Biggest Super Bowl shocker: a tight end could determine who wins
In 50 years, the position of tight end has been revolutionized – to the point that the health of Rob Gronkowski could be central to the New England Patriots' chances to win the Super Bowl.
This Super Bowl Sunday, the most important factor determining whether the New England Patriots or New York Giants walk away with the Lombardi trophy might not be a quarterback, a coach, or a defense. It might be the health of a tight end.Skip to next paragraph
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New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski, who scored the most touchdowns in the NFL this season, is day to day with a left ankle injury, and it probably won’t be clear until Sunday if he can play. If he can’t, the Patriots quarterback Tom Brady loses his biggest offensive weapon, and the Patriots – though still dangerous – clearly become easier to defend.
That a tight end could be a Super Bowl team's second most important player is a measure of how much the position has changed in the past 50 years. Long the bellwether of football evolution, tight ends are the Swiss Army knives of an offense. First used primarily as extra linemen, they have now become receivers in their own right, combining a lineman's size, a running back's speed, and hands as soft as the best wide receivers.
In short, the best of them present defensive coordinators with no-win propositions: Cover them with linebackers who are too slow or defensive backs who are too small?
This year, the 6-foot, 5-inch, 265-pound slab of a man called “Gronk” had 90 catches for 1,327 yards and 17 touchdowns – a record at the tight end position. But he's just one part of the evolution.
In New Orleans, Saints tight end Jimmy Graham had a banner year right along with Gronkowski – both men broke Kellen Winslow’s 31-year-old single-season record for receiving yards (1,290) on the same day. In San Francisco, Vernon Davis co-led the NFL in touchdown receptions in 2009 and was one of the biggest playmakers this year on a team that finished one game short of the Super Bowl.