The world according to Rob Gronkowski is a house on new road in the Buffalo, NY, suburb of Amherst. the one with the tin sign that reads “Home of Champions” hanging in its garage. the one with the fully equipped weight room in its large, unfinished basement. the one sitting on the five-acre lot, complete with full-size basketball court, swimming pool, and enormous grass field of a backyard that could easily accommodate three football fields. The one that Rob’s father, Gordy Sr., says he “built from scratch” 10 years ago.
It’s also a world of “bros”: five brothers, all big and athletic and competitive as hell. The oldest, Gordie Jr., was a late bloomer who grew to 6'5" in college and went on to play six years of minor league baseball. Dan, also 6'5," is a workaholic in the gym and a tight end with the Cleveland Browns. Chris, the shortest of the boys at 6'2", is also the strongest and currently a fullback for the Denver Broncos. Goose (given name Glenn), the baby of the family, is a 6'3" tight end at Kansas State University.
It’s a world of great genetics, but there’s no way genetics alone produced Rob, the brother wedged between Chris and Goose, the biggest of the five at 6'6", 265 pounds; the funniest (check his YouTube footage); and the best athlete of them all. One of the most coveted skill position players in the NFL at just 23, he’s a record-setting tight end who caught 90 passes and scored 18 touchdowns last year for the New England Patriots.
The answer to Gronk’s success lies instead in a blend of heredity and hard work -- the kind fostered by a father who knew exactly what buttons to push without pushing too hard -- a formula that so far has produced four professional athletes in four tries.
“You couldn’t ask for a better atmosphere growing up,” Rob says as he sits in the den of the Gronkowski house on New Road.
You hear stories all the time of famous athletes who grew up without a father figure. This is not one of them. Gordy was definitely around, and his profile was a perfect fit for raising five rambunctious boys: co-founder (with his older brother Glenn) and owner of G&G Fitness Equipment in Williamsville, a village that overlaps Amherst. A three-year starter at offensive guard on the Syracuse University football team, from 1977 to ’82, back when a guy Rob’s size was running the 40 in 5.5 seconds and playing in the trenches. A lean 6'3", 235-pound 52-year-old who hasn’t missed a week of working out in nearly 40 years. A self-made man who took a Greyhound bus from Buffalo to California as a high school senior, highlight tapes stuffed in his duffel bag, and met uninvited with college football coaches from Berkeley to LA to San Diego in hopes of landing a scholarship -- which he did, to Long Beach State, before Syracuse matched the offer.
“I had to figure it out on my own,” says Gordy, who’s own father was rarely present. “I’m a person who strives to be the best and doesn’t take ‘no’ for an answer, and I distilled that into my kids. My thing to them is, ‘Don’t let people tell you what you can do and what you can’t.’ You’re either a follower or a leader, and I definitely consider myself a leader all the way.”
Gordy didn’t have many rules in his house, but the ones he did have he enforced. You don’t quit in this house was rule No. 1. “I never pushed my boys in anything they did,” he says. “But if you started something, you had to finish it. I don’t care if you don’t like it.”
Lifting weights wasn’t required, either, but there was no way around it, really, if you wanted to be serious about sports, which all five Gronkowski boys were. “You don’t have to lift weights,” Gordy told his sons. “But if you want to stay ahead of everybody, you’ve got to get in the basement [and lift weights]. If you want to go to college and play sports and maybe someday go to the next level, this is what you have to do.”