ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP) — Rob Gronkowski understands growing up in Buffalo doesn’t make him immune to the cold welcome reserved for visiting teams — and that especially includes the Bills’ AFC East rival Patriots.
“For sure, you get like 50 middle fingers from people in the first three rows,” Gronkowski said.
On Sunday, Gronk got in the last word during a 41-25 win over the Bills .
His 53-yard touchdown catch in the second quarter sparked a surge in which the Patriots scored on five consecutive possessions. And he also broke a pair of franchise records. The touchdown was the 69th of his career and 68th receiving, breaking the previous marks held by Stanley Morgan.
That Gronkowski did it in his hometown and in the same stadium he once attended rooting for the Bills made it extra special.
“I definitely envisioned big things, but nothing on the scale of this,” Gronkowski said, reflecting on his childhood. “It’s just an unbelievable honor.”
Driving up the right sideline, Gronkowski cut into the middle and caught Tom Brady’s pass in stride a couple of steps ahead of cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman. Gronkowski then immediately turned upfield and sauntered into the end zone, where he capped the score with a hard spike.
After celebrating with his teammates, Gronkowski turned and bowed in what was a tribute to his mother, Diane.
She caught up with her son at the team hotel on Saturday and told him how proud she would be for him to break the record.
“I was like, I’ve got to give her a shoutout for letting me know she’s super proud of me,” Gronkowski said. “Hi mom, and thank you.”
And his father, Gordie, was enjoying the moment in a stadium suite, surrounded by about 80 family members and friends.
“We were all on our barstools and had a big celebration for him,” Gordie Gronkowski told The Associated Press, noting he anticipated his son would score.
“When he comes here, he gets all wired up and hyped up and everything to play in front of his fans,” he said. “It was a fantastic moment for us.”
In finishing with five catches for a team-best 109 yards, Gronkowski continued a trend of running up his numbers against Buffalo. In 11 games, he has 52 catches for 813 yards and 11 touchdowns. Gronkowski has scored at least once against Buffalo in each of his six NFL seasons, with the exception of 2014 when he missed one of two games against the Bills because of a knee injury.
“He’s pretty dang good,” Bills coach Rex Ryan said. “That guy’s a phenomenal player and he’s been that way for a long time.”
What also separates Gronkowski from most NFL players is his larger-than-life personality. He’s just as accustomed to finding the end zone as he is being on stage alongside Paul McCartney, as happened in July.
“It’s a pleasure to get to play with that guy. His attitude toward the game, he has so much fun,” Patriots receiver Julian Edelman said. “He’s just a flat-out beast that goes and has fun. What a great way for him to go out and beat a record.”
Even the usually reserved Patriots coach Bill Belichick couldn’t resist taking a moment to praise Gronkowski.
“I love it. I love to see his presence,” Belichick said. “There’s a lot of great players in this league, and there have been a lot of great players, but obviously, Gronk does a good job.”
Gronkowski received another surprise following the game, when Morgan called to congratulate him on breaking the record.
“He was an awesome player, an awesome guy, and he said, `congratulations,’ and it was pretty cool,” Gronkowski said.
Gronkowski then acknowledged he’s not very familiar with Morgan, who played for the Patriots from 1977-89.
“It would be a great honor to actually meet him in person and actually study up on his game and see what he’s all about,” Gronkowski said. “I’m going to be looking forward to that.”
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