By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston

BOSTON (CBS) — We truly live in the dumbest time.

The dumbest. Time.

So much so that all it takes for headlines and buzz to be generated is the simple tweeting of an emoji. That’s it.

It happened Tuesday night with retired Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski. He stated pretty clearly and directly in recent weeks that he has no imminent plans to come out of retirement, that he’s focusing on improving the condition of his body, and that he’s moved on to post-football business ventures. He also made it quite clear that even if he says he’s never returning to football, people will assume that he will be returning anyway. So, Gronkowski’s been very upfront about the fact that he’s going to tease that joke along as often as possible, if only to have some fun with an unavoidable reality.

So, when Gronkowski went full-NBA on the world on Tuesday night and tweeted the eyeballs emoji, the internet reacted accordingly.

The response to the word-free tweet was what you might expect.

USA Today ran a story titled, “Rob Gronkowski ignited more comeback rumors with a cryptic emoji tweet.” (Did he?)

Pro Football Talk busted out a monocle emoji (because there’s no bifocal emoji):

Tweets were flying fast and furious. Reporters were wondering if the comeback was upon us. Fans fretted that the mighty Patriots had gotten mightier.

Alas, no. Gronkowski was simply doing what he said he’d do: Play along with the mass hysteria that accompanies any and all rumors about his return to football.

So late Tuesday night, when the podcast “Pardon My Take” was released for consumption, the genesis for that plan came to light.

It was a very good interview, filled with insight on Gronkowski’s own life and career, his relationships with teammates and Bill Belichick, his shirtless photo with Jonathan Kraft, and all sorts of inappropriate jokes.

At the end of the 35-minute interview, co-host Dan “Big Cat” Katz politely asked Gronkowski to tweet out the eyeball emoji in an attempt to generate some buzz for the interview.

BC: Can you tweet the eyeball emoji [Tuesday] night right before the podcast drops? And then when people get to this point of the podcast, they’re going to feel like idiots, because they’re going to think you’re coming back, but really we’re just making [it up].

Gronk: What’s the eyeball emoji? What does that mean?

BC: Look out. Something’s happening. People will assume it’s you coming back, but it’s really you just coming on Pardon My Take.

Gronk: Oh, yeah. I for sure will do that. 7 o’clock. I got it. … That’s a great idea, because this is big news. It’s Pardon My Take. This is bigger than coming back Week 14. This is where it’s at.

https://twitter.com/BarstoolBigCat/status/1171759696237203458

(Gronkowski referenced Week 14 after jokingly referring to that with Dave Portnoy as his return point.)

The very simple ploy obviously worked, because all of us on the internet are basically just giddy puppies chasing that stick. Every time it gets thrown, we’re wagging our tails, eyes bulging, mouth agape, tongue wagging, and running after that thing with all our might.

In this case, there was no stick. But next time? There will definitely be something worthwhile next time. Absolutely.

You can email Michael Hurley or find him on Twitter @michaelFhurley.

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