News Column

Patriots' Tight Ends Gronkowski and Hernandez Make an Amazing Tandem

Feb. 1, 2012

Randy Covitz

super bowl

The T-shirts, the banners and even billboards around New England are proclaiming the words famously uttered by Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski.

"Si. Yo soy fiesta."

Gronkowski coined the expression in response to a question from a Spanish-speaking television station after the Patriots' victory in the AFC championship game that put them in Super Bowl XLVI this week against the New York Giants.

The translation, "Yes. I am party" describes the fun-loving demeanor of Gronkowski and fellow tight end Aaron Hernandez, two 22-year-olds who have formed the most prolific pair of tight ends in NFL history.

Call them the New England TE party.

And there was even something more to celebrate on Tuesday when Gronkowski arrived at Super Bowl Media Day without the boot protecting his left ankle that was injured in the game against Baltimore.

Whether the absence of a boot was to mislead the Giants or if he's still hobbled, Gronkowski can't imagine missing the Super Bowl.

"That's the goal, to get out there, be effective and help out the team," Gronkowski said. "It could be 100 percent by Sunday or it could be 2 percent. If I am out there, I am going to have the ability to be playing, and I am going to be going full speed doing as much as I possibly can."

The similarities between Gronkowski and Hernandez are staggering.

They both came out of school a year early and were taken in the 2010 draft. Gronkowski, 6-6, 265, was selected in the second round even though he missed his final year at Arizona after undergoing back surgery; and Hernandez, 6-1, 245, was overshadowed at Florida by a guy named Tebow.

And they both come from football families. Gronkowski's two older brothers, Dan and Chris, play in the NFL -- Dan with Cleveland, Chris here in Indianapolis -- while younger brother Glenn, a fullback, is expected to sign with Kansas State today.

Hernandez' older brother D.J. played quarterback professionally in Austria and is now the quarterbacks coach at Brown.

"When I got drafted, I knew he was drafted before me," Hernandez said, "so I was hoping they'd use the two tight-end set. It worked out great."

That's an understatement. A year ago, Hernandez, as the youngest player in the NFL, caught 45 passes for 563 yards and six touchdowns, while Gronkowski caught 42 for 546 yards and 10 touchdowns.

This season, they rewrote the record book. Gronkowski -- with 90 catches, 1,327 yards and an NFL-record 17 TDs for a tight end -- and Hernandez (79-910-7) combined for 169 catches for 2,237 yards and 24 touchdowns, more than any tight-end tandem -- or entire team of tight ends -- in NFL history.

Gronk, as he's known, has become a household name for his trademark "Boom!" spike after every touchdown.

"All the fans liked it, so I just kept with it," Gronkowski said. "I always wanted to spike, and we couldn't do it in college and high school. I started it here. I guess it caught on, and it's going pretty good. It's cool."

Gronkowski never would have envisioned such success so early in his career while sitting out his last year in college.

"Definitely not," he said. "That's not what you're imagining when you are hurt in college for a whole year. You are not imagining breaking records at the next level. The only thing you are imagining is getting better, staying focused to get healthy again, to get back out there and to make sure you are ready when it comes time to play again."

Though Gronkowski has become something of a folk hero in New England, his fellow tight end Hernandez does not begrudge him anything.

"I don't think we're too competitive with each other," Hernandez said. "We love each other, we both work together, and what's crazy is we both want to see each other do great. We developed a great bond. That's why we've been successful."

In an era in which teams are supposed to need a vertical threat to stretch defenses, Patriots quarterback Tom Brady threw for more than 5,000 yards mostly with two tight ends and a slot receiver in Wes Welker.

"I think Bill (Belichick) once again just kind of beat everybody to the punch and just kind of figured out that the league is changing," said former NFL quarterback Trent Dilfer, now an ESPN analyst. "You don't have to win on the perimeter. The number of yards generated in the middle of the football field is astronomical. It's 70, 75 percent of the yards these good offenses are getting are in the middle of the football field.

"And the best way to do that is with a slot receiver and two tight ends, versatile tight ends. The Patriots have the best slot receiver in football and the two most complementary tight ends to each other ... and as precise a passer as there is in football."

New England guard Brian Waters played with Hall of Fame-bound Tony Gonzalez with the Chiefs, and though he says Gonzalez "is the best tight end to ever play," no team has had two tight ends like this.

"These two guys give you something that a lot of teams haven't ever had, to my knowledge," Waters said. "Gronk's ability to block ... Aaron's versatility. ... their intelligence for the game. They clearly have a great understanding of how Tom's looking at the game and connecting with both of them.

"Gronk's numbers, the way he plays the game, those things speak for themselves. It's evident this guy is a very good football player. The one thing that's great about him as a teammate is I don't think there has ever been a bad day for Gronk. When he walks into the building in the morning, he's smiling, he's ready to go to work, he's ready to do the job that's asked of him. That's coming from a young football player. He loves to play football, and he doesn't allow this to go to his head."

Source: (c) 2012 The Kansas City Star (Kansas City, Mo.)

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