Retirees often get to sample new experiences.
For Rob Gronkowski, that was the experience of being pushed around. “Usually, I’m the one doing the pushing,” he said.
Not this time (shown here) — in the “Game On” opener, which airs at 8 p.m. Wednesday (May 27) on CBS.
On one side were two people: Gronkowski is 6-foot-6, 250 pounds and an elite athlete; Bobby Lee is … well, none of those.
On the other was Martins Licis, the Latvian-born winner of the World’s Strongest Man contest. “He’s a beast,” Gronkowski said. “The guy is strong …. I’m glad he’s not a defensive lineman.”
The Gronk-Lee duo simply had to hold him off long enough for guest teammate Gabriel Iglesias to answer such questions as: “Name three things that are fluffy.”
Yes, that’s rather silly. We seem to like such shows, James Corden said, “particularly when we’re all missing sports.”
The British version of the show (“A League of Their Own”) has thrived even without a sports shortage. It’s been on for a decade, totaling 14 seasons (sometimes two a year), 114 episodes and lots of specials.
Corden hosted it until this year. He’s producing the U.S. version, which he figures will translate easily. The notion of linking sports and entertainment, he said, “was born in America.”
That peaks with wrestling, but even dead-serious American sports seem to have mascots, cheerleaders, fireworks and hot dog cannons. The British version of this show is mostly question-and-answer, with a stunt at the end; the American one is almost all stunts. “It was fun to get outside of your box,” said Vanessa Williams.
Williams, a tennis great, hosts one team; Gronkowski hosts the other. It’s a chance to avoid the hyper-competitive nature of sports, he said, and do something with “more of a fun atmosphere.”
Well … some people can’t set aside competitive instincts. “I secretly prepared for this,” Williams said.
She studied the British version to get ideas for which stunts might be included. When she saw a demanding one – doing sit-ups while hanging upside-down on a board – she began practicing at home.
Gronkowski didn’t do that. For him, this was going to just be a retiree’s lark.
He had retired from pro football at 29, after already setting eight career records (and two Super Bowl records) for tight ends. After a while, he said, “I was getting the itch to join a family again.”
So he did it twice. The second time was when he decided to return to pro football this fall, after a one-year lay-off; the first was when he joined “Game On,” putting him in colorful company.
Lee and Ian Karmel, both comedians, are regulars, with two guest teammates each week. Keegan-Michael Key, the host, was especially impressed by baseball’s David Ortiz: “He was effervescent.”
In football, Gronkowski rarely hears that word … and rarely has experiences like this:
“We went to the Staples Center and danced with the Laker Girls,” said Corden, who was a guest in that episode. “For me and Gronk, it was a seminal part of our relationship.”
Getting pushed around was also a new experience … almost.
Back in 2010, Gronkowski was a New England Patriots rookie, a second-round draft pick. In a scrimmage, his job was to blast a full-speed block onto a defensive tackle.
Alas, that was Vince Wilfork – 6-foot-2, 325 pounds, a second-team All-Pro … and a savvy, six-year veteran who knew what was coming. “I went backward about four yards,” Gronkowski said.
It was good preparation for life … and for, some day, being on a TV game show.