Not all that long ago, Rob Gronkowski was closer to competing in a World Wrestling Entertainment ring than he was a football field. But Gronk set aside any squared-circle aspirations to return to the gridiron with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
However, another former NFL player has remained retired from football and is set to make his debut inside a WWE ring.
Former Indianapolis Colts standout punter Pat McAfee is tying up his wrestling boots to take on Adam Cole at Saturday night's NXT Takeover event, which will stream live on the WWE Network.
Though it remains until bell time to see how McAfee does in the ring, he's done an outstanding job thus far on the mic, playing a natural heel. It should come as little surprise with McAfee having taken to the media world following his NFL days.
In Wednesday's WWE NXT show ahead of Takeover, McAfee was joined by fellow former NFL players A.J. Hawk and Darius Butler, along with The Pat McAfee Show's Nick Maraldo, as he confronted Cole in the ring. McAfee delivered a stellar promo in the go-home show ahead of the big match.
"Shawn Michaels was checking for vitals on your soulless body, right over yonder," McAfee said. "I outsmarted you in your own house – in your own business I outsmarted you. Then you went on an entire rant about how I'm not special.
"You were the biggest star in this brand. What'd you call yourself, the king of NXT? You had all these people fooled. Four-hundred-and-some days you were undefeated. Took me a minute and a half to knock your ass out. One minute to knock your ass out. One swing of this foot – done! Then you called me not special. How's that not special? I've never been in this ring before; made you look amateur.
"On Saturday, it's going to end the same exact way that it ended two weeks ago. You're gonna be left unconscious.
"And you're going to have explain to the entire wrestling community how you lost to an insider. Let me tell you how you lost to an outsider, because you're great – in this world you are. But I am next level. I am above you as a human. I am above you as an athlete. And on Saturday it's gonna end with one swing of this foot meeting your face, sending it to the moon and the only sound that any of these idiots and anybody at home will hear, is boom!"
The 33-year-old McAfee retired from the NFL following the 2016 season, which marked his second Pro Bowl selection following a 2014 Pro Bowl campaign in which he was also a member of the All-Pro team. Having played all eight seasons of his career with the Colts, McAfee averaged a stellar 46.4 yards per punt for his career with 26,653 career yards covered over 575 punts.
Since his days with the Colts concluded, McAfee's gift of gab has found a home with an assortment of media companies such as FOX Sports, ESPN, DAZN and Westwood One. He began working with WWE in 2018, lending his voice as an announcer/analyst most often used in pre-show appearances.
The path to his match with Cole began with an angle in late July on his YouTube show with the host agitating the wrestler until Cole exploded with expletives after McAfee challenged remarked about Cole being too small.
From there, the build got physical during an altercation on WWE NXT when Cole was belly down and being restrained atop an announcer's table and McAfee showcased his All-Pro ability by punting the seasoned grappler with a right foot to the head.
Though it remains to be seen what McAfee's future is in the ring holds and how it plays out, the build-up has been reasonably well done. Cole, part of The Undisputed Era faction, recently had a 403-day reign as the brand champion ended. It was a record-long reign for the 31-year-old wrestling veteran who's long been highly regarded for his in-ring work as well as his skills on the microphone. Now he's facing a former NFL punter, so it likewise remains to be seen if McAfee's presence will draw more eyeballs to the product.
NXT is a brand of WWE used as a developmental system for its Raw and Smackdown brands. However, it recently began airing on the USA Network and is seen in a more high-profile view as the WWE has put it head-to-head with All Elite Wrestling, which is owned and run by Jacksonville Jaguars Senior Vice President of Football Administration and Technology Tony Khan, on TNT.
Though it's often forgotten how fabulous of foot McAfee was in his playing career, his out-spoken nature has plenty listening to him talk about the NFL. But on Saturday night, McAfee's going to have plenty watching to see how he does in the world of professional wrestling.