This weekend, members of our military will face off on the gridiron in one of the most special American football rivalries: the Army-Navy Game. The first meeting between these academies took place in 1890, and the 2023 edition of this rivalry is a bit special, since it will be held at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Massachusetts.
With the big game taking place in Foxborough this year, we got a hold of a Foxborough legend in former New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski. The former NFL star will be at the Army-Navy Game Saturday, and he's excited about the event. He also took time to talk some NFL with CBS Sports.
CBS Sports: What do you think the environment is going to be like in Foxborough Saturday?
Gronkowski: I keep hearing so much about the Army-Navy Game. I've never been in my life. It's "America's Game." This is a game where our militaries are going against each other, but that's what football is all about. ... I believe this game brings America closer. It brings our military closer. Yes, they're battling out on the field, but in the end, when the game is over everyone comes together. It makes our military stronger, it makes America stronger, there's no doubt about that. It brings everyone together, and that's why the game of football is so awesome. Especially this game.
I heard it's super energetic, and I love energetic atmospheres.
I saw a quote from your former quarterback Tom Brady talking about how there's in the NFL these days. I want your opinion on that. You get to sit back and watch all the games now; how do you think the NFL has changed over the past few years?
Gronkowski: Tom Brady is the only guy in the world that can say there's mediocrity in the NFL. Because Tom Brady played at such a high level, if it was on the practice field, or if it was on the game field, at all times. He played at a higher level than anyone in the history of the game currently playing, or that has played in the past. So Tom Brady's the only guy that can say that.
I'm just gonna leave it at that. I mean I would say I played at a high level for quite some time, but also there were some times I played at a low level, so I'm not in that category of Tom to be able to say that. I'm gonna leave that one to Tom.
What do you think has been going wrong with New England this year?
Gronkowski: I would say it's simple. I mean they got a very solid defense. They've held teams to under 10 points the last three games (entering Week 14), which is kind of unheard of. And then on the other side of the ball, it's unheard of that they haven't scored any points to win those games while the defense is holding teams to under 10 points. So the defense is strong, they're legit, Coach Belichick has them going. I think Coach Belichick will be the coach there next year. He's grandfather-claused in, he's won six Super Bowls with New England, he's one of the best coaches of all time if not the best coach, but you need players in order to win. And you need players on the offensive side to win in this league.
I would say their struggles are because they don't have the players on the offensive side of the ball. They got the coaching staff with coach [Bill] O'Brien as offensive coordinator and Belichick as head coach, but you gotta get the players, and they just don't have the players they need. ... They gotta go out there and just revamp the offense after this year.
Let's say Belichick wants to coach somewhere else in 2024. Who do you think would be a good replacement in New England?
Gronkowski: If for some reason he's gone, I would say the best-suited coach out there, 100% hands down is Mike Vrabel. I mean, he's got a New England Patriots background, he's played here, he's an unbelievable coach, he showed that he's a winner down in Tennessee. Yes, he hasn't won a Super Bowl coaching, but he's shown that he knows the game of football and he's just a great guy, great coach overall. I think he would be the best-suited coach to go and get for the New England Patriots if Coach Belichick isn't here.
If you came out of retirement today, who are two quarterbacks in the NFL that you would want to play with?
Gronkowski: I'll go with Josh Allen, Buffalo Bills. I threw with him this year at "Tight End University." Love his personality, love his attitude. I'm also from Buffalo so it's cool to see Josh Allen just be so successful. That would be a pretty cool guy to receive some passes from. And then also I'll go with Joe Burrow. He's just cool, calm and collected in the pocket. I watched him at LSU, that one year that he had. He's just an unbelievable leader, and he kind of reminds me of Tom Brady in the pocket as well. Just being so calm and delivering the ball to the wide receiver just so easily.
They say behind every star tight end there's a popstar girlfriend. Who was your celeb crush when you were tearing up the league with the Patriots?
Gronkowski: I would just go with my celebrity crush when I was a kid, and I'm gonna go with Pamela Anderson. Pamela Anderson was absolutely on top of her game with "Baywatch" and all the other things going on when I was a kid. And now, my girlfriend kinda looks like her as well, so it's just a win-win situation baby."
Gronkowski teamed up with USAA, official Salute to Service Partner, to gift two vehicles, one to an Army family and one to a Navy family. The recipients of the vehicles were nominated by nonprofit organizations to receive a National Auto Body Council Recycled Ride -- a vehicle that is repaired and donated to those in need to provide reliable transportation.
"I'm actually super excited for the action-packed weekend with the Army-Navy Game, right here in my backyard," Gronk said. "USAA is the head sponsor of the Army-Navy Game, and I'm a USAA guy. Yes, I don't have the membership, but I represent USAA, I love doing the commercials. I am honored to have teamed up with them and give away two vehicles through USAA's program "Recycled Rides" to an Army family, and a Navy family. It's just an honor to have met those families, it's an honor to see the smiles on their faces.