It’s Good to Be Gronk 1
MEET THE GRONKS
From day one, all I ever wanted to do was have fun with my brothers. Whether that fun came from playing sports, joking around, dancing crazy, wrestling, or just being me, that was what made me happy. And now, twenty-something years later I refuse to let success, money, fame, beautiful women, or anyone or anything else change me. Why should I change? I’m a happy guy, I don’t hurt anyone (except when I’m paid to do it on the football field), I work superhard, I don’t break the law, and I’m all about working hard, playing hard, and being a good guy to the kids. What’s wrong with that? Absolutely nothing, so I’m going to play ball, work out in the gym, hit my playbook, run on the track, party with my family, and do all of it Gronk-style!
That doesn’t mean I’m going do things my way or not at all. That means I’m gonna do things the right way, the best way I can or not at all. That’s how I was raised and that’s who I am. There was no other way for me to be. I grew up in a house in Buffalo, New York, with four brothers. In that house, we had constant fun and action. Our idea of fun was beating the hell out of each other and laughing the whole time as we got our shots in. I had three older brothers and one younger brother and we did nothing but all-out brawl all day, every day. My poor mom, Diane, had no chance of handling all of us and my dad, Gordy, set two rules we all had to follow—no punching to the face, or to the balls. Anything other than that, and I mean anything, was fair game.
One afternoon my dad came home from work and walked into the kitchen to see what the ruckus was. My older brother Chris, who was fifteen at the time, had me, thirteen, pinned on my back. The loud thumping my dad heard was Chris grabbing fistfuls of my hair with both hands and smacking the top of my head back and forth into the linoleum kitchen floor. My dad, who is a big man himself, and had played college football, picked us both up with each arm and held us against the wall. “That’s it! We’re gonna settle this right now.”
My dad was our idol; he was big, strong, tough, and smart. We all respected him and his two rules mostly because he was the only thing in the world we were afraid of. He was mean when he had to be, but always fair. After separating us, my dad brought us into the living room and cleared out the couch and other furniture so the center of the room was empty. He gave us both one of the big
pillows on the couch and let us smash into each other full speed until we tired ourselves out. He called it zoom-zoom. From then on, whenever he had to break up a fight between us, we resolved it through zoom-zoom, where we banged into each other, over and over again like only kids can do, until we were both exhausted. We loved it!
Another time, when I was eight and Chris was ten, I caught him taking one of my Reese’s Pieces packets from my Halloween candy bag. Back then, Halloween candy was like gold to us. We would spend the night running from house to house with huge pillowcases to grab and carry as much candy as we could. Whoever had the biggest bag with the most candy had the best night among all of us. It was a major competition in our household.
That year, I was particularly proud of my large bag of candy and guarded it like it was pirate treasure. When Chris took a Reese’s Pieces packet from my bag, I went nuts. I grabbed one of my mini hockey sticks (it’s about a foot long) and ran toward him and checked him as hard as I could. Before Chris could get up, I started whacking him with the stick. Chris fought his way up and ran after me. Chris was a lot bigger and more muscular than I was since he was stocky and older. Since I was smaller than my older brothers, my technique was to hit them with the best shot I could and then run off and try to escape.
After knocking Chris down, I sprinted toward the bathroom and tried to close the door behind me, but Chris was coming full speed. He put his shoulder into it and barreled through the door. I was caught off balance and the force of the door sent me flying
backward. I hit the back of my head on the front of the hard bathtub and was knocked out cold.
When Chris saw I wasn’t moving, he thought I was dead and he ran off into the living room in a panic, calling for our parents. While Chris was panicking in the living room, I woke up, grabbed my stick, and went right back at him. By the time my dad came downstairs, Chris got checked from behind and was knocked to the floor.
To understand us, you have to picture five boys growing up together in the same household in upstate New York. The oldest, Gord (not to be confused with our dad, Gordy), is the most outgoing, fun-loving, and partying guy of the group. Gord went on to play professional baseball and was a tall first baseman. Gord was six years older than me. Next came Danny, who was the biggest and best athlete around but was always responsible and mature for his age. Dan was four years older than me. Then came Chris, who was an intimidating, mean, and scary kid. Chris enjoyed inflicting pain on everyone who would bother him. Chris was two years older than me and I fought him the most. Then came Glenn, who we all call Goose. Goose is four years younger than me and he took a beating the same as everyone else.
To me, fighting my brothers was fun. The problem was that I was smaller than Gord, Dan, and Chris. These were really big guys who would all become professional athletes. Since I was younger and smaller, the only way to even the odds was to hit them with whatever I could find and then run like hell to escape. Most of the time I got away but when I didn’t, I took my beating like a man.
One afternoon, my dad’s brother, my uncle Glen, came over to visit us. I loved Uncle Glen. He was a fun uncle to talk with so I was pissed off when I saw Dan talking to him where I had been sitting five minutes earlier. I had just gone into the kitchen for a minute to get something to eat and when I came back Dan had taken my seat. When I saw Dan laughing it up with Uncle Glen, I was determined to get him. I didn’t care that Dan had no idea he pissed me off and that it was unintentional. Once I had any reason to attack, any reason whatsoever, I was gonna take my best shot. So I snuck out of the kitchen behind Dan and with a full sprint toward the living room, tackled Dan all-out. I rammed my elbow right into the back of his ribs and got him good.
Dan had no clue what had happened but he knew the drill. He knew I didn’t need much of a reason and got up instantly to chase me down. Dan was four years older than me and bigger, faster, and stronger than I was. To make things worse, Chris was there and saw what I did, so for the fun of it and because I deserved it, Chris helped Dan catch me, grab me, and hold me down. From there, Dan just pounded me in my thighs, punching me over and over again, giving me a brutal charley horse. That was their deal. Dan and Chris knew my dad would knock the hell out of them if they punched me in the face or balls, so they stayed within the rules and did their worst!
Whenever they could catch me, and that was most of the time, Chris would hold me down and Dan would savagely, without mercy, whale on me with his fists, elbows, and knees. The thing is, I always deserved it because I had always started it. And I always
started it because after a while, my thighs, shoulders, arms, and stomach all toughened up and the blows didn’t hurt anymore. So when I got caught and no matter how hard they punched, elbowed, and kneed me, I could take it and started laughing uncontrollably. It was so much fun to me to tackle them when they weren’t looking and I liked it when they beat the hell out of me. There was just nothing they could do to stop me, so it was a nonstop cycle of brawling.
I don’t know why I always started the trouble. Dan didn’t deserve for me to tackle him and elbow him in the back of his ribs. He never bullied me or picked on me. But when I started it, he would do his best to finish it and make me pay for it.
Dan was a really good kid. He was the all-American guy you would want to marry your daughter. He was the biggest and best athlete wherever he went, did really well in school, and as I said, was very mature for his age. Chris, on the other hand, was not a really good kid. While wicked smart with his grades, Chris got my father’s mean streak and took it to the next level. Chris enjoyed beating me up and dishing out pain. Whenever Dan gave me a charley horse it was only because I really pushed his buttons. I didn’t need to push Chris’s buttons; he was always ready to throw punches, elbows, and knees. He loved beating me up and I loved trying to get him back. I wasn’t afraid. For whatever reason, I loved causing trouble and pissing people off, it was fun. Because Chris was closest to me in age, I always wanted to do what he was doing and whenever I couldn’t, I would tackle him, elbow, knee him—whatever shots I could get in, I took. And when Chris wasn’t around, I would fight Dan even though he was twice my size and four years older.
Because they were bigger than me I had to use whatever I could get my hands on to help even the odds. My favorite weapon of choice was the Gronk family trumpet. At our elementary school, everyone had to play the trumpet in the fifth grade. It started with Gord, was passed down to Dan, then to Chris, then to me, and then to Goose. When Gord had it, it was shiny and in perfect condition. By the time I got it, that thing looked like it had been run over by a car. It had dents and scratches on it everywhere. I don’t know how the thing still worked when Goose got it.
The dents and scratches are from when I used to come after Dan with it. I couldn’t help but be angry when Dan would tease me about anything. If we just played a game downstairs in the basement or in the backyard and I lost, any type of bragging on their part or criticism of my game would set me off. If I won, I would start teasing them over and over again until they couldn’t take it anymore, and things would escalate pretty quickly and get out of hand, Ron Burgundy–style.
I remember Dan was babysitting at home one night and he had had enough of my smart-aleck remarks and told me to go upstairs to my room. He warned me not to come back downstairs. I was angry so I went right upstairs, into his room, grabbed the trumpet out of the case, and came downstairs yelling at him, holding it over my head. For once I was doing the chasing and Dan was doing the running. I couldn’t catch him so I threw it at him and missed,
which I probably did intentionally. He was super-mad and I knew he would beat the hell out of me, but I didn’t care. I wasn’t afraid. Over the years, I came at him a lot with that trumpet but I never really got him full-contact with it.
The trumpet wasn’t the only thing I threw. One time I threw a fork at Dan. I can’t even remember why, but I missed him anyway. The problem was I hit the babysitter with it and it stuck into her hand. The poor lady had had no idea what she signed up for when she had to pull the fork out of her hand. She obviously didn’t come back.
No matter what I threw at Sweet Pete, he always came back. Sweet Pete was Dan’s best friend in high school. Dan played quarterback and his left tackle was Pete DeAngelo. He lived down the block and was always over. Back then, “sweet” meant cool, so it was a compliment, and Pete had a big head as one of the cool kids. When Sweet Pete would come over, we would play some type of mini-hockey-stick game downstairs in the basement. More important than winning and scoring goals was seeing who could check who the hardest into the concrete foundation wall.
Now, Sweet Pete was 6´1˝ and 215, which was pretty big for high school. Since I was four years younger than Sweet Pete, he was still stronger and bigger than I was, but I didn’t care.
Whatever game they were playing, I wanted to play. Whatever they were doing, I wanted to do. And no matter what, by the end of the day, Pete and I would always go at it. He loved beating me up. If I didn’t start with him, he would start with me. Whenever he and I were in the house together, there was going to be a battle.
I would tease Pete all the time and tell him he wasn’t sweet (meaning he was not cool). I would say that and whatever else aggravated him over and over again until he and Dan couldn’t take it anymore and they came after me. They would tackle me, hold me down, and charley-horse my thighs and shoulders, but I didn’t feel any pain. I couldn’t help but laugh uncontrollably the whole time. They beat the hell out of me but I loved it.
There aren’t too many people who can walk around and say they beat the hell out of Rob Gronkowski all the time, but Sweet Pete can. But now the tables have obviously turned and things have changed. Sweet Pete still likes to brag to everyone that he toughened me up and made me the man I am today, etc. . . . And it finally caught up to him at Dan’s bachelor party in Las Vegas in the summer of 2011.
That crazy weekend, we went to Vegas for Dan’s bachelor party and stayed at the Hard Rock Hotel. Dan had this monster suite where me, Gord, Dan, Chris, Goose, and Sweet Pete were staying. The suite had a huge couch on it. After we had one drink too many, Sweet Pete, who is now in shape at 6´1˝ and 250 pounds, started talking trash that he could still take me. He played center on the Ithaca College football team in New York and said he could knock me on my butt.
He was loud and animated, talking trash to me. He actually climbed up on the couch and got into a three-point stance and challenged me to do the same opposite him and see who could knock who off the couch.
Now, I hadn’t wrestled with Pete since I was in the eighth grade, so it had been over ten years since we last matched up, but I had been waiting a long time to get even with him. He must have checked me like a thousand times into that concrete wall as hard as he could and celebrated each time like he had just won the Stanley Cup. So in Vegas I couldn’t resist and jumped at the chance.
Next thing I know, Sweet Pete dove low and went all-out, knocking me off balance, and I fell off the couch. He jumped up and cheered once again like he did in the old days. I didn’t like losing at all so I immediately said, “Two out of three, let’s go!”
He was still talking smack but as he lined up, I looked right into him and he knew I was going to bring it. To his credit, he didn’t back down and came after me. This time I took him seriously and got the jump on him. I exploded into him and knocked him straight back and up in the air. He somehow flipped over and landed on his face. He didn’t move for a second and then he picked his face up and the side of it was red. Sweet Pete got a big black eye and spent the whole weekend walking around with it. The thing took forever to heal and he brought it back to work with him for a week. I’m not going to lie, I don’t feel bad about it at all. I love it! A little payback.
I guess some things don’t change. I’m still the same as I was when I was kid. I remember one time we went on a family vacation to visit our uncle, who thought it would be a good idea to take Chris and me out on his sailboat. About twenty minutes into the journey I whacked Chris over the head with the big scoop fishnet on the boat. I obviously ruined the net but the boat managed to stay afloat until our uncle could get the boat turned around and safely back to shore. We were never taken on that boat again. My dad canceled the trip as punishment and took us home, but stuff like that was always happening where I would start trouble. I couldn’t help myself; it was fun for me to play sports and fight with my brothers. That’s all I did growing up.
The way things worked around the house, is that the younger brother would fight the next-older brother. Dan fought Gord. Chris fought Dan. I fought Chris and Goose did his best to fight me. The youngest was Goose, who was a tough little guy from day one, always trying to hang with us, but he was four years younger. Since there was that age difference, I was a lot bigger than Goose, but I didn’t care. I treated him with the same respect as all of my other brothers and beat him up, too. I didn’t care who it was: if I got angry, I was going to attack. Unless of course it was my dad.
My dad was a real patriarch, a man’s man that every son could look up to. He played college football at Syracuse and was a big, nasty, tough offensive lineman. My dad had NFL potential but too many injuries ruined his chances. Back then in the 1970s, the surgeries weren’t anything like they are today, where you have a fighting chance to come back better than ever. Though even today, you have to be lucky. My dad wasn’t lucky with football, no matter how tough he was or how hard he tried; his future was not in the NFL. But he used those traits he learned from football in becoming a big-time businessman.
When sports were over, he didn’t feel sorry for himself. If he couldn’t make a living playing sports, he’d go out and make an even better one selling sports equipment. My dad started his own business with his brother and they sold weight-training and fitness equipment. He was resilient and never let the bad breaks break him. I wish he could have known back then when he was heartbroken over the injuries and saw his career end in college that he would go on to raise three sons who would play in the NFL.
The thing about my dad is that when the adversity came, he responded with mental toughness and hard work. A smart businessman, he started one store and turned it into G&G Fitness Equipment, a chain of specialty fitness equipment stores in the Northeast. As busy as my dad was, he always made the time to be there for us. He coached us, he trained us, and most important, he instilled a good-spirited sense of competition between us. Rather than be jealous of each other or hate on one another, we all rooted for each other and pushed each other to break the record and set a new bar. My dad made sure we wouldn’t turn out to be a bunch of knuckleheads who got into trouble. While some would look at us and think we were dumb jocks clowning around, all of us did well in school, went to college, and stayed clear of trouble. And while some of those same people might think that it is a miracle we didn’t get thrown in jail, I know better because it wasn’t by luck or coincidence. My dad drew a clear line and taught us well not to cross it, no matter what.
What I realize now is that there are so many other kids born with the genetics to play in the NFL and to be the best. The part that separates those super-gifted athletes who make it to the NFL and those who don’t is knowing when to stop, knowing where that line is. My brothers and I go out to have fun, but we know when and where to stop. We are proof that you can go out and have a good time without doing drugs and getting into trouble. We are proof that you can play hard to the whistle and then stop before drawing a penalty. We are proof that you can be the biggest, baddest dude on the block without breaking the law or hurting someone.
It’s not enough just to have the genetics to play in the NFL; you have to have the guidance growing up to do well in school and in athletics. My dad kept us out of trouble in the neighborhood by keeping us in trouble in the house. My mom somehow had the patience to deal with us wrecking the house every day. They put up with us constantly going at it and yet they still laid down the law. The rule (besides the one about no punches to the face or nuts) was that we were not to fight other kids (except to defend ourselves), because my parents didn’t want us to get sued or arrested. Avoiding getting into fights with other kids wasn’t a problem for us. The thing is, we were all big, and the more important point was that we had brothers. If you fought one of us, you had to fight all of us. So I never got into any street fights throughout high school, except for when I went to visit Dan and Chris at their college, but I will get into that a little later, I promise.
I didn’t need to get into street fights because I was always getting into it at my house. Gord, six years older than me, had this one friend in high school who was a good wrestler. He would beat Gord and whenever I saw them wrestling, I would jump on the pile and do everything I could to hurt the guy and help Gord. The wrestler would get real angry and try to choke me out. The guy was six years older than me and although I was always really big for my age, he was still twice my size.
I also got another type of training at my house. I learned to have fun but not overdo it, or else you would pass out. Anytime one of our friends drank too much and passed out at the house, they got the Magic Marker treatment. I remember one night Sweet Pete drank too much and fell out. We were all pretty good artists. When Pete woke up, he walked downstairs and into the kitchen to have some cereal. My dad was in the kitchen eating his breakfast and looked up at him. We were all watching my dad very closely to see his reaction. My dad looked at him briefly with a straight poker face, said good morning, and then got up and walked upstairs, where we were waiting. As soon as my dad turned the corner, he couldn’t hold it in anymore and laughed as quietly as he could.
What my dad was laughing about was that Sweet Pete had come downstairs with a huge penis drawn on both sides of his face. On his forehead it said, “I love d—k!” My dad had seen this before on the neighborhood kids who drank too much and slept over. He figured it would teach them a lesson not to overdo it. So nobody said anything to Sweet Pete until his dad came to pick him up.
So I was trained every day to play hard and have fun within the rules. That’s how I grew up. Look at it this way: I had two older brothers who would go on to play in the NFL. I was always trying to beat them at whatever sports and games we could play at our house. Whenever I got angry, which was every time I lost, I would jump on whoever pissed me off and try to make him regret it. This kind of training all day, every day, year after year, trained me to be tough, athletic, and physical. Instead of being afraid to get hit, I couldn’t wait to be the one to do the hitting. I was used to playing sports against my monster older brothers and their friends. When I got to play football against kids my age, I was twice their size and just destroyed them—it was super-fun! The other guy was always afraid, not me! It was this type of Spartan training with my older brothers that made me the Gronk!