Rob Gronkowski has made a habit of coming up big on Super Bowl Sunday, and fellow former NFL tight end Luke Willson doesn’t see that changing.
Gronkowski will return to football during next month’s Super Bowl on Feb. 12 in Glendale, Ariz., when he attempts a 25-yard field goal in FanDuel’s Kick of Destiny.
Gronkowski’s try will be shown in a live commercial during the Super Bowl. If he’s successful, FanDuel bettors will split a US$10-million pool of free bets.
Wagering is limited to the American market. But Willson, 33, of LaSalle, Ont., is banking on Gronkowski, who retired from football for a second time in June 2022.
“When you hear it’s a 25-yard field goal, you think it’s a joke because kickers make them all the time but trust me, it’s not a joke,” Willson said. “Is it makeable? Yes, but there are many factors to consider here.”
Gronkowski has said he kicked a 33-yard field goal in high school. He has enlisted the services of Adam Vinatieri, a former New England Patriots teammate who’s the NFL’s all-time leader in field goals (599) and points (2,673).
“(Kicking) is a skill . . . and I don’t think you can get a better name than Adam Vinatieri when it comes to kicking,” Willson said.. “If you were to ask me, ‘Luke, could you make a 25-yard field goal,’ I’d be honest and maybe a little ignorant but my answer would be, ‘Yes.” But would it be on my first kick? Probably not.
“(Vinatieri) might be the yin to Gronk’s yang because I think (Vinatieri) is a little more of a serious individual, which most kickers are. I think that might help Gronk, having someone who’d be like, ‘Listen, you’re going to take this approach, you’re going to put this here.”‘
Gronkowski spent 11 seasons in the NFL (2010-18 with New England, 2020-21 with Tampa Bay). His four Super Bowl wins were with quarterback Tom Brady.
The six-foot-five, 255-pound Willson played eight NFL seasons with Seattle (2013-17, 2019), Detroit (2018) and Baltimore (2020). He rejoined the Seahawks on Aug. 24, 2021 but retired the next day after revealing he had spent time in hospital with a severe pericardial effusion (fluid buildup around the heart).
Willson appeared in two Super Bowls with Seattle, winning as a rookie. He registered 111 catches for 1,307 yards and 11 touchdowns in 102 career games.
Like Gronkowski, Willson’s energy and fun-loving personality made him popular with teammates and fans. He’s currently an NFL analyst with TSN, and while Willson can certainly break down games, he’s not afraid to take a lighthearted approach in his role.
Willson feels the personable Gronkowski is the right individual for this project.
“He’s the perfect fit for many reasons,” Willson said. “He’ll be able to have fun with it because at the end of the day, this is supposed to be something that’s fun.
“If you get someone who’s really serious and has zero personality, even if he makes it you’re kind of like, ‘Well, that was a letdown.”‘
Willson figures Gronkowski’s preparation must involve more than just returning to the gym.
“Honestly, I’d say if he’s really trying to do this he should be somewhat out of the gym and getting that flexibility going,” Willson said. “I always see these kickers and they have a rubber leg.
“Many times as a tight end we’re squatting and doing one-legged things that kind of make you a little more stiff. I think it would be good for Gronk if he maybe got into the yoga studio and opened those hips up and became a little bit of a Gumby.”
When Gronkowski takes to the field Feb. 12, Willson said he’ll have some factors working in his favour. Most notably, Gronkowski won’t face a defensive rush.
“I was on the field-goal team every year and we didn’t block the end man on the line of scrimmage,” Willson said. “You might push a hand out there but we always said, ‘Hey, the guy that’s trying to skin the edge, we have to beat him with operation time.’
“So Gronk doesn’t have the stress of, ‘Hey I have one of the fastest, quickest guys in the world coming off the edge here who’s going to be in a full-blown dive.”‘
Gronkowski will also have the freedom to try and blast the kick through or loft it up and over. But when that time comes, not only will the eyes of a worldwide television audience be squarely on Gronkowski, but he’ll have to make everything happen quickly.
“The fact it will be a live commercial I think adds a different element to it,” Willson said. “You’ll have all of the cameras there and it’s going to be like, ‘Hey, we’re coming to you in 20 seconds and you’ve got 30 seconds to make this kick.’
“He has caught a million footballs in his life . . . but it’s another thing to have practised something different X amount of times behind closed doors and now all of a sudden you’ve got an outrageous amount of people watching to see if you’ll make this kick. I think it will be very, very fascinating to see what approach he uses based on the parameters he’s given.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 24, 2023.