Rob Gronkowski isn’t playing football. He’s playing us.
It’s hard to be annoyed with Gronk about anything. But this “Yo, bros, I’ve got a big announcement!” stuff, fully intended to tease that he might return to an offensively challenged football team that really could use any version of him that he could muster at this point, is now in the red zone, deep in annoying territory.
It’s savvy marketing packaged as good fun, but it’s not especially fun on this end. It’s designed to make us pay attention in the hope that the big announcement is something like, oh, “I’ll be back with the Patriots next week LET’S GO PATS NATION,” or “BOOM, I’m coming back to the Pats,’’ or “My bro Tom needs me, I’LL BE BACK WITH THE PATS WOOOOOO.”
Something like that, you know, with a returning-to-the-Patriots theme. That’s the theme we’re looking for here.
Instead, Tuesday’s big announcement, which Gronk hyped the last couple of days as suckers like me wondered whether he really was returning for real this time, is that he’ll be in Miami for Super Bowl LIV . . . to host his own beach party.
That’s it? A beach party? When there’s a seventh Lombardi Trophy to be won, presuming Tom Brady can stop stalking Antonio Brown’s Instagram feed long enough to finally build some chemistry with everyone else other than Julian Edelman and James White?
A beach party? This is the second-most disappointing news in Patriots history regarding something that happened on a beach. Robert Edwards blowing out his knee in a beach football game at the end of the ’98 season remains in the top spot.
All right, consider this the requisite acknowledgment of his party that plays completely into his and his team’s annoyingly savvy way of marketing all of this:
The “Gronk Beach” festival on Saturday, Feb. 1, on Miami Beach will combine a party with a music festival along with food and drinks.
Gronkowski, who I suppose is not as guileless as we once thought, won three Super Bowls with the Patriots and says no one knows Super Bowl weekend like him.
“I mean, you can’t ask for any other situation that’s better than that,’’ said Gronk. “Bring some wildness, some fun, to bring a music festival to Miami and not just on top of Miami, at the Super Bowl. It’s really never been done like that before.”
I feel like he watched one of the documentaries on the disastrous Fyre Festival and thought, “Bro, I could do that better. Get me Flo Rida, stat.”
Oh, all right, I’m sure Gronk’s party will be a blast, and at 30 years old, the game show host/Fox NFL broadcaster/CBD oil pitchman seems to be living his best life post-football. Heaven knows he deserves that after all the brutal injuries he endured as the most dominant all-around tight end the NFL has ever seen. A happy Gronk is a good thing. The affable goof deserves it.
But it’s time for him to stop playing the comeback card, and in that small way, playing us. There have been moments of clarity and candor about how he really feels along the way — most notably when a caller asked him for a yes-or-no answer about a comeback during an appearance on WEEI in October.
“I’ll give an answer,” Gronkowski said. “When I retired, I retired for a reason: because I needed to step away. So it would be a no. There it is.”
Except there it wasn’t. That wasn’t the end of him teasing a comeback, of leaving a bread crumb or two here and there that it might just be possible.
Heck, he’s still doing it. Just Sunday night, after the Patriots’ hard-fought 17-10 win over the Eagles that put Brady in a sullen postgame mood, Gronkowski shared an old Brady post on Facebook.
In the clip, Brady references the movie “Anchorman,” hollering into a conch shell to send a message to his receiving corps to “assemble.” Wrote Gronk Sunday on the recycled clip: “Tom, do you think this still works?”
Gronk even teased playing again in his video announcing the beach party Tuesday. In the video, Gronkowski is sitting in his bathrobe on a couch when another version of Gronk — wearing a tank top and a bathing suit and holding a drink in each hand — appears to his left and suggests throwing a party.
Just then, another Gronk — yes, a third Gronk; stay with us — appears to his right in full football gear. That Gronk says, “Bro, you have so much left in the tank. We need you back on the field this season, fighting for another ring!”
Drink-in-each-hand Gronk wins the conversation, which was very reminiscent of Frost/Nixon. But football-gear Gronk has the last word.
“OK, OK. Maybe we call an audible,’’ he says, before looking at the camera, “but just for this year.”
In other words: We’re going to be doing this comeback tease next season too, only for the next big announcement to be that he’s becoming the new ShamWow spokesman or something.
We knew the odds were slim of him coming back this year. He’s happy, he’s busy, and he’s lost so much weight he’s now built like Jimmy Graham. If you can’t root for Gronk’s happiness after all he gave the Patriots and the scars he carries from those nine seasons, I don’t want to know what you do root for.
But it would help if he’d stop throwing these glimmers of hope at Patriots fans that are nothing more than marketing strategies. It’s been almost underplayed how much the Patriots miss him, in part because he slowed down last year and was downright rickety at times, and in part because they miss so many other players who are still actually on the roster.
Out of curiosity, I would love to have seen what this lighter-weight version of Gronk would have been on the field. A 6-foot-6-inch deep threat? At the least, he could have been the red zone target Brady so desperately needs. He has a lot of jobs now, but it’s impossible not to miss watching him work his magic in his first job.
Of course, as of Tuesday, there are 11 days remaining for players to be added to a roster and be eligible for the postseason. Gronkowski probably has one more comeback tease left in him before the deadline.
But all we know for sure is that he’s going to be in Miami in February, and the Patriots’ quest to get there too is much harder without him.