Rob Gronkowski -- unanimous All-Pro tight end, Super Bowl champion, lover of parties -- was almost never known to the world at large.
As he explains in an excerpt of his new book "It's Good to Be Gronk," which was posted on TheMMQB.com on Wednesday, he nearly retired after suffering a back injury while working out at the University of Arizona.
Not only had a ruptured disk made life in general difficult for Gronkowski, who said that his legs felt as though they weighed "500 pounds each" due to nerve damage that resulted from the ruptured disk, but his father had purchased an insurance policy that would have paid Gronkowski $4 million before he graduated college if he opted to retire from football for health reasons.
Doctors told Gronkowski that he could rehab in order to fix his back, or he could have surgery, which would eliminate his chances of playing his junior season for the Wildcats in 2009.
"Now I had to hope that by working crazy hard in rehab, I could fix my back in time to play that season," Gronkowski wrote. "There was another option, though: I could retire and collect the $4 million insurance, tax-free, at the age of 19 . . . but that would mean I couldn’t play football anymore. I did the calculations, and at four percent annual interest I could make $160,000 a year without touching the $4 million principal. But I didn’t want the easy money. I wanted to earn it, playing football. Maybe a lot of people would take the money and run, but I looked at it as quitting. I was happy playing football and didn’t want to give that up. So I decided to try physical therapy. It was a long shot, but I had to try."
It didn't work. In Arizona's second week of practice, Gronkowski tried to run a few routes and undid whatever progress he had made during his rehab. He later went under the knife, and was forced to watch his teammates play the season without him.
"During the first three weeks after surgery, I couldn’t do anything but walk to class and sit in a recliner," Gronkowski wrote. I was fragile, and every wrong move sent sharp pain up my spine and down my legs. I was supposed to be the man, the best tight end in college football. Instead I was facing the possibility that I might never have full use of my legs again no matter how hard I tried."
By mid-December Gronkowski was making progress again and doing some running. It was then that he was once again faced with a difficult decision. He could retire and collect the $4 million, stay in school for his senior season, or enter the draft as a junior, which he had planned on doing with his older brother and Arizona teammate Chris Gronkowski.
Because juniors had to declare for the draft by mid-January, Gronkowski had a month in order to try to figure out whether or not he was in good enough shape to be selected by an NFL club. Trainers told him that he could potentially recoup enough athleticism to be considered an average athlete at his position in the NFL. Potentially, they told him, he could make a full recovery and be an above-average athlete at tight end.
That was enough for Gronkowski.
He turned down the insurance policy, declared for the draft, and was taken in the second round by the Patriots, celebrating wildly with his family after hearing his name called.
"We hooted and hollered until the Patriots called back and told me to get off the stage," Gronkowski wrote. "Right then and there we let the NFL and the Patriots know you better watch out! The Gronks are coming to town, and we are going to bring it!"