Just before Super Bowl, ‘Gronk’ fields retirement questions

New England Patriots' Rob Gronkowski answers questions during opening night for Super Bowl 53 football at State Farm Arena, Monday, Jan. 28, 2019, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Gregory Payan)

ATLANTA — Thursday was not only the last day of January, it may have also been the last time Rob Gronkowski hams it up with the media before donning a New England Patriots jersey.

The Gronkowski retirement question is looming over this Super Bowl, and at yesterday’s media session at the team hotel,the Patriot tight end was asked how many times he’d been asked the retirement question.

“About 30,” he said, and then when told that was probably a little low, he said, “OK, 50.”

Has his answer changed at all from yesterday?

“Yeah, today’s a maybe,” he said and then let loose a loud laugh.

Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio told Boston radio station WEEI Thursday morning that win or lose, Gronkowski is likely to retire due to his family members pushing him with the threat of concussions.

A lot of the questions on Thursday dealt with what he might do after football. He indicated he might like to get into the fitness industry, possibly with his brothers.

But, can he envision that day when he wakes up knowing he won’t be playing football anymore?

“I mean, no,” he said. “I really haven’t tried to envision that day. This is the biggest game of the year, of the season. I’m telling you, that’s all where my focus is at. We’ve got practices all day, we have meetings, we’ve got 10 hour days, eight hour days. That’s when I know you want to put all your work in and get ready for the game on Sunday. I already know how the off-season works. You have all that free time. And that’s when you can worry about things like (calling it a career).”

Then, could he envision himself not playing with Tom Brady?

“Not really,” he said. “I mean, I’m in Year Nine with him. I’ve never really tried to envision that. It would be a little different if that were the case.”

Gronkowski was asked more end-of-career type questions, such as did he ever feel he was in trouble with Bill Belichick and the Patriots for his happy-go-lucky approach?

“I always say that it was totally fine,” he said. “There was nothing wrong with it. And also at the same time, it was doing everything you could possibly do on the football field. Going out to practice, going out to the meetings, doing everything, and trying to learn the game, trying to get better on the field. That’s what being a Patriot is all about, putting the work in and the dedication and that was always first.

“Having the fun and everything, that was always second. But if you got the work done, then that was good to go then.”

Gronkowski said “I was pretty outrageous at some points out there” with his fun appearances. But he said he doesn’t regret any of it.

“Pretty sweet,” he said. “There may be more to come soon.”

Another big grin. But Gronkowski said he has always taken the game seriously.

“You have to be mentally prepared,” Gronkowski said. “This game isn’t for everyone. It’s a grind. I’ve been doing it my whole life. I really don’t know anything different. I’ve been playing it since seventh grade.”

If he’ll be playing beyond Sunday is the question.

Linebacker Dont’a Hightower was the only Patriot not present at practice yesterday, said to be suffering from an illness.

“We’ll evaluate him (on Friday),” Belichick said in the pool report issued by the league.

Malcolm Brown, who was limited on Wednesday with a calf injury, fully practiced according to the report. Players went through a one hour, 20 minute session that was more like a walk through, with a full speed practice set for Friday, according to Belichick.

“Practice was good today,” Gronkowski said during his media session “Today was more of a mellow practice, learn your assignments, more Xs and O’s, getting everything down. We’ve been practicing now for 10 days or so. Now is the time when you just chill, relax, and get ready for the game.

“Everyone just has their assignment, their role now, and they can just go out and play fundamental football.”

Interestingly enough, according to the report, the specialists – kicker Stephen Gostkowski and punter Ryan Allen — kicked Wednesday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium (site of the Super Bowl) and will do so again today.

After practicing indoors at the Falcons practice facility at Flowery Branch, the Rams practiced outdoors on grass fields on Thursday.

The Rams had a compete period with the first string offense going against the first string defense, according to the pool report. “We definitely got everything done we wanted to,” Rams coach Sean McVay said. “Thursdays really have been our big work day, and we got a lot of work in.

“We want to come out fast, and that’s going to be important in this game, and that’s what today represented.”

Rams kicker Greg Zuerlein (foot) and safety Blake Countess (foot) were limited Thursday. Zuerlein, McVay said, is due to kick Friday.

“We’re right on track,” McVay said. “I talked to him. He’s feeling good.”

Countess, who didn’t participate at all on Wednesday, is expected to play Sunday.

Belichick joked that the former University of Georgia players on the team, specifically staring center David Andrews and rookie running back Sony Michel, had a gripe about the practice location.

“The Georgia guys are not thrilled being at Georgia Tech,” he said. “But that’s alright. They’ll get over it.”….

A man wearing some type of credential was escorted from Brady’s press conference yesterday after serenading the QB with “We Are The Champions.”