Travis Kelce vs. Rob Gronkowski tantalizing Super Bowl 2021 subplot
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There’s no argument about who the headliners to Super Bowl 2021 will be a week from Sunday in Tampa.
Tom Brady, the face of the NFL for the past two decades, and Patrick Mahomes, the current face of the league, will be the stars of the sport’s biggest show at Raymond James Stadium.
Brady seeking his seventh Super Bowl ring and Mahomes trying to become the first quarterback since Brady in 2003-04 to repeat as Super Bowl champion. It’s a can’t-wait, can’t-miss storyline.
So, too, is the mini Brady vs. Mahomes subplot that features tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Travis Kelce. Gronkowski, since he entered the NFL in 2010, was the best in the game to play the position. Kelce now owns that title.
Gronkowski, who along with Brady now plays for the Buccaneers, was the most unstoppable tight end in the NFL. Now Kelce, who has been great since he arrived to the league in 2014 with the Chiefs, has been nothing short of dominant for the past three seasons since Mahomes began starting, catching 305 passes for 3,981 yards and 26 touchdowns in that span.
This season, Kelce surpassed Gronkowski’s record for receiving most yards by a tight end in a single season, including playoffs. Gronkowski amassed 1,585 yards in 2011. Kelce enters the Super Bowl with 1,643 receiving yards. He caught 21 passes for 227 yards in two playoff games this month.
Kelce, with 1,416 yards in the regular season, broke the NFL record for most receiving yards in a season by a tight end, eclipsing the 1,377 San Francisco’s George Kittle put up in 2018.
Anthony Becht, for one, can’t wait to soak in the Gronk-Kelce Super Bowl subplot. The former Jets and Buccaneers tight end lives in Tampa and will be attending Super Bowl 55 with his son, Rocco, a high school quarterback.
“I love it,’’ Becht told The Post this week. “It really does show how extremely valuable the position is and has been for a long time. Gronk and Kelce are two different players in their careers the way they’re doing it. Gronk has been killing it for so long in his career at such a torrid pace. He’s done it with toughness over the middle and no regard for his body at all. He didn’t have the great speed so it’s been contested catches, leaping, diving.
“On the flip side, you’ve got Kelce, who’s revolutionizing the position. He never drops a ball, he always finds space when he is covered. He’s really unmatchable one-on-one with anybody.’’
Mahomes recently called Kelce “a game changer.” Both Kelce and Gronkowski wear No. 87, but both are asked to different things for their teams.
Gronkowski, who had modest receiving numbers in 2020 (45 catches, 623 yards, seven TDs), is not the pass-catching demon he was in New England. He has been asked to do more blocking in Tampa.
“He’s like this guy who will do whatever you need him to do,’’ Becht said. “Gronk is asked to do a lot of things. He blocks as much as any tight end in the NFL, and when he gets his chance, he gets open, he gets separation. He has the technique now to beat a younger, faster linebacker or bigger taller safety.’’
Buccaneers GM Jason Licht shined light on what Gronkowski has meant to his team in an intangible way.
“There’s a lot of talk about what Tom has done for this locker room — and it’s all warranted — but what Gronk has done for this locker room is equally as amazing,’’ Licht said this week. “He’s just a great teammate and loves life. If you’re having a bad day, I suggest any of you just go spent a little time with Gronk. He just lifts you up just by be being him.
“We have conversations every day and I look forward to them. I told my wife, ‘I can’t wait to go talk to Gronk at practice today.’ He’s very authentic, he loves the game. When it’s time to be serious, he’s very serious.’’
Becht, who played his first five seasons with the Jets, then played three years with the Bucs and played his final season (2011) with the Chiefs, predicted that both Kelce and Gronkowski “will have crucial, crucial roles in this game.’’
“It’s going to be fun to watch,’’ he said. Almost as fun as watching the two quarterbacks.
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