Rob Gronkowski played in five Super Bowls during his Hall of Fame career and hoisted the Lombardi Trophy three times.
This big game is what he is most nervous about. The circumstances are quite different.
The former tight end star will kick a 25-yard field goal live between the third and fourth quarters as part of the FanDuel promotion that will give customers $10 million in free games.
“I played football, I did it for six months before the Super Bowl game, so that’s what I did. That was my job. I had the tight end position down,” Gronkowski told USA TODAY Sports on Thursday. “I had to catch? I could catch. I had to block? I could block.
“So I kick a field goal, and I can’t kick a field goal.”
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Training with Adam Vinatieri
No one knows big kicks on the big stage quite like Adam Vinatieri, who kicked the league with the New England Patriots and Indianapolis Colts from 1996-2019 and won three Super Bowls.
Gronkowski and Vinatieri have already logged three workouts (each about 90 minutes long) at a field house in the Boston area. He takes about 50 to 60 attempts per training session.
“I had never kicked football style before,” Gronkowski said. “I actually used to kick field goals, I loved kicking them when I was younger. But it was always right with the toe style. So it’s definitely a challenge to do this new way of kicking.”
They started by indoctrinating Gronkowski with the fundamentals of kicking, and he compared it to taking up golf. Repetition is key for muscle memory, which makes the range of motion more efficient and increases power in the leg. FanDuel produced a 1980s-style training montage earlier this month.
“The practices are getting better every time,” Gronkowski said. “I want to hit it. I have to practice to the point where I’m not nervous anymore, and I’m confident about that. I’m getting more and more confident as I practice more.”
Super Bowl kick: ‘It’s for America’
During his first practice, Gronkowski estimated he made 10% of his kicks. The second session saw an improvement to 50% and he is now up to 75%. But he wants it up to 98%.
“Because I have to make this kick,” Gronkowski said. “It’s for America. It’s $10 million in free play for America.”
The practice has only increased his respect for NFL kickers, a position that has come under fire due to the mishaps of Dallas Cowboys kicker Brett Maher during the playoffs.
“The pressure is incredible, just how they come through in the clutch every single time,” Gronkowski said. “I just respect them even more. It’s an art to be able to kick. You have to be fully dedicated to the craft, and it’s a craft you have to work at every single day to become great.”
Gronkowski joins Fox broadcasts for playoffs
Gronkowski’s media presence has only increased since he retired for the second time after the 2021 season. (He also took the 2019 season off, only to reunite with Tom Brady on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for two seasons.)
Gronkowski has slipped into the FOX studio show alongside Howie Long, Michael Strahan, Terry Bradshaw and Jimmy Johnson and is enjoying the work. He will be on the sidelines of Lincoln Financial Field on Sunday before and during the network’s NFC championship telecast.
“They’re just such great guys,” Gronkowski said. “They opened their arms with a big hug to welcome me to the family, and I feel like I’m getting more comfortable every week I’m on air.”
When asked if there was a greater chance of him and Brady becoming teammates on FOX in 2023 or on the field, Gronkowski replied:
“I would say we’re going to be teammates at FOX,” he said. “He’s seen the job I’m doing. I’m still in the playoffs, he’s not. So I think if he comes to FOX, he’s guaranteed playoffs and Super Bowls every single year.”
Gronkowski likes O’Brien coming back to the Patriots
For the first two seasons of his career, Bill O’Brien was Gronkowski’s offensive coordinator. O’Brien, the former Penn State and Houston Texans head coach, returned this week to turn around a Patriots offense that regressed last season.
Gronkowski said O’Brien’s pairing with quarterback Mac Jones is “a match made in heaven.”
“He just has a niche to help you learn the game of football, has a niche to make you go out on the field to get better every single day,” Gronkowski said. “He’s good at getting his players to have mismatches and to have the edge and make plays. So he’s definitely going to spark that offense and take it to another level.”
Rob Gronkowski’s perfect Sunday
Speaking to USA TODAY through his partnership with Bounty, Gronkowski said “all you need is three things every Sunday: Football, wings and Bounty.” On Friday, he wore a green suit on the “TODAY” show as part of the campaign.
“It’s weird,” he said.
Follow Chris Bumbaca on Twitter @BOOMbaca.