Nearly nine months after announcing his retirement from the NFL, former New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski has a new fixation: brain games. The three-time Super Bowl winner told CBSN's Reena Ninan that the games have helped him recover from the physical and mental toll of nine seasons of football, which left him with an estimated 20 concussions and five blackouts.
In a wide-ranging interview, Gronkowski also told Ninan about his path to recovery, the blender he stole from the Seahawks stadium and the one way he's better than Tom Brady.
On fears of being cut from the Patriots: "I was about to be out"
Gronkowski: After the Atlanta Super Bowl, I was about to be out of the league. And then that's when I was, like, "Well, I gotta change my routine. I gotta change how I'm feelin." Cause I was running so slow. I couldn't even come outta my break anymore, hands down.
Ninan: So you felt at that moment, at 25, the Patriots were gonna cut you because you weren't fast enough?
Gronkowski: I would say, like, 27.
Ninan: Twenty-seven. How'd you turn it around then?
Gronkowski: You know, I had to turn it around. I had to go find some new ways, you know. And that's — that's the first time I ever realized, you know, I got the signals. I was in the program for seven years now. I know the signals of when they're gonna cut a player.
Ninan: What are the signals?
Gronkowski: I just know the system, like, I can tell when they want to trade a player, when they want to cut a player, when they want to release a player. Like I've been around, so you know, I just felt like it was gonna be my time.
On stealing a blender from Seattle after the Super Bowl: "This blender helps me out more than the ring does"
Gronkowski: I just felt like I should take a blender from our cafeteria because—
Ninan: Super Bowl ring wasn't enough?
Gronkowski: I felt like I deserved the blender, so this is from the stadium.
Ninan: Is the stadium aware you took it?
Gronkowski: I'm not really sure. I didn't care. I just walked in and took it.
Ninan: Which Super Bowl win was this one?
Gronkowski: After Seattle. Super Bowl 49. This blender helps me out more than the ring does though, for real.
On his 20 concussions: "There was a couple serious ones"
Ninan: When you and I sat down on our digital network CBSN, you admitted that you had 20 concussions and five blackouts. And that interview went viral. Why do you think everybody was so surprised to hear you say that?
Gronkowski: Oh, I don't know. 'Cause if you ask my mom, she— she even told you that one time, I didn't remember her for, like, two— three hours after the one hit versus Cleveland. I would say, like, some— some of 'em, about half of 'em were minor. But they're still, you know, they can still add up, you know. But there was a couple serious ones.
Ninan: I want to ask you about that December 8th game, 'cause both your parents spoke about it. Both of them, when I interviewed them separately said, that was the hardest game for them. That they went back to the blue tent and spoke to you, and you didn't realize that they were even there at the game, even though they had spoken to you the day before. What do you remember from that?
Gronkowski: I do remember the hit and then going down, but then from there, I don't remember anything. And then I remember waking up in the back, and asking if I caught the ball.
Ninan: That was the first thought on your mind?
Gronkowski: Yes, that was the first thought on my mind. I knew something was messed up. I asked the trainer, I go, "Did I catch the ball?" And he said, "Yeah." And I was, like, "Phew." I didn't really know where I was or what was going on.
On "fixing" the brain damage he suffered: "I just did it all on my own"
Ninan: After our last interview, you tweeted about CTE. You said, "It's fixable. I fixed mine." A lot of medical experts say, nondegenerative diseases, you know, that affect the brain, you can't come back, you can't recover. Why did you think that you could recover?
Gronkowski: Oh, I mean, I just, you know, I'm just goin' about the ways, how I just feel. How I was feeling before to, how I'm feeling now, you know. And there's no scientific research that I have or anything. I was just goin' over the ways that, you know, how I feel and how I was feeling.
Ninan: What's the progress that you think you've made in the past year mentally?
Gronkowski: Just physically, if you go look at a picture of me literally from seven months ago, my head is, like, swollen. And like, crazy swollen. And I had this inflammation all in my head too. I had lumps in my head, I had bumps on my head.
Ninan: So what did doctors say? What was the lumps, what was the swelling?
Gronkowski: Oh, I didn't go to the doctor or anything. You know, I just did everything—
Ninan: You had lumps and swelling, and you didn't go see the doctor?
Gronkowski: No. I mean, I already kinda knew what it was. It's kinda like swellin' in a muscle. It's just a muscle. So yeah, so I just got— I worked it out myself. You know, started eating right. So I just did it all on my own and just had the experience of how I was feeling.
On the one thing he has on Tom Brady: "I don't think he can get his leg up that high"
Gronkowski: He's passionate at all times. You know, he's such a competitor. I never even played golf with him, but I can tell you this: he's probably yellin' at the golf ball and firing up or something. But he's super competitive, which, you know, that's— that's a good nature to have. That's what makes you such a beast.
Ninan: I doubt he could probably kick with the L.A. Lakers cheerleaders.
Gronkowski: I mean, I don't think so—
Ninan: I don't think he can get his leg up that high—
Gronkowski: He doesn't have the moves like me. So no— I don't think he can do it.
Ninan: You'll always have it over Tom.
Gronkowski: Retirement's great, that. You know, I think he should keep on playing, 'cause then he doesn't have a chance to, you know, to match that level.