The New England Patriots tight end position evolved from the “All World” era of Russ Francis to the “All Universe” era of Rob Gronkowski.
Veteran New England Patriots fans will remember the tight end who started something of a revolution at the position with his size and speed decades before the absolute best, our own Rob Gronkowski burst onto the scene.
Russ Francis was the Gronk prototype.
Francis was the mega-tight end of his day. Pro Football Reference has him at 6’6″ tall and weighing in at 240 pounds. A bit light for our modern guy, Gronk, but back in the day … that was huge. Francis was a first-round draft choice of the New England Patriots in the 1975 draft.
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Francis played a total of 8 years with New England and 6 with San Francisco according to Pro Football Reference. Francis played his first 6 years in the league in New England. He returned to the Patriots for a final season with the New England Patriots in 1988.
“All World Tight End”
Russ Francis had 40 TDs over his career and had 393 career receptions. Back when Monday Night Football was THE football event of the week in the NFL, then color man the inimitable Howard Cosell, a member of the Sports Broadcasting Hall of Fame dubbed Francis, the “All-World Tight End”. How can you not like a handle like that from the highly opinionated Cosell?
Howard Cosell was a sports broadcasting giant. He was an entertainment icon of the era and as interesting and polarizing as they come.
Cosell also was a boxing analyst and was a huge benefactor of the incomparable Muhammed Ali in his prime. That nickname would stick with Francis and is still remembered today by those who had the pleasure of watching him play.
So there’s Russ Francis, the prototype of the best tight end who ever played the game. But he was just the prototype.
“All Universe Tight End”
Russ Francis was the “All-World Tight End”.
Yet, no tight end in the NFL’s history had the influence and downright impact on his team and his era than Rob Gronkowski.
(Check out an article by colleague Tarringo Basile-Vaughan about a possible reunion of Gronk and Brady, before TB bolted for Tampa Bay.)
Gronk’s value to the Patriots was clear. That we well know, especially after witnessing the demise of the post-Gronk Patriots’ offense in 2019 even though still guided by the steadying hand of a certain No. 12.
Russ Francis was one of the best of his era.
Rob Gronkowski will likely have been The Best of any era. We were fortunate to have seen him play, dominate and win. With that in mind, I’ll be presumptuous and dub Rob Gronkowski, the “All Universe Tight End.”
The GOAT tight end. And we sure miss him.