Before they were New England Patriots teammates, safety Patrick Chung and tight end Rob Gronkowski were Pac-10 opponents.
Flashback to 2008. Chung was a fifth-year senior at Oregon. Gronkowski, a sophomore at Arizona.
Both players would end the season on the All-Pac-10 first team, and they squared off in a mid-November classic at Autzen Stadium — a 55-45 Oregon victory that featured more than 1,000 yards of total offense.
Speaking with reporters Thursday at Gillette Stadium, Chung was asked to reminisce on that game, which featured not one, not two, but three players who would go on to play key roles on Super Bowl-winning Patriots teams.
Chung’s lasting memory from that afternoon? That would be when, less than two minutes into the first quarter, he stepped in front of a pass intended for Gronkowski and raced 31 yards into the end zone to give his Ducks an early 14-0 lead.
“First pick-six on Gronk,” Chung said with a smile. “I hope you heard that.
“And then after that, he had like 18 catches.”
That’s a bit of an exaggeration, but Gronkowski did have his way with the Oregon defense that day, catching 12 passes for 143 yards and a touchdown. Obviously impressed, Chung said he applauded the Patriots when they drafted Gronk in the second round two years later.
“When he got drafted, I told a couple of my coaches, ‘Hey man, that’s a good pick.’ ” said Chung, whom the Patriots drafted 34th overall in 2009. “Gladly, I was right. He’s a great player, man. It was a great experience. It was good to go against him, and it’s good to go against him now.”
That praise goes both ways. Last October, Gronkowski called Chung the defensive version of himself and said he wouldn’t be the same player if he did not have to go against the safety in practice each day.
“To describe Patrick, we always say we’re like the same people,” Gronkowski said.
Gronkowski’s monster game helped spur a wild Arizona rally that saw the Wildcats reel off 28 unanswered points after falling behind 48-17 early in the third quarter. Another future Patriot, however, ensured that comeback would fall just short.
After an Arizona touchdown cut Oregon’s lead to three late in the fourth quarter, LeGarrette Blount took an inside handoff and galloped 40 yards to paydirt to put the game away.
Thumbnail photo via Bob DeChiara/USA TODAY Sports Images