CHANDLER, Ariz. -- Though you might never know it based on his constant smile and seemingly unflappable love of life, Rob Gronkowski has been through a lot in recent years.
The last time New England was in the Super Bowl, following the 2011 season in Indianapolis, Gronkowski was a shell of himself limping around on an ankle injury that would require surgery just after that loss to the Giants.
That was followed by multiple breaks in his left arm, related infections, back surgery and a torn ACL in December 2013.
It was a stretch of poor health and more time spent rehabbing than running over opposing defensive backs.
Now, though, the unanimous All-Pro is back in the big game. He's healthy. And he's as appreciative as ever of his lot in life.
"It's definitely a tough experience, man. Definitely don't take the game for granted anymore," Gronkowski said. "It's an honor to be out there on the field with my teammates and all. Throughout the whole year, especially this time of the year, going to the Super Bowl, being out on the practice field, helping my team do its job and just going out and practicing hard. I'm super excited for this game Sunday."
Bill Belichick said that his star pass-catcher has always brought an impressive mentality to the game, but did admit Gronkowski may have been changed a bit by his recent health struggles.
"I think he can express that better than I can. Rob always has a great energy and enthusiasm for the game," Belichick said. "He's always ready to go. He likes to practice. Always ready to work. Works hard in the weight room. Competes well all the time. You never have to really get on Rob. He's always out there working hard. But I do think that being said, maybe there is a little extra level there. Coming back, the number of times he's come back from various setbacks, I think the fact that he continues to feel better and better each week, I think certainly any time you either lose something or go without something for a little while you're going to have an appreciation and maybe even move up a little bit higher level. Which I would say probably is the case. In the end the credit goes to Rob."
Gronkowski has brought a bright smile to most of what he does over his life and his New England career. But as he gets ready for a potential big matchup with Seattle oversized safety Kam Chancellor, the tight end seems to be riding even higher.
"This year was a great year," Gronkowski said. "This is a great team to be a part of. We made it back to the Super Bowl this year and it's awesome. It feels good not to get any questions asked about my health, no doubt. It feels good to be 100 percent healthy and 100 percent ready to roll for this game.
Champions of the Croatian coaches
According to at least one reporter in town for the big game, Super Bowl XLIX is the first matchup of head coaches with Croatian heritage. Bill Belichick wasn't aware of his apparent shared bond with Pete Carroll, but was happy discuss the somewhat obscure connection.
"I mean the last big Croatian matchup I had was with coach [Nick] Saban when he was with the Dolphins and that was within the division, a battle of the Croatians," Belichick said. "I'm very proud of my dad's family tradition and history. I've had the opportunity to visit that beautiful country a couple times. So I'm proud of that heritage.
"But no, I didn't realize we were breaking new ground here. So it looks like we'll have a Croatian champion one way or the other."
Brady battling a cold
Tom Brady had a bit of a runny nose when he sat in front of the media at Sheraton Wild Horse Pass. The media took note when, after failing to find a tissue, he had to use his sleeve wipe away the signs of a slight illness the quarterback has been dealing with for nearly a week.
"I've had it for four or five days," Brady said. My kids got sick, and my wife's pretty sick right now and unfortunately I brought it to Phoenix. I'll be fine. I'll be good."
He then stressed that his health will not be a factor on Sunday.
"I'll be 100 percent," Brady emphasized. "I'll be good."
Both the Patriots and Cardinals hit the practice field on Wednesday, the first full workouts in Arizona. New England had a midday session, while Seattle was practicing later in the day to mimic the time and conditions that will occur on Super Bowl Sunday.
The Seahawks emphasize their Wednesday practices, with battles between the top units on both sides of the ball. But the Patriots are clearly confident they don't and won't get outworked by their NFC foe.
"We have tough Wednesdays," Darrelle Revis responded with a laugh when told Seattle has said its Wednesday practices are sometimes tougher than games. "I think we have tough Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays. We work hard, man. Bill has us working hard."
Darrelle Revis was asked about how this game might affect his legacy and he responded with a simple answer. "We have to win it." … The Patriots are practicing at the Cardinals team facilities this week. New England has a connection with the Arizona staff, as former Patriots director of football operations Matt Caracciolo is now in the football administration coordinator with the Cardinals. "We went over and walked the facility yesterday. It looks good. They were very cooperative. We have a good working relationship with him," Belichick said. … A pool practice report and Wednesday injury report will be available later in the day.