Chris Jones: Gordy Gronkowski, the patriarch of those very same Gronkowskis, America’s First Family of Smashmouth Football, the man who somehow parlayed five orgasms into 1,258 pounds of relentless physical force—a first baseman, two tight ends, and two fullbacks—the first father in twenty years to see three of his sons play during a single NFL season, and the first father in nearly thirty years with an even-money chance to see a fourth, might have gone after it a little hard last night.
He spent the evening and a good chunk of this morning in downtown Buffalo, watching his alma mater, the Orange of Syracuse, lose by two points to Dayton in the NCAA tournament, and suddenly it’s obvious how his sons learned to shake off disappointment by laying waste themselves and one another and however many blocks of their battered hometown. It’s Sunday afternoon, and Gordy’s still moving a little more slowly than his usual terrifying pace, sipping from a bottle of water, shaking his head at himself and his hangover. “That was rough,” he says. “I don’t know why that kid didn’t drive to the basket.”
The kid in question, for once, is not one of his. His kids would have driven to the basket. He’s referring to Syracuse guard Tyler Ennis, who in the dying seconds launched a long three for the win when he might have driven for the push, dooming the Orange to elimination rather than sending the game and their season into overtime. For most of the people in the arena last night, Ennis’s snap judgment was just a bad call made by a teenager under the clock’s adult-sized pressure. But Gronkowski doesn’t watch sports the way the rest of us watch sports. For him, games are not just games. “They are everything,” he says. They are morality plays, tests of will and feats of strength, definers of men and boys and their good family names for generations. In sports, Gronkowski sees justice and beauty, companionship and teamwork, discipline and sacrifice. He sees blessings earned or squandered, and he sees fundamentals learned or forgotten. Most of all, he sees belief and the power of it, and he sees the terrible blackness that roosts in its absence. And when you see sports and therefore the world the way Gordy Gronkowski does, nothing makes less sense than a divinely talented kid launching a no-hoper when the lane and the universe were wide open to him. “You drive the basket,” he says, and he says it as though he’s expecting not only agreement in this particular instance but a lifelong conversion to the idea: In the dying seconds of every basketball game that remains to be played here on earth, every basket shall be driven.