Gronkowski finds it surreal being major part of Patriots' success

The sign outside a restaurant a mile up the road from where Rob Gronkowski scores touchdowns has a flashing suggestion for motorists: "HONK FOR GRONK!"

Plenty of car horns will be blaring if the fun-loving tight end returns next Monday as a Super Bowl champion.

Gronkowski will have a major role when the New England Patriots face the New York Giants next Sunday in Super Bowl XLVI. It's a sign of his importance that much of the Super Bowl talk to date has focused on his high left ankle sprain.

"He's had a lot of production," coach Bill Belichick said. "He's had a lot of touchdowns. He's had a lot of good blocks. I don't know what a `game changer' is, but he's definitely made some plays."

Gronkowski's teammates are confident he'll play in the Super Bowl after he was injured during the third quarter of a 23-20 win over the Baltimore Ravens in the AFC Championship Game. Gronkowski didn't practice on Thursday or Friday but he was walking briskly while wearing a walking boot on his left foot when he got off the team plane Sunday in Indianapolis.

"He's kind of a once-in-a-lifetime talent with the skill set that he has," wide receiver Matthew Slater said. "So we love getting him the ball in his hands, and he loves having the ball in his hands, and he does special things when he has the ball in his hands."

The 2010 second-round draft pick from Arizona set an NFL single-season record for tight ends with 17 touchdown catches this season. His 90 receptions were fifth in the NFL and his 1,327 yards receiving were sixth.

"Get a ladder, probably," Giants coach Tom Coughlin joked about stopping Gronkowski. "This is a very gifted tight end and there's two of them, as you know. He's had an outstanding career and rewritten some of the record books along the way and has done a very good job of making the big-play catch as well. He's become someone that Brady looks to go to in certain areas of the field as well, certainly in the red zone."

His success on the field has made Gronkowski a folk hero of sorts, a cultural icon for football-mad Patriots rooters and a part of their lexicon -- gronking means spiking.

"It's unbelievable," Gronkowski said after the win over the Ravens put the Patriots in their fifth Super Bowl in 11 years. "It's my second year in the league, playing with a great team, and you have to enjoy the moment. It doesn't even feel right, especially playing with the veterans here. I watched them go to the Super Bowl as I was growing up and now I'm part of it? It is an unreal moment and you can't take it for granted."

The Associated Press contributed to this report

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