TAMPA, Fla. -- Tampa Bay Buccaneers tight end Rob Gronkowski won’t be scoring touchdowns and doing his signature “Gronk spike” end-zone celebration just yet, but the NFL star will showcase his newfound skills in rhythmic gymnastics for fans craving sports and fun. His television show, "Game On!" premieres Wednesday (8 p.m. ET, CBS).
The show, based on the British TV show “A League of Their Own,” is part athletic competition and part comedy, and features over-the-top, silly skills challenges and trivia contests. Gronkowski and tennis icon Venus Williams serve as captains of three-person teams comprised of comedians and guests, including former NBA star J.R. Smith, former UFC champ Ronda Rousey, Mark McGrath from the music group Sugar Ray, rapper Coolio and singers Demi Lovato and Macy Gray.
“It’s unpredictable. It’s fun. It’s hilarious,” said Gronkowski, a three-time Super Bowl winner. “We never took ourselves too seriously. We love competition, but it wasn’t like an all-out competition, more of a fun, joyful type of atmosphere.”
“I like competing, but at the same time I like to have a laugh. ... It was never frustrating when I didn’t do well. We were up there for the joy of the show.”
The show was filmed at a time when Gronkowski needed some joy in his life. Throughout his final season with the New England Patriots in 2018, he was in chronic pain due to injuries. In fact, the night of the Super Bowl, which the Patriots won 13-3, he was in tears in his bed. He struggled to sleep for four weeks because of the pain in his right thigh, which still bears an indentation from that game.
“It was definitely something I needed to do,” said Gronkowski of doing the show. He also joined the WWE while he was retired from football.
“I took off a couple months for sure, where I didn’t do anything. I was getting that itch to compete," he said. "I was getting that itch to join a family. The show felt like a family out there. ... When you’re in that football world, you come together for all those years and each year, it’s a different family you become a part of. I missed that type of atmosphere.”
Among the show’s most-anticipated episodes is when Gronkowski, Williams and comedian James Corden perform with the Laker Girls. Gronk goes all-out with cheerleader facials, spins and high kicks. There is also a strength competition against 2019 World’s Strongest Man Martins Licis, featuring Gronkowski and Smith in the “Pillar of Hercules” event.
“I’m glad he’s not on the football field and tackling me -- he’s a beast,” Gronkowski said of Licis, likening the experience to facing former Patriots teammate Vince Wilfork in practice. “When I was a rookie, I had to block [Wilfork]. I had to come from the tight end position about 3 yards away, run full-speed and take on Vince Wilfork. And he knew the play was coming because he was a veteran at the time, and I ran full-speed at Vince Wilfork and he literally put his shoulder down and drilled me and I went backwards 4 yards. That’s what it felt like to go against the World’s Strongest Man.”
The show started its taping two years ago but was completed prior to Gronkowski coming out of retirement and joining the Bucs in April. He said if he'd been with the Bucs while the show was taping, he likely would have had to sit out certain events because of injury risks.
“I don’t think either organization would have allowed me to do it,” Gronkowski said. “During the game of football, they definitely wouldn’t have let me shoot some of the episodes because some of the challenges were pretty epic and pretty dangerous, too. Possibly in the offseason I might be able to do it, but we may have to tone it down a little bit and let the guest entertainers and let the guest athletes do more competitions, but I think it was a great episode.”
For example, he probably wouldn’t be the one tethered to a bungee cord in the “human darts” event.
“The monster trucking, I would say I wouldn’t have done,” Gronkowski said. “The air combat, I would say was safe. The monster trucking I probably wouldn’t have done because I was 15 feet in the air, I was landing in the monster truck and I was squished in the seat because I’m 6-foot-6, like 250, like squished in the seat -- my knees were at the steering wheel.”
But the rhythmic gymnastics was where the 6-foot-6, 265-pound tight end truly shined.
“I was so sensational at it,” Gronkowski said. “When the episode comes out, I’m pretty sure that during training camp, there’s always like skits and everything to keep the room lively, to keep camp lively throughout the 30 days of camp, and I’m pretty sure that they’re gonna have me -- I’m already thinking about it -- they’re gonna want to see a rhythmic gymnastics routine live.”