I'm a New England football fan. Fan is short for fanatic. So yeah, I'm a fanatic.
I mean it – I have a problem. I've spent more time defending the players in online arguments than any one person should. I have a lucky jersey that often goes months – and, at one point, more than a year – without being cleaned, for fear of washing away the good luck. My wife wrote New England football into our wedding vows, promising to understand my erratic behavior every football season. And because my dad has had season tickets for more than 40 years, I've only missed a handful of home games since the age of 6.
It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience I could share with my son.
Thanks to Citi Private Pass, I was able to spread that devotion to a new generation last month, when my son and I met one of my favorite players (and, in my opinion, the best tight end on the planet), Rob Gronkowski.
Gronk – that's what I call him, since we're clearly best friends now – was at Woburn High School in Woburn, MA, taking part in ProCamps, a leader in youth sports camps that brings in celebrity athletes to work with young athletes. More than 700 kids ranging in age from 6 to 15 were there to learn about football and do drills, and I took my 8-year-old son, Will.
As I quickly learned, in order to enjoy a day with Gronk, you need to get tickets early because these events sell out fast. But let me tell you, the advance planning is worth it, because you get an astounding level of access at the ProCamp.
When Gronk – a 6'7" hulk of a man Will and I had only seen on TV and from the stands at Gillette Stadium – walked right by, we both had the same reaction: "Whoa, he's huge!" I'm not sure who was more excited, me or Will. OK, it was me. I was absolutely beside myself.
Soon, my son was grouped with about 10 other kids his age, and they were off to the practice field. Trained coaches taught him how to hand the ball off to a running back, correctly run a slant, and even shed blockers. Will surprised me with how quickly he took to it. He also caught almost every single ball that came his way, displaying the kind of soft hands Gronk does on the gridiron.
One of the things I dread most when I meet star athletes on my favorite sports teams is the risk that he/she might be, well, a less than pleasant person. There's really nothing worse than you and your son idolizing someone and rooting for them week after week, only to meet him and find out he's kind of a jerk.
Turns out, we had nothing to worry about with Gronkowski.
As a dad of three boys, I thought it was fantastic that Gronk did the camp with his father and four brothers. They're all athletes who joke around a lot, but you can tell family is important to Gronk and he seemed to love having them around.
One of the highlights for my son was getting to play in a scrimmage with Gronk and his brother Gordie. The Gronkowski brothers were on opposite teams, and despite being among 8-year-olds who weren't keeping score, they celebrated touchdowns and engaged in some good-natured trash talking.
As great as it was to watch my son play football with one of my favorite players, things got even more amazing during the private luncheon afterward. Only 14 kids and their families were in attendance, and each person got one-on-one time with Gronk and an opportunity to ask him a question. Thanks to these kids, we now know the following things about him:
- Favorite teammate? "Julian Edelman. He's so cute."
- Favorite place to party? "In the end zone after we score a touchdown. But the real answer is Las Vegas."
When it was Will's turn to ask a question, he told Gronk that he has two brothers of his own and sometimes they get on his nerves. He wanted to know how Gronk dealt with his four brothers when he was annoyed. His question made all the Gronkowski brothers laugh, and Gronk's answer about some good-natured roughhousing had me in hysterics.
By the time we left, we had not only met one of my sports heroes, we had shaken his hand, asked him a question, and gotten to know him a bit. And my son even learned a few things about football from a Super Bowl champion who is well on his way to Canton and the Hall of Fame.
It was an amazing day with a level of access to a major star that exceeded every expectation, but more than that, it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience I could share with my son. It's a memory we'll have forever, a common thread between generations, and a passing-of-the-torch moment that lit a fire in my son to learn more about football and why dad is always freaking out and yelling at the TV on Sundays.
On the way home, right before Will fell asleep from exhaustion, we had a conversation I'll never forget for as long as I live:
"That was pretty awesome."
"Yeah. Yeah it was."
"I totally get it now."
Now I can't wait until kickoff in September!
For more information on upcoming sports events in your area, and to get behind-the-scenes access and discounted tickets to ProCamps and like Aaron did, visit https://www.citiprivatepass.com/sports.html.