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Reflection: Rob Gronkowski's legacy goes beyond football

Rob Gronkowski dazzled for nine years -- on and off the field. 

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Most people cannot please everyone. Most people are not universally respected. Most people are not well-loved by their foes.

Most people are not Rob Gronkowski.

When Rob Gronkowski was drafted in 2010, he quickly gained a reputation as a monster on the field and a goof off of it. There were the antics, the party boat (or was it a bus?), and the contagious giggles. His willingness to be himself and to not take anything too seriously made him stand out from his first spike with the Patriots, but this is not Gronk's legacy.

Behind the silliness and the shirtless adventures, Gronk made a name for himself by touching lives across New England with his generosity.

He dressed as Frankenstein for a children’s Halloween party. He buzzed his hair every year for pediatric cancer research. He was a regular at Boston Children's Hospital, brightening the days of patients who may not have many rays of light. Whether he was in pajamas, without cameras or dressed as an elf in a wheelchair due to a season-ending injury, Gronk showed up and he was present for the kids.

Maybe it's because he himself is a kid at heart or maybe it's because that heart continued to grow along with his career.

He is the greatest tight end to ever play the game. He is in movies and on television shows. He is a future Hall of Famer and a full-blown celebrity, but that fame and that success did not hinder his willingness to show compassion and be utterly human.

Gronk is exactly what a Patriots fan, a football fan, would want him to be.

Despite a string of injuries that would have set back any other player, Gronk destroyed record after record in nine years in the NFL. He was just that dominant.

His final catch for the Patriots set up the game's only touchdown in Super Bowl LIII. He pulled down a 29-yard-pass in double coverage, a play that changed the game. Gronk had done it so many times before, and in his last game, he did it again. He came up clutch.

Gronk is a once-in-a-lifetime player who, for nine years, made "how the heck did he just do that" plays regularly, and he had fun while he was doing it. He is living proof that a player can be dedicated to the game, work hard and be an unwavering teammate while staying true to himself.

He stiff-armed his way down the field with the same ferocity he would spin through drills at a local Special Olympics event. And he did it with a smile.

In an era of social media, where it's easy to find the less-than-savory sides of our favorite athletes, Gronk is a rare example of someone who didn't disappoint the impossibly high expectations set for him.

Ultimately, Gronk will walk away from football a champion, like he deserves, and we were lucky enough to be alive to watch as he dazzled – on and off the field.

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