By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
FOXBORO (CBS) — Rob Gronkowski may be the most fun-loving person to ever play professional sports, but the man known for his ferocious spikes and child-like celebrations was playing with a heavy heart on Sunday.
Earlier this week, Gronkowski’s close friend and trainer Dana Parenteau passed away at the age of 42. Gronkowski said he learned the news at 3 a.m. on Friday, and he later missed practice that day.
On Sunday, Gronkowski posted a simple message on Facebook, noting that he’d be playing for his friend.
It didn’t take long for the 26-year-old Gronkowski to come through.
After making a 13-yard catch-and-run to get the Patriots deep into Titans territory on their first possession of the game, Tom Brady went to his most trusted red zone target on a third-and-3 from the 5-yard line. Gronkowski hauled in the pass along the goal line, and as soon as he crossed into the end zone, he raised his arms and pointed to the sky.
“My good friend loved the game of football, loved being at all my games, always had my back, I definitely dedicated that touchdown to him,” Gronkowski said after the Patriots’ 33-16 win. “I pointed up, I know he was up there watching. Definitely that score was for him, and I know he was going crazy, knowing it was dedicated to him.”
Of course, Gronkowski being Gronkowski, he didn’t let the fans down either, as he then delivered his famed spike. But he moved quickly to recover the football before carrying it to the sideline and handing it to a Patriots staffer to preserve for safekeeping.
Gronkowski said he met Parenteau during his rookie season five years ago, and Gronkowski laughed when referring to “the magic show” as a moment when most people might have seen Parenteau.
“I was just pointing up to him, because I know he’s up there watching, because he was at every game with my family,” Gronkowski said. “A close family friend, and it was just great that I got a score at the beginning for him. So it was amazing to do that.”
As for playing, Gronkowski said it was never really in doubt whether or not he’d be suiting up for the game.
“I know he would want me to go out there and whip some booty, which we did as a team,” Gronkowski said. “He loved pumping me up before the game and loved seeing me go out there and ball. So that’s what we did today, and I know he’s up there and he’s proud.”