BOSTON (CBS) — The Week 4 visit of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to the New England Patriots has become the most-hyped game in recent regular-season memory, on account of the GOAT Tom Brady returning to Foxboro as an opponent for the very first — and probably last — time of his Hall of Fame career.
That story line is certain to garner the most attention between now and kickoff on Oct. 3 on Sunday Night Football. But it’s not the only reunion with an all-time great worth watching that night.READ MORE: Patriots Release Kicker Roberto Aguayo, Long Snapper Wes Farnsworth
The game will of course also mark the return of tight end Rob Gronkowski, who established his own Hall of Fame career from 2010-18 with the Patriots. In an interview with Casey Phillips of Buccaneers.com, Gronkowski explained his reaction to seeing that date in Foxboro officially on his schedule.
“Oh yeah, that’s going to be crazy. It’s going to be pretty epic,” Gronkowski said. “I mean, it’s definitely going to be emotional, for sure, I would say.”
Gronkowski’s Patriots career, of course, ended rather uniquely. He spent the offseason after the Super Bowl LII on his own program, showing up to Gillette Stadium for motocross press conferences instead of working out with teammates. Bill Belichick reportedly worked on trading the tight end to Detroit, only for Gronkowski to essentially nullify any deal by saying he’d retire if a trade was made. Gronkowski eventually worked out a deal with Belichick to return for 2018, and the team won the Super Bowl, with Gronkowski making a diving catch inside the Rams’ 5-yard line to set up the lone touchdown of the 13-3 victory.
Gronkowski did retire after that season at age 29, but after sitting out for 2019, he came out of retirement to join up with Brady in Tampa. (Belichick could have stood in the way of that, as the Patriots owned Gronkowksi’s contractual rights. Instead, Belichick worked out a trade with Tampa to make the Brady-Gronk reunion possible.)
Despite the end of his Patriots career being a bit odd, the ever-positive Gronkowski seemed to indicate that he holds only good memories from his time in New England.READ MORE: Celtics Host Six Players For Pre-Draft Workout, Including Auburn's Sharife Cooper And Texas A&M's Jordan Hall
“I just had a great nine years, probably the best nine years of my life. It was the beginning of basically my whole football career there,” he said. “So it’s definitely going to be heartfelt when I go back.”
Gronkowski was a free agent for the first time of his career this year, but chose to return to the Bucs, who decided to bring back all of their starters from last year’s Super Bowl-winning team. While the end of Gronkowski’s career in New England might have been a physical and emotional grind, he said that he’s having a whole lot of fun in Tampa.
“That’s the whole point of playing the game, is loving it. And if you’re loving the game and if you’re loving being out on the field, you’re going to have fun then,” Gronkowski said in the interview. “So it kind of just comes down to the matter of what you love to do. And I love to compete, I love to play sports, I love to do activities, I love to hit the football field with my teammates. And when you love doing it, you’re gonna have a good time with it.”
Gronkowski had an interesting 2020 season in his return to the NFL. He wasn’t the dominant receiver that he was during his prime, but he came through with some critical plays. He caught seven touchdowns in the regular season before catching two touchdowns in the Buccaneers’ 31-9 blowout victory in Super Bowl LV over the Chiefs.
While he clearly has no regrets about the path he’s taken over the past three years, he seemed to admit that he’ll have to work a little extra hard to keep his emotions in check before returning to Gillette Stadium as a visitor.MORE NEWS: WATCH: Tom Brady Once Again Is Not Afraid Of 'The Madden Curse'
“I’ve just got to be prepared for that game for sure. I’ve got to be prepared for every game, but especially that one,” Gronkowski said. “It’s never going to be easy. It’s going to be tough. But it’s gonna be a good one. It’s going to be different.”