Patriots' tight end Gronkowski announces NFL retirement


Los Angeles (AFP)

New England Patriots star tight end Rob Gronkowski, a three-time Super Bowl champion, announced his retirement from the National Football League in an Instagram post on Sunday.

Gronkowski brings down the curtain on a nine-year career after helping the Patriots to a third title in five seasons in a 13-3 victory over the Los Angeles Rams last month.

"I will be retiring from the game of football today," Gronkowski said in a post that called the decision "the biggest of my life so far".

He thanked Patriots owner Robert Kraft and coach Bill Belichick for the opportunity they gave him "when drafting my silliness in 2010".

His effervescence and irreverence endeared "Gronk" to fans, but the towering tight end was a formidable offensive weapon on the field and a favorite target of superstar quarterback Tom Brady.

Gronkowski, who has sufferd a laundry list of injuries in his career and was shaken by a concussion in a playoff win in January of 2018, said after the Patriots' loss to Philadelphia in February of 2018 that he would consider his future.

But he returned for a ninth NFL campaign that yielded another championship ring.

"Thank you for everyone accepting who I am and the dedication I have put into my work to be the best player I could be," he wrote. "But now its time to move forward.

"Cheers to all who have been part of this journey, cheers to the past for the incredible memories, and a HUGE cheers to the uncertain of whats next."

- 'One of a kind' -

With the catching skills of a wide receiver and the physical size and power of an offensive lineman, Gronkowski was difficult to handle in either role the tight end spot required, befuddling rival defenders and putting him among the greatest to ever play the position.

Gronkowski, who turns 30 in May, is also a four-time First Team All-Pro and five-time Pro Bowl selection who caught 521 passes for 7,861 yards and 79 touchdowns in 115 regular-season games from 2010-18.

He had 81 catches for 1,163 yards and 12 touchdowns in 16 post-season games.

But Gronkowski became beloved as a character as much as for his skills, saying that partying helped him relax and thus inspire harder work in training.

His touchdown celebration spiking of the football became classics, many featuring a brief dance.

When the Patriots played in London and he scored at Wembley Stadium, Gronkowski imitated a Queen's Guard -- what he called a "little nutcracker dude" -- in his touchdown celebration.

- 'One of a kind' -

"Gronk is a one of a kind person," Brady said. "He's one of the most positive people I've ever been around and he loves to have fun."

That's how he wound up on the cover of ESPN magazine's 2012 body issue wearing almost nothing and again posing for the magazine in 2014 with kittens.

And it's what had him on the ice before an NHL Boston Bruins game spiking a hockey puck a few days after the Patriots won the 2015 Super Bowl.

Three months later, Gronkowski celebrated his 25th birthday with a party at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas. Weeks later, he was Twerking on the Celebrity Family Feud television show.

"Gronk" removed his shirt and flexed his muscles during the Patriots' 2017 Super Bowl celebration parade in Boston and two months later he bodyslammed a pro wrestler during a Wrestlemania match in Florida.

Not even the White House was safe from being Gronked, the NFL star interrupting a news briefing during his April 2017 White House tour.

Sponsors delighted in his lively manner, making him a popular pitchman for doughnuts, cell phones, cereal, credit cards and video games.

Gronkowski, the great-grandson of a 1924 US Olympic cyclist who held five world records, was nagged by injury throughout his career.

Torn right knee ligaments ended his 2013 campaign after seven games. In 2016, he suffered hamstring injuries, a bruised lung and a herniated disc that required surgery.