MIAMI, Fla. -- Last season, perhaps the best tight end in NFL history called it a career after winning the Super Bowl.
Rob Gronkowski walked away from the game at the age of 29 last season, but his throne wasn't left unoccupied as 49ers tight end George Kittle and Kansas City Chiefs star Travis Kelce have taken the mantle from Gronk.
Like Gronkowski, Kittle and Kelce have helped propel their teams to the biggest stage in sports as the 49ers and Chiefs will meet Sunday at Super Bowl LIV in Miami. Both star tight ends also have big personalities, like Gronk, and the former Patriots star likes seeing two star talents who can be themselves both on and off the field.
"Possibly," Gronkowski told the media Tuesday when asked if he might have influenced Kittle and Kelce. "It's good to see that, though. To see the personality of Kelce and Kittle, both on and off the field. They are a lot of fun to watch while playing the game and also they are a lot of fun off the field. I met them both, they are fantastic guys. I bet you they are fantastic to work with and I bet you they are fantastic teammates too. They just bring it in all aspects, which is great to see. And If I influenced them in that way, to just be themselves, then that's great to hear and that gives me that motivation to keep on going and being that way. Hopefully, they stay true to themselves because they are great players and great dudes. It's going to be fun to watch."
Gronkowski's rise with the Patriots put the tight end position back on the map after Tony Gonzalez and Antonio Gates exited their primes. The way the Patriots used an athletic, do-it-all tight end, who also loved to be a bulldozer in the run game, inspired other teams to put more of an emphasis on that position.
With Kittle and Kelce, along with Raiders star Darren Waller and Philadelphia Eagles tight end Zach Ertz, Gronk's position now has become one of the most vital in the NFL, something he's excited to see.
"Talking about the tight end position, it's definitely evolved over the last 10 years or so," Gronkowski said. "If you really think about it man, there were some great tight ends. But now, there are offenses focused around tight ends. I would say it started with Tony Gonzalez, Jason Witten, Antonio Gates, those guys started it off. Then, guys like myself took the reins. Now you have Kelce and Kittle taking it to another level. The top two tight ends -- I won a Super Bowl last year and now the top two tight ends are in the Super Bowl. The tight end position just keeps on transcending up, it just keeps on getting the recognition it deserves. I feel like back in the day it didn't really get the recognition, but now it is. It's great to see players like Kelce and Kittle out there doing what they need to do."
While both Kittle and Kelce are all-world players, the 49ers star is the one who most reminds Gronkowski of himself due to his love of eviscerating people in the running game.
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A year after his record-breaking season, Kittle battled through ankle, knee and shoulder injuries to be one of the key cogs for a 49ers team that went 13-3 and now is one win away from the Super Bowl. He hasn't been asked to do much in the passing game during the playoffs, but has been quite content to stick his hand in the dirt and pave the way for Raheem Mostert and the 49ers' dominant running game.
Frank Clark might not care about his matchup with Kittle on Sunday, but he's certainly going to have his hands full trying to beat a guy who relishes in demoralizing opponents with his blocking.
Programming note: NBC Sports Bay Area feeds your hunger for 49ers Super Bowl coverage with special editions of “49ers Central” all week (8 p.m. Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, and 3 p.m. Saturday).
Also tune in at 1 p.m. on Super Bowl Sunday for a two-hour special of "49ers Pregame Live" with Laura Britt, Donte Whitner, Jeff Garcia, Ian Williams, Kelli Johnson, Greg Papa and Grant Liffmann. That same crew will have all the postgame reaction on "49ers Postgame Live," starting immediately after the game.