Go ahead and call Rob Gronkowski’s debut on Fox’s NFL studio program a soft launch. He’d probably find that worth a guffaw.
And we could all use a laugh after Fox’s hammy debacle of a pregame show Thursday night, none of which was Gronk’s fault.
If your expectations were reasonable, he was actually pretty good in his first appearance since Fox announced Tuesday that the former — and perhaps future — Patriots tight end had signed on to be part of their NFL studio programming this season.
Gronkowski was unpolished, of course, and meandered some. But his effortless charisma and energetic good nature came through, and while he bounced around almost out of camera frame at times, he was not as wide-eyed or nervous-seeming as expected here. He got off a good — if probably scripted — line at fellow co-host Terry Bradshaw when he said, “You’re a legend to my father.”
Gronkowski also confirmed that his foray into broadcasting does not necessarily mean the end of his playing career.
“Does that mean football’s out now, you’re never going back?’’ asked Bradshaw late in the broadcast. “Because I know you didn’t sign that closure contract [retirement papers].”
Said Gronkowski, “I’ve answered this question many times before.”
“Not from me,” said Bradshaw.
“I would have to be feeling it, you know, feeling it big time to come back,’’ said Gronkowski. “It’s always going to be open in my mind. I love the game of football, you know, I love playing the game, I love being around the game, I even love watching the game of football now . . . the appreciation of watching it, seeing the hits, seeing the glory of it, you understand the game so much more, the fans of the game so much more.”
Bradshaw, who knows a thing or two about meandering around an answer, cut him off.
“So tell me that,’’ he said.
“So, I’ll always keep it open,’’ said Gronkowski, bouncing around some more. “I’ll always keep it open, I’ll always keep it open, I’ll always keep the door open.”
Asked if he had to take pay cut to join Fox, Gronkowski got off a good line: “I’ll tell you this. To get a deal done here was a lot easier than getting a deal done with the Patriots.”
Other than Gronk, whom Fox eventually got around to introducing 34 minutes into the show, it’s almost as if the entire program were designed solely to annoy Patriots fans.
It was introduced by the Jonas Brothers, those NFL icons, telling us the 2-3 and injury-plagued Giants would have a shot against the 5-0 Patriots because of history — and you know the history to which they were referring.
All of two minutes passed in the broadcast before we saw Eli Manning’s winning touchdown pass to Plaxico Burress against the unbeaten Patriots in Super Bowl XLII in February 2008. The words “wicked,” “Beantown,” and “chowder” were all referenced in the first three segments. There was a hammy segment in which comedian Tracy Morgan showed up in a David Tyree jersey to reenact his helmet catch in Super Bowl XLII.
The only thing that would have agitated Patriots fans more deliberately in the first half-hour is if they’d brought Dan Fouts over from CBS for a visit.
Speculation that Gronkowski may end up being part of Fox’s WWE programming gained some credence when he followed up an Erin Andrews interview with Julian Edelman by praising his teammate, while also appearing to audition for a bigger role at Wrestlemania (he’s been a past participant as a guest) at the same time.
“He calls himself the squirrel,’’ said Gronkowski, staring directly into the camera. “You want to know why he calls himself a squirrel? Because he is a squirrel! He is a squirrel! He’s furry, he’s cute, he’s elusive, he’s feisty, and most importantly, when he gets a chance, he gets that nut. Just like he gets a first down, just like he gets the touchdown, just like he’ll give you a catch when you need it.’’
OK, it wasn’t exactly vintage Hulk Hogan, but Gronk pulled it off well enough on his first test run. And it sure beat another Bradshaw skit or cameo from a grown-up boy band.
Chad Finn can be reached at email@example.com.