BEFORE THE PARTY, a prelude: At 2:34 p.m. on the day before Gronk Beach, my life flashes before my eyes.
While perusing GronkBeach.com, reviewing the dress code (no torn, cutoff or stained clothing -- check), gauging public appetite (95% filled with 24 hours to go -- impressive), I venture over to the page to buy tickets. Tier 1: sold out. Tier 2: sold out. The Tiki Touchdown Table for $7,500: sold. The Party Like a GRONK Star Cabana for $50,000: sold. The Big Game Royalty Experience for --
I practically tip over reading the $1 million price tag. Just for kicks, thinking there's no way it's really real, I put it in my cart. Turns out, it's closer to $1.4 million with taxes and fees. Not great! For an additional $999.99, I can "enhance my Gronk Beach experience" and snag a meet-and-greet with Gronk for two people.
I navigate back to the main ticket page, and that's when my vision goes blurry. The Big Game Royalty Experience is crossed out, as in it's sold. My brain is an all-caps tornado of terror. Should I go back? Click on some new page? One wrong move and I AM THE PROUD OWNER OF THE BIG GAME ROYALTY EXPERIENCE AND ALSO 1.4 MILLION DOLLARS IN THE HOLE. I get a round-trip private jet experience and a Miami mansion for the weekend and the chance to spray CO2 on stage (!?!?) but NOT EVEN A DAMN MEET-AND-GREET.
I take a deep, shaky breath, refresh the page and -- sweet, sweet, relief -- the Big Game Royalty Experience is available once again, my cart presumably expired. I peek at my checking account, which remains million-dollar-charge-less, and consider calling the bank to tell them that under no circumstances should they authorize such a charge. My press credential will work just fine, thanks. By now, the crippling wave of panic has mostly receded.
But, reader, you do not know existential dread until you've maybe accidentally, potentially irrevocably, spent more than $1 million to shoot carbon dioxide from a party cannon with Rob Gronkowski in Miami on Super Bowl weekend.
TWENTY-FOUR HOURS later, Rob Gronkowski stands in the corner of the VIP booth at Gronk Beach. He is receiving visitors like a royal, because of course he is royal here -- granting selfies to his subjects, allowing them bro hugs. Some 50 feet away, his older brother Gordie partakes in a dance battle royal with the commoners in the main sandpit at Gronk Beach. Just as Rob slings his arm around another besotted admirer and offers a double thumbs-up to the camera, Gordie takes a knee into the sand, flexes his right arm, balances a champagne bottle on his biceps, raises and tilts it to his mouth, then chugs.
Behold: The Gronkiest party that's ever Gronked.
It is a six-hour electronic music dance festival -- for Gronk, by Gronk -- with sundry opportunities to imbibe: the jumbo-sized beer pong, with oversized balls and garbage cans aligned in triangle formation; the Three Olives pouches filled with vodka and grapefruit juice that look like Capri Suns and come with lanyards for convenient around-the-neck wearing; the regular old bar cocktails, including Gronk Spike and Gronk Spiked Lemonade.
"Gronk Beach just brings it," Rob says at one point on the red carpet (which is lime green, actually, presumably for Monster Energy, which feels in keeping with the whole affair), when I ask him what separates this party from all the other Super Bowl parties in the Camelot of Super Bowl cities. "It brings out all the No. 1 ragers."
These legions of No. 1 ragers have taken their role seriously. They are dressed for the part, it's worth noting, cosplaying as the man hosting this whole extravaganza. There are muscle tanks ("Make America Gronk Again") and pastel shorts with nonsensical prints (flamingos, rubber ducks, soft pretzels). In short, this patch of Miami's North Beach is lousy with baby Gronks.
Baby Gronks crowd the heart of the venue, the sandpit-turned-mosh-pit that looks like the world's biggest beach volleyball court, where they will thrash around to Flo Rida and Rick Ross and Diplo. Baby Gronks stroll the winding lawn behind that sandpit, milling among the plastic flamingos. Baby Gronks look down from the VIP Wynn tables -- as in Las Vegas' Wynn Nightlife -- which makes them slightly upmarket baby Gronks.
Into this sea of baby Gronks walks noted fun-lover and good-time-haver ... Bill Belichick?! The New England Patriots coach missed the memo on today's recommended uniform, alas. He has shown up wearing a resplendent, Nantucket-ready ensemble -- breezy, multicolored button-down; khaki shorts; Super Bowl ring (rings, plural? It's hard to tell as he blazes by) -- and he hustles through the great general admission unwashed toward the cordoned-off privacy of backstage.
"Oh, no way!" screams Chris, yet another Gronkowski, reaching octaves I thought hit only by BTS-zealous tweens, when he spots his brother's onetime coach. He closes in on Belichick -- everyone in the sandpit does, metal filings to Belichick's magnetism -- and raises his palm up. Belichick grimaces at the gawkers, or perhaps it's how the muscles in his face form a smile.
"Bill! Yeah!" Chris yells, lifting his hand up in the air.
Maybe Belichick mistakes Chris for just another adoring fan; perhaps he simply misses the strong Gronkowski genes. He glances/glares briefly at Chris but doesn't stop, leaving Chris' palm hanging, his attempt at a high-five stone-cold rejected.
Chris had tried to buddy up with Belichick once before, for a round of shots after the Super Bowl -- he doesn't remember which one because, hello, first world problems. He does acutely recall that the coach rejected his advances. But never accuse a Gronkowski of lack of dedication to the cause. Case in point: Chris is currently wearing some sort of belt/fanny pack/holster contraption that might be for stashing beer cans on his person ... for the cause.
"I'm going to try again now!" he yells and takes off like a rocket, sprinting toward backstage in Belichick's wake, where he will, no doubt, attempt to launch another Gronk offensive.
In fairness to Chris' exuberance, he's really just leaning into the energy of this strange, boozy community. Gronk Beach is housed within a one-block radius along Collins Avenue, so it all starts to feel a little cozy and familiar. A cozy, familiar, EDM-infused, friendly neighborhood. Oh, there's my American-flag-Speedo-wearing neighbor! He's a hoot! Who, her? That's my Rob Gronkowski-plush-doll-toting neighbor. She's just eccentric! (At one point, Chris will pose for a picture with said doll, pretend-pouring a cup of beer down his pretend brother's plush throat.)
The brothers Gronkowski pull their weight this afternoon. For the first four hours, Rob makes cameos onstage. He's duly rowdy, as the occasion calls for, but his are fleeting appearances. He's backstage at some points, seeing to his A-list callers (Belichick, yes, but Triple H and Stephanie McMahon too). He's spoken for at other times, perhaps for a sponsored appearance or calling on those meet-and-greeters who were quicker to pounce on the $999.99 price tag than I had been 24 hours earlier. The point is, at Gronk Beach, at least in the early going, there's more of an idea of Rob Gronkowski than actual Rob Gronkowski. But the crowd seems just fine, more than fine, with his surrogates -- Gordie and Dan and Chris and probably Glenn, though I haven't spotted the youngest brother in the sandpit just yet.
The hours pass and blur together -- the EDM soundtrack does too -- and all the while there are the Gronkowski brothers, chugging out of champagne bottles, jumping into the middle of a ring of people to break-dance, playing their part. They are either the world's most gregarious quintet or the world's most committed method actors.
"I can't talk right now," Dan says, politely waving me off as he wades through the masses. "I'm too hammered."
He staggers away, then finds a new group of stranger-friends with whom to go wild.
MELVIN GORDON STARES at me blankly.
He's standing a few feet from the green carpet, which he's just finished walking, when I ask him if he knows Rob or if today, at Gronk Beach, will be their first get-together.
"Rob ... Gronkowski?"
"Oh. Why'd you call him Rob? Who calls him Rob?"
Such is the power of the Gronk brand. It inspires and intimidates.
New York Jets running back Ty Montgomery has never met Gronk before and is feeling intimidated by the prospect of doing so today, here, at Gronk's mecca. "It's Rob Gronkowski," he says. "I don't want him to look at me and be like, 'This guy is boring.'"
Everyone likes Gronk and wants to be liked by Gronk, which makes the brand more than powerful. It's lucrative too.
When tickets for Gronk Beach went on sale back in November, two of the organizational masterminds behind the event, Joe Silberzweig and Adam Richman, anticipated that 20% of the 3,000-large allotment would sell right off the bat. That's a respectable haul, in their experience. (The duo also oversees Shaq's Fun House, the former basketball star's Gronk Beach parallel, on Friday night.) Instead, they sold 80% on the first day and stood watch as more than 100,000 people logged onto the website trying to score access.
"It was complete pandemonium," Richman says.
"Like Coachella, honestly," Silberzweig adds.
Corporate sponsors flocked too, which is why, upon arrival at Gronk Beach, Rob is dashing around the property as if he's running sprints in the dog days of training camp. He scurries to the 6-foot-tall sandcastle sculpted in his image -- a feat of engineering that called for 10 tons of sand and an award-winning, world-traveling sand sculpture artist -- for Bose. He lopes off, scaling a 3-foot curb, to sample the pastries at the Salty Donut stand. He bounds next door to the Pure Romance station, politely declining a photo op with a $1,000 Swarovski-crystal-adorned, not-G-rated product. He runs upstairs to another VIP outpost, guest bartending with ... late-night host James Corden's parents. Together, the odd trio marvels at the difference a year makes. A Super Bowl ring last year? A Super Bowl fling this year!
Corden's dad: "I just retired! Wine! Beautiful ladies! I didn't know it could be like this!"
Rob: "I did! That's why I retired!"
It's a frantic, hyper, frankly exhausting-looking 15 minutes, and Rob doesn't break once. He Gronk-powers his way through this thing, punctuating the blitz by Gronk-spiking the cocktail he's made with James Corden's parents' help. It makes no sense whatsoever, and somehow, at the same time, it makes perfect sense in this tiny, particular slice of the universe.
AT 5 O'CLOCK, four hours into Gronk Beach and with two hours left to go hard, it starts to rain. The skies have threatened all day, and now they've made good on their promise.
"Only a hurricane can stop Gronk Beach!" the DJ hollers from the stage.
As though it were a dare, the rain really comes down now, a great, driving, Miami rain. As 6 o'clock approaches, the monsoon-like conditions and the encroaching darkness seem to provide some silent permission, a nod for this whole enterprise and all its participants to go full Gronk. It wasn't exactly tame before, never that, but you could call it respectably reined in. It feels like those reins are off now. Especially when Rob's dad -- "Papa G," as the DJ calls him -- starts to dance onstage like he's riding a bucking, wild horse who rejects reins on principle.
Soon enough, all the Gronkowskis are onstage together and in various stages of undress. Gordie's shirt is off. Papa G's shirt is off. And at 6:21, at long last because it was really only a matter of time, Rob's shirt is off too. His custom Wrangler denim jacket, the one with the cutoff sleeves and the decal of a shirtless Rob Gronkowski with a lei around his neck and his fingers pointed outward, was long gone. But now the teal tank top is too. He wrings out several pounds of water, stretches it out, then positions it between his legs and gallops like he too is riding a horse. Gordie is wielding what must be a 2-foot-long bottle of champagne and spraying the hundreds who mosh below, all while Rick Ross mans the mic. The champagne shower doesn't matter -- what's drenched and what is more drenched? -- and besides, this is what they came for. This pulsating, gyrating chaos is what they asked of him. Rick Ross gives way to Diplo, but the Gronkowskis and their disciples don't stop, can't stop, will not stop.
Just after 7, the DJ promises to see everyone when they take Gronk Beach to Tampa 2021, the site of next year's Super Bowl, and it's a nifty trick -- winding everyone down with the promise of more.
And so it is that barely 20 minutes after Diplo's last song, Gronk Beach is empty, the pumpkin coach just a pumpkin once again. This is not a mosh pit but a sandpit strewn with drained beer cans and vodka-grapefruit pouches. Rob emerges from the backstage area, a new, dry shirt on (though unbuttoned), a towel draped over his head, and he speed-walks across the lot. His job here is done; he's heading to his getaway car. Just a few committed stragglers remain to see him off.
"Rob Gronkowski!" screams one, a woman still sporting the poncho she wore to guard against the pseudo-hurricane. "I drove 16 hours. Can I have an autograph? Gronk!" She starts to jog a little, trying to keep up, but between the poncho and the sand that offers no purchase, running is futile and she isn't able to catch him.
She slows down again, her efforts thwarted but her faith in Gronk ever steady.
"I love you, Gronk!"