in the NFL at the level he's at. But almost all of us wouldn't be. You're either born like Gronk or you're not. You can't change the wiring. The best you can do is appreciate the player and appreciate that he, simply, appreciates what the hell's happening. "It's still pretty crazy," he admitted in the moment most closely resembling deep thought. "It's still a dream come true being in the NFL. Some days I wake up. I talk to Dane Fletcher, a Patriots linebacker, my roommate and we're like, 'Dude, we're in the NFL.' It's crazy like, we still can't kinda believe it. It's playing with all these great players and everything that we looked up to when we were in high school even in middle school. It's so much fun coming out, you have to try and treat every moment like your last."God willing, the last of Gronk is a long ways off.
Even for some of the nation's top athletes, confident 20-somethings with the rest of their (perhaps very lucrative) lives ahead of them, there's a feeling you just can't shake when Bill Belichick walks into the room.
"When you first meet him, you're scared," said Ohio State linebacker Raekwon McMillan, per WBZ. "He's quizzing you. It's like a little test. But after you get done with the test, the quiz or whatever, drawing up the defense, it's pretty cool. They're real down to earth people. Really cool."
Belichick was spotted at Ohio State's pro day getting a closer look at McMillan and his teammates on Thursday. He then headed off to Ann Arbor, Michigan for the Wolverines showcase Friday.
During various scouting trips across the country, the Patriots appear to be showing significant interest in the incoming class of linebackers. Belichick spent some extra time with Vanderbilt's Zach Cunningham -- who's projected to be a first-rounder -- at his pro day. The team reportedly scheduled a meeting with a speedy linebacker from Cincinnati. And Matt Patricia caught up with Notre Dame linebacker James Onwualu once his workouts finished up on Thursday.
As for McMillan, the 6-2, 240-pounder was a second-team All-American and a first-team All-Big Ten choice. He's instinctive, but there's some question as to whether or not he has the strength to hold up inside at the next level.
Tom E. Curran has Dan Wetzel of Yahoo Sports as a guest to discuss the Aaron Hernandez double homicide trial. Wetzel has been in the courtroom, and wrote this piece about the day Hernandez’s former friend Alexander Bradley testified in court.
After speaking with Wetzel, Curran has Tim Rohan of MMQB.com on to discuss his day with ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter.
Quick Slants The Podcast is presented by Papa Gino’s.