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Patriots star Gronkowski fought — and ate — way to success

AMHERST, N.Y. — Rob Gronkowski is willing to take on anyone.

The competitive spirit burning inside the Patriots’ athletic freak of a tight end was forged as a kid growing up in this sleepy suburb of Buffalo, where he and his four brothers — all of them Division I athletes and two bound for NFL careers — battled through every second of every day, including at the dinner table.

The Gronkowski family would spend $500 to $600 a week on groceries when the boys were growing up, and eating with the family was something to behold.



“The place they really learned how to compete was at the dinner table,” said Mike Mammoliti, who was the Gronkowskis’ football coach at Williamsville North High School. “It was eat as much as you can, as fast as you can. … It was survival of the fittest.

“When all five brothers were eating, it was like a horde of locusts.”


The legend of “Gronk,” as he’s affectionately known now, goes back to when he was simply, “Rob G.,” one of the five exceptionally talented sons of Gordy and Diane Gronkowski.

The oldest, Gordie (28), was a freshman All-American baseball player and played in the Angels’ minor league system.

Dan (27) played tight end at Maryland and became a Rhodes Scholar nominee before he was drafted in the seventh round of the 2009 NFL Draft. Chris (25), a fullback, initially joined Dan at Maryland before transferring to Arizona to play with Rob. He played with the Colts this season.

After Rob (22), came the youngest, Glenn (18), who just left home to begin his collegiate career at Kansas State, where he, too, will play football.

“Each one of them, in an indirect way, pushed the other one,” Gordy said of his five sons. “It was just a fantastic thing to see. And, to this day, I preach to them that you’re going to be able to count five friends on your hand. You’ve each got four brothers, and the four of you will never come apart.”


Gordy had some athletic bloodlines. His grandfather, Ignatius, was a member of the U.S. Olympic Cycling team back in 1924, and Gordy played offensive line at Syracuse. After college, he became a successful businessman, and is the co-owner of G&G Fitness, a large fitness equipment retail chain.

That allowed him to stock the basement of the family home with a gym full of every piece of workout equipment you could imagine. There, day after day, Rob and his brothers hit the weights and began transforming their bodies into the athletic machines they would become.

“Every time you went down there, you had to show who was more jacked,” Chris said. “I would do more bench or something one day, and he’d come back and rep it out more the next.”

With five rambunctious boys, the Gronkowski home saw as many fights as a boxing gym. When the boys needed to let off some steam, Gordy would turn the living room into a wrestling ring, and they would tear into each other until they were too exhausted to move.

But there were plenty of times when the boys would start fights all on their own. And, most of the time, Rob was at the center of the mayhem.

“He liked to cause trouble, and then just laugh about it,” Dan said. “He’d call you a name, throw something at you just to aggravate you. If you were sitting on the couch, he’d come in and jump on you … everything you could imagine.”

The most vicious battles, though, always were between Rob and Chris.

“Those two fought some knockdown brawls,” Gordy said. “Holes in the wall, throwing stuff at each other, whatever they could grab at the time. … They were brutal.”


For all of the amazing talents his brothers possessed growing up, Rob’s unique skill set always stood out. Not just a stellar football player growing up, he also starred in both baseball and basketball at Williamsville North.

In fact, the lasting story of his athletic gifts actually may come from the basketball court — not the football field — in a practice at rival Williamsville East.

“We’re just running a couple of standard drills, and our point guard comes up, stops and dishes it off to Rob,” said John Ticco, a longtime friend and Gronkowski’s high school teammate. “He gets it on the baseline, goes up and slams it with both hands, and the entire rim, the entire backboard, everything shatters.

“The glass comes pouring down on him, and he has the rim in his hands, and there’s glass all around him. … We were just going nuts, because we were in our rivals’ gym.

“They never let us practice there again.”

“Their booster club tried to get his parents to pay for it,” Mammoliti said, laughing. “They thought he did it on purpose.”

But Gronkowski had his moments on the football field, as well. Both Mammoliti and his brother, Chris, pointed to the final game of the regular season his sophomore year, at Lockport High School, as the moment when Gronkowski truly arrived.

Williamsville North needed to win the game in order to make the playoffs, and Rob made sure they did. He returned a fumble for a touchdown, caught a touchdown pass and sacked Lockport’s quarterback in the end zone, scoring all of Williamsville North’s points in a 14-13 win.

“At that point, you could already tell he was a D-I athlete for sure,” Chris said. “His arm length and his ability at defensive end was off the charts. He was only a sophomore, and he was already one of the elite players on the team. He was already bigger than me, and we definitely knew he was going to be playing D-I, at least.”

Even when his family and friends knew he was well on his way to earning a college scholarship, they never could have imagined Rob would achieve the levels of stardom he has suddenly reached.

“In towns and cities across the country, they all have their star athlete … the guy that, in their town, he’s the best,” Ticco said. “For our town, he was the best athlete.

“At every next step he took, we were like, ‘There has to be someone better than him.’ But now we’re looking around, and he’s in the Pro Bowl, he’s in the Super Bowl, and he’s breaking all these records … and now we’re looking around and it’s like, ‘Wow, no one’s better than him.’ ”


After missing his junior year at Arizona because of back surgery, Rob entered the 2010 NFL Draft. He nearly wound up with the Ravens, the team he helped the Patriots defeat last weekend to reach Super Bowl XLVI, but New England traded up to take him with the 42nd overall pick.

Gronkowski’s father said he thinks the best thing to happen to his son was getting a chance to play for the Patriots, and under Bill Belichick, both of which Gordy said helped his son mature and develop on and off the field.

“First, you’ve got the cast around him,” Gordy said. “You’ve got [Tom] Brady, you’ve got [Aaron] Hernandez, you’ve got [Wes] Welker, [Deion] Branch. The cast around him is phenomenal. They say the go-to guy is Rob, but the go-to guy’s not Robbie. It’s all of them.

“It’s an amazing cast, but the amazing thing is how Belichick keeps them all level-headed. No one walks around with the New England Patriots with an ego. If you’ve got an ego with the Patriots, you’re not going to be there long.”

At his office, Gordy has a “Wall of Fame” with pictures signed by various sports dignitaries, including Bill Parcells. But much of that wall, and all four walls of his office, are now filled with pictures and clippings of his sons, including life-sized pictures of NFL sons Dan, Chris and Rob, along with pictures each of them signed to him.

The proud father still could not believe, in just over a week, he, Dan and Chris will be in the stands in Indianapolis, watching his son run onto the field and play in the Super Bowl.

“I went through the contract with Disney that they sent us in case he’s the guy picked to be MVP of the game,” he said. “At the end of the game, he could be the guy saying, I’m going to Disney.

“Oh my God, that could be my kid saying that.”

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