Gronkowski’s Incredible Journey from Football to Wrestling and Back

Rob Gronkowski is one of the most recognizable names in American sports. The larger than life character is known for simultaneously being a party animal while also showing complete dedication to his craft. His considerable talents have led him to be a four-time Super Bowl champion.

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While he’s been a great player, the road to those Super Bowl titles hasn’t been an easy one. He retired from the game briefly and enjoyed some wrestling in his time off. Here we look at the amazing journey in one of the most interesting characters in all sports.

A Man Born into Sports

Robert Gronkowski’s genes are so athletic and strong in him that he was essentially born into sports. His great-grandfather Ignatius (Iggy) Gronkowski was an Olympian who represented the United States in cycling during the Paris Olympic Games in 1924. The great man also held five world records in the sport.

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When you think of the name Gronkowski, it’s hard not to picture his large and loving family. Rob was born in 1989 as the second youngest son of Gordon Gronkowski, who played football at the university level before opening up a successful fitness equipment business.

Athletic from an Early Age

When Rob Gronkowski was just a kid, he had talent in everything from sports to academics. He played hockey until the age of 14 and then went on with his life as an athlete in football, basketball, and baseball! He was one of those guys who was talented at everything.

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He was a versatile athlete who played every position in football and hockey. He also starred as an academic student-athlete at his high school, recording 36 receptions for 648 yards with seven touchdowns and 73 tackles during his career there.

He Was Dominant in His Senior Year

When he was ruling on the football field, Gronkowski’s dominance quickly made him a star. He only attended three years at Williamsville North High School before moving to Pittsburgh and then on to Woodland Hills, where everything came together for their final season under coach Joe Salerno.

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At Woodland Hills High School, the future NFL champion caught 8 interceptions for 152 yards with four touchdowns. However, those numbers don’t tell half of what you need to know about this incredible athlete. He earned plenty of accolades as well as a number of scholarship opportunities.

On the Road to Stardom

At 18 years old, Gronkowski chose to attend the University of Arizona as a Pre-Business major. He immediately became part of their football team and spent two full seasons under head coach Mike Stoops, where he recorded 28 receptions for 525 yards and six touchdowns in his freshman year.

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He single-handedly led his team in receiving yards, breaking records and setting a new standard for future tight ends to follow. He was named The Sporting News’ freshman All American as well as receiving many more plaudits. He was on his way to greatness.

He Was a Star in College

Missing only three games in his two seasons with Arizona Wildcats, Gronkowski showed off all of his potential. He caught 47 passes for 672 yards and ten touchdowns, five of which were during the first two games.

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The 2009 season was one for the ages, as he was named John Mackey National Tight End of Week twice, third-team All American by Associated Press, and All Pac 10 First Team. This attracted much attention from NFL teams, who were excited to draft him. For the first time, however, things didn’t quite go to plan.

It Wasn’t an Easy Road

When Rob Gronkowski was injured during a workout at the University of Arizona, it seemed like his career might be over before it even started. The 19-year-old suffered nerve damage in his back that made moving impossible for days on end.

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He was finally diagnosed with severe disk protrusion disorder and given surgery to fix what they believed would keep him out indefinitely. The doctors had a big decision to make for a 19-year-old college star. He could go into rehab and fix his back gradually or have surgery, which would eliminate all chances that he would play the rest of the season for the Wildcats.

Gronk Made the Wrong Choice

Rob Gronkowski initially decided to go to rehab and worked hard in order to finish out the remainder of the season. It speaks to his personality that he wanted to battle through it and make sure he could play for his team, but it was the wrong call.

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It would end in devastating news for Wildcat fans, as Gronkowski would need surgery after all and miss the rest of this season. The bad luck started during week two of practice, when everything fell apart after weeks’ worth of hard work in rehabbing from his injury.

Retirement Was a Possibility

Gronkowski’s father had purchased insurance that would secure $4 million in case his son retired before he graduated from college, but the plan was for him to continue playing. With the money on offer, it would have been easy for anyone to take the easy route.

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The injury left him dependent on others for basic tasks like getting around campus or going out with friends because walking meant putting pressure directly onto these injured nerves. For three long weeks following the operation, he could barely move, and he struggled with it mentally as well as physically.

He Was Soon Back on Track

All junior athletes are required to declare their intentions for the draft, so Gronkowski had a chance to make sure that he was in peak physical condition. His trainers told him it was possible that with hard work and dedication to training throughout the off-season, he could get back to average athletic level. Gronkowski took the gamble.

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Despite all of the setbacks, he said no to the insurance payout and was drafted by New England in the second round. He put so much effort into recovery that it gave him an edge over other players and eventually rated him as one of the best all-around people by the time of the draft.

The Start of his NFL Career

Rob Gronkowski is one of the most unique players in NFL history. He not only survived his back injury, but it has actually made him stronger and more agile than ever before! During preseasons with New England Patriots, he was a four-time touchdown hero and generated huge excitement.

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His amazing first season included scoring three times during Week 10 against the Houston Texans, which became a record-setting feat for a rookie in New England. The Patriots’ gamble on his recovery from the back injury had massively paid off and a new NFL star was born.

The 2011 Season Was Huge

The 2011 season was one for the history books as Gronkowski broke records and led his team to victory after victory. He ended up with 18 touchdowns, and 17 receptions, which made him the first ever tight end to lead the league in those stats.

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Unsurprisingly, this led to Gronk becoming a Pro Bowl player. What is perhaps surprising is just how many people voted for him. He got more than three times as many votes as the second nominated player. He was not only a great player but also hugely popular.

Injuries Would Return to Haunt Him

Gronk was unable to show his full potential in the 2011 playoffs, as injuries came back to haunt him. He suffered an ankle sprain that required surgery, and while he played in Super Bowl XVLI, due to his injury, he wasn’t able to perform to his level.

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This led to the Patriots losing against the New York Giants as they missed his explosive power. During the 2012 season, he would suffer more injuries, which included him breaking his forearm. That was another issue that ended up requiring surgery. The star player was always putting his body on the line.

The Arm Injury Was Worse than Tough

He was soon diagnosed with an infection in his forearm. The infection in Gronkowski’s left forearm quickly spread, and he underwent an open procedure with antibiotics to combat it. Two more surgeries followed, but thankfully by October, he was ready to play again.

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He was looking forward to being injury-free, but the 2013 season was going to be another cruel one. He suffered a torn ligament in his knee which would rule him out for the rest of the season. Another long rehab was needed for this tight end.

He Came Back in Style

The 2012 and 2013 seasons had many challenges for Gronkowski. His reward for his hard work during rehab would come in 2014. The Patriots were fairly patient in managing his workload, but he soon got back to full speed.

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This led him to be selected for the Pro Bowl and he also got the award for Comeback Player of the Year. His biggest achievement, though, would come in the Super Bowl XLIX. The Patriots won the trophy, and it would be the first of four rings for the future Hall of Famer.

The Success Wouldn’t Stop There

Gronkowski’s success continued at a rapid pace. He enjoyed one of the more injury-free seasons in his career and was selected to both Pro Bowl teams in 2015. In the 2016 season, injuries would return but the success continued.

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Gronkowski continued to be a key player for the Patriots and break records, but his back would let him down once again. He only played in eight games that season, averaging an incredible 21.6 yards per reception. The Patriots managed to win the Super Bowl without him but Gronk had his second ring.

Heartbreak for Rob and the Patriots

The 2017 season was a better one for Gronkowski as he played 14 regular season games and was fit throughout the playoffs. This led to the Patriots once again reaching the Super Bowl and Gronkowski put up a brilliant performance.

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A tight end finishing with two touchdowns and 116 receiving yards would usually be enough to win any game. Sadly for the star player, his defense leaked 41 points and the team would lose 33-41 to the Eagles in a spectacular game but one that hit Gronk hard.

Was He Going to Retire?

The loss hit him hard and it was to be the start of speculation that he was going to retire young. He wasn’t ready to commit to his future and instead wanted to take a few weeks to think about what he wanted to do next.

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It wasn’t to be the end of Gronkowski in New England just yet. He was persuaded to stay on and the team would be very thankful that he did. After the horrible loss in the Super Bowl, he would come back to success again.

He Got His Third Ring

2018 was another season where he was able to stay mostly injury-free as he played in 13 games. He was hugely important to the team getting to another Super Bowl, with 47 regular season receptions for 682 yards. It was another great season.

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Unlike the previous Super Bowl, this one was a low-scoring affair with the Patriots only managing to score 13 points. Thankfully for them, the Rams only managed 3. It led to a third championship ring for the tight end and many more records tumbling on the way.

This Time Retirement Did Come

The previous year, many people didn’t think Gronkowski was serious when he was contemplating retirement. After the third Super Bowl win though, he mentioned it again, but this time he was for real. He retired from the sport at just 29 years old.

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Many people can’t contemplate the incredible punishment that NFL athletes have to endure, especially for a tight end like Gronkowski. It was time to give both his body and his mind a break from the sport and look at doing other things he loved. He was on a new path.

He Explained His Decision

It wasn’t just the physical toll that caused him to retire but the mental burden too. All of his injuries put a lot of strain on his mental health. He said that for weeks after the Super Bowl, he could barely sleep and was battling inner demons.

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That was partly due to another injury that he sustained in the game—a quad injury that deeply bruised his thigh and needed significant recovery. After nine brutal seasons in the NFL, it was time for him to go away and recharge.

He Was Often Concussed

Concussions are the dark side of the NFL and he revealed that he’d suffered many of them during his time in New England. He detailed in an interview with CBS that he calculated he’d suffered around 20 concussions over his nine years in the sport.

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Five of those concussions were severe enough to cause blackouts. Like many players in the NFL, he simply brushed them off and continued playing. The concussions were a huge warning sign for him and showed just how brutal the sport can be for many players.

He Described Worrying Symptoms

He detailed in an interview with NBC that he used to get swelling in his head which felt like a thick liquid surrounding his brain. He detailed how he used to be able to put indents in his head but that now he was finally able to get the right treatment to protect his brain.

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The concussions were a serious issue and after suffering one, it can be easier to get them repeatedly after. There is also evidence that the brain never truly recovers from head trauma but hopefully, Gronk can continue to lead a healthy life.

He Got Plenty of Support

As fans, we rarely see the dark side of sports. After being on top of the world after the Super Bowl, the star needed plenty of support. He was struggling with his mental health and was also barely able to walk. Life in the NFL had taken its toll.

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Thankfully he was able to receive plenty of support. His famous brothers played an important role in trying to cheer him up and his father was there to give him advice. Soon he became happier and healthier. His girlfriend played an important role too.

He Found Camille Kostek

Rob and Camille met in 2013. Born in 1992, has a beautiful mixed heritage of Irish, Polish and Jamaican. She started to learn ballet at the age of three, which would eventually lead her into the world of cheerleading.

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The cheerleading gave her more opportunities, including being on the cover of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Calendar. This was a great career progression for her but she would soon need to stop cheerleading for an interesting reason. It was all due to Gronkowski and team rules.

They Were Both Patriots

The reason that the two met was because when Gronkowski was playing for the Patriots, Kostek was a cheerleader for the team back in 2013. That’s how she first laid eyes on the star tight end, but it wasn’t until a couple of years later that they could start dating.

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The reason for that the strict rules against cheerleaders dating players. It was due to this that Kostek decided to resign from the cheerleading squad. It was only then that the two officially met and started dating.

A New Door Opens

With her cheerleading career behind her, Camille must have wondered what she was going to do next. Thankfully for her, she wasn’t short on opportunities for modeling. This included a bikini shot on the front of Sports Illustrated in 2014.

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Along with this came acting roles in commercials for Nissan, New Balance, L’Oreal, and Victoria’s Secret. In recent years she has turned her talents to film acting, landing a part in the hit movie Free Guy, which starred Ryan Reynolds. Despite needing to leave the cheer squad, her career has gone from strength to strength.

Will They Get Married?

They first saw each other in 2013, started dating in 2015, and are still going strong today. That has made many people wonder whether or not they will be getting married. It seems like for the moment, the two are still content with being happily unmarried.

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The two are great together and don’t seem to need to get married to solidify that love. When asked about it, Kostek said that while she definitely saw her future with him, they had no plans. Maybe she’s just waiting for Gronk to finally propose?

Gronk Was Still Working Hard

Retirement for most people means getting to an old age and spending your days relaxing. For a young NFL star, retirement means needing to find something else to do with your life. For Gronkowski, at the start this included appearing in plenty of commercials.

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It was clear that he was trying to find his place in the new world where he could put his immense work ethic to great use. We saw him develop as a TV personality when he tagged endangered sharks during the famous Discovery Channel Shark Week.

He Got the Call from Fox

Many people love Gronk for obvious reasons. He’s a huge personality who’s not afraid to say whatever’s on his mind. This is why he was able to join Fox and worked as a studio analyst, becoming a regular on Thursday nights.

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It was obvious that he wasn’t the smoothest analyst we’d ever seen but people didn’t care. His infectious personality was well-loved by fans. While some critics may have been harsh about his lack of broadcasting skills, his charisma shined through. Thankfully Fox listened to the fans instead of the critics.

Life Behind a Desk

You could never imagine Rob Gronkowski sitting behind a desk in a regular 9-5 job but thankfully this desk job was a little different. He described the analyst role as being “lit” and it was obvious that he was enjoying his new career, but questions still remained.

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Terry Bradshaw asked him whether or not the 30-year-old’s days of playing football were definitely behind him. His answer gave many fans hope that he would return to the NFL when he said that he would only come back when he starts feeling good again.

Retiring Was the Right Thing

Whatever happened in his life after 2018, retirement was the right thing to do. He was getting hurt all the time and was emotionally struggling with the grind. He was happy with the decision, and it gave him the chance to heal both physically and mentally.

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The way he played the tight end position was particularly brutal and he often was on the end of savage hits after catching the ball. He never had any doubts about his decision as it was the right thing for him to do at the time.

Gronk’s Love for Wrestling

He has always loved wrestling, and this led to him a cameo appearance in WrestleMania in 2017. In the show, he worked with Mojo Rawley as they helped to eliminate Jinder Mahal. It led to Rawley winning the Battle Royal.

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Due to this appearance, many people expected him to feature more in the WWE after he retired, and he didn’t disappoint. He signed a deal with them in 2020 and it seemed as though this was what he was going to be doing for the rest of his athletic career.

Life as a Pro Wrestler

Being a wrestler was a dream come true for him as he fell in love with it as a kid and never stopped watching it, even when he was playing football. He was made for the big occasions, and the world of WWE was going to give him plenty of opportunities.

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You take one look at Gronkowski, and you’d say he has everything you need to be great in the sport. He is freakishly athletic for such a tall man. Those qualities that helped to make him a great tight end were also going to give him all the tools he needed in wrestling.

He Soon Became a Champion

Being an NFL analyst and a wrestler seemed like the perfect life for him. He made his first official appearance on SmackDown while also doing hosting duties in WrestleMania 36. It was all building up to him getting in the ring and showing what he could do.

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Gronk entered the ring in true WWE style with lots of drama. When hosting the WWE 24/7 Championship, he saw Mojo Rawley in trouble again and was there to step in. Instead of winning the bout for him like last time, Gronk pinned Rawley to the floor and won the belt for himself.

Wrestling Wasn’t Enough for Him

Gronk being who he is, the star was always going to stay in shape. Perhaps there was a point where he once again felt at his physical best. He won a WWE Championship and had a great job with Fox, but that love for football never went away.

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Soon enough, Gronkowski stated that once again he was ready to step out onto a football field. He said that if it felt right and that fire was restarted, he would return. While he wanted to return to football, it wasn’t going to be with the Patriots.

Proving He Was Fit Again

As we’ve already talked about, injuries were never too far away for Rob Gronkowski. His list of injuries is enough to make anyone wince. He totaled nine surgeries with two broken arms and approximately 20 concussions.

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After almost two years out from the sport, his body was repaired, and he was ready to go once again. He passed his medical easily and was given the green light to get back on the field. The only stumbling block was that the New England Patriots still held his contract.

Getting Back on the Field

Fortunately, the Patriots weren’t going to get in the way of his desire to reunite with Tom Brady in Tampa Bay. They traded him to his new team and got a fourth-round draft pick in return. It allowed him to play with Brady once again, after he’d stated that he wanted to play only with the famed quarterback.

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This led to the deadly duo finding a new home down in Florida. Despite being two very different characters, the two men always shared a close bond and great chemistry. For Tampa Bay Buccaneer fans, it must have felt like winning the lottery.

How the Return Happened

It seems as though the news of Brady going to Tampa lit a fire under Gronkowski. He loved playing with the Patriots, but perhaps the warmer weather of Florida appealed to him. He was feeling better, and Brady was still playing.

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It appeared the timing was perfect. His agent detailed how discussions started soon after the news broke that Brady was moving on from New England. It was time for him to do something new and enjoy a new challenge. A team that hadn’t won the Super Bowl since 2002 was definitely a challenge.

More Success Followed Gronk

In their first season, Gronkowski helped the Bucs and Brady to their second Super Bowl title, and his fourth. It seemed like a match made in heaven and one that provided plenty of success on the field. Gronk had come back to the sport as good as ever.

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With Brady now retiring, it remains to be seen what the future holds for the tight end star. Whether it is football, wrestling, or analyzing, we’re sure he’ll be successful. His life has been an incredible journey and it doesn’t seem to be stopping anytime soon.