‘A Part of Me Is Dying’

Tony Gonzalez reflects on his impending retirement, regrets, chasing Jerry Rice and having more left in his tank. (By the way, don’t tell him his career is diminished because he never won The Big One.)

Tony Gonzalez helped redefine what it means to be a tight end, paving the way for Antonio Gates, Jimmy Graham and the rest of the new wave of athletic phenoms at the position. (Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)
Tony Gonzalez helped redefine what it means to be a tight end, paving the way for Antonio Gates, Jimmy Graham and the rest of the new wave of athletic phenoms at the position. (Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)

From now until the opening of training camps, The MMQB will run a series of our Greatest Hits from the site’s first year. From December 2013, Peter King gave the floor to Tony Gonzalez as the tight end wrapped up a 17-year career.

* * *

Two months shy of turning 38, Tony Gonzalez is on the verge of playing in his 277th and final game (including playoffs) of his NFL life. On a recent commute home from the Falcons’ training complex, he spent 30 minutes musing on his 17-year career in Kansas City and in Atlanta. He has set the bar ridiculously high for the next generation of tight ends, with his 1,321 regular-season catches and 15,071 yards. In the all-time tight end standings, Gonzalez has 454 more catches than No. 2 Jason Witten (867) and 5,000 more receiving yards than No. 2 Shannon Sharpe (10,060). He’s done it all while missing two games to injury. We are not likely to see his kind at tight end—or any position—anytime soon.

Regrets

“As far as the regrets go, that’s just not part of my makeup. Once I made the decision to come back this season, I knew anything could happen and nothing was guaranteed—I’d been through that before. I learned that lesson early in football, you know, when I first got out there as a rookie and went 13-3 with the Chiefs. We went out there and added a few players, had the whole team coming back—added Chester McGlockton, Leslie O’Neal, a couple other players—and we didn’t even make the playoffs. I think we won seven games that year. I knew there was a chance of that [happening this season in Atlanta]. I have no regrets. I still got a chance to play football. Believe it or not, I’ve had the best time I could have considering what has happened this year. It’s been miserable, don’t get me wrong. But really with the locker room, from that point of view, it’s been fun. It’s been fun. I got a chance to play another year with Matt Ryan. I got a chance to play with Julio Jones while he was healthy. And Roddy White. I got a chance to achieve a couple of milestones in there. I got a chance to interact with the fans again. A chance to play football.”

His expectations of retirement

“I’m not naïve, and I’ve spoken to enough players who have retired that I know I’m going to miss it. It’s gonna be like a part of me that is dying, honestly. I’m never ever going to be able to play football again for a living. So I don’t have any regrets. Obviously, I regret that we didn’t have a better record, but after that, I would never say, Oh, I wish I would have stayed home and done whatever.”

Lessons from a disastrous year

“It happens. It happened for a reason. I’ve learned a lot this year. You learn a lot more about yourself and the opportunity for growth is so much greater when you lose. I know that I wouldn’t be the player I am if I didn’t go through what I went through my second year in the league, when I dropped 17 balls. That kind of made me the player I am—on and off the field. It introduced me to reading. It introduced me to everything else. And I’d say that again this year. You can’t just look at it like, Well, I didn’t win the Super Bowl, so screw everything. I regret it and I’m gonna be pissed off. I’m not gonna do that. But it does suck, losing.”

His routine, approaching the final game of his life

“My routine hasn’t changed at all. I still catch my 100 balls a day. First of all, that’s what I think has made me the player I am. But then I want the young guys to see it. I think that’s probably been the most enjoyable part about it—I’ve had a chance to kind of show these young guys and mentor these guys. Whether it’s verbally or just doing what I’m doing—by example. Last week, I was talking to our new starting right tackle, Ryan Schraeder. I can give them some advice and show them. Just watch. If you want to be a good player in this league, this is what it takes. This is how Will Shields taught me. This is what Warren Moon told me. Stuff like that.”

On greatness

“You have to be obsessed. I told Schraeder he could be a hell of a player in this league, just like I believe a lot of players could be great players in this league … if they would just have that mental shift and be obsessed with what they’re doing—with being in the NFL, with being the best player they can be, obsessive-compulsively. That’s what the great ones have. Like I told him last week, you’ve got to work it over and over and over again. That is why I come out before practice and without a ball even in my hands, I work on route-running. Coming in and out of breaks. Then catching 100 balls.”

On obsession

“Nothing comes easy. But it’ll come. It can come. You have to will it.”

Chasing Jerry Rice

Gonzalez has 1,321 catches. Rice, who played his last NFL game at 42, retired with 1,549. That means Gonzalez would have to play three more years, minimum, and average more than 76 catches a year to pass Rice.

“Being from California, that’s a pretty big deal, obviously. Jerry’s so great. That would be tough to do, but I’ve thought about it. My high school coach tells me, ‘You gotta do it!’ But I think Jerry’s gonna have that record for a long, long time. Could I do it? What is that, 80 catches a year? Absolutely I could come back next year and catch 80 balls; there is no doubt in my mind. But this is it for me.”

Why?

“The commitment it takes … it just gets to you after a while. Consistency. Game after game, year after year, you never stop thinking about the balls you get your hands on and don’t catch. I’ve had balls go off my hands that weren’t perfect passes, and you look and say it’s not catchable or whatever, but if it hits my hands, that’s a ball I’ve got to catch. If I don’t, I’m miserable the whole next week.”

Toughest thing about football

“For me, I’m really tired of living and dying with the game. Every game. I’ve tried to turn it off. I’m still trying. I can’t. It sucks. Believe me, it sucks.”

The rules

“The NFL has to do something to stop receivers in the open field from getting blindsided and hit in the knees. Look what happened to Rob Gronkowski. He’s not the only one. You don’t want your stars, you don’t want anyone, to be taken out like that.”

His greatest catch

“Man, that’s tough. I’d say one of the one-handed ones. Maybe the one-handed catch I had in the back of the end zone against Philly on Sunday night [in 2011]. I liked that one. Making the catch, getting the feet down. That’s my best catch, I think.”

His favorite personal rivalry

“I’ve loved playing against London Fletcher. What a warrior. We just played Washington, and I caught a touchdown against him—and he was holding me all the way down the field. [Laughs.] I knew he was retiring. After the game, he told me, ‘This is it for me. Enough.’ I knew what he meant.”

Life after football

“I’ll probably try the TV thing. I’d like to do some other things too, centered around a healthy lifestyle. Recently I’ve been into Fusionetics, which is basically using sports science to improve human performance. I believe in eating right and taking care of yourself. I’ve been on Roddy White to eat better. He’ll have a longer and better career if he does.”

On his teams winning one playoff game in his 17 seasons

“I was just watching the Marty Schottenheimer: A Football Life on NFL Network. And there was something I didn’t like. They really dwelled on Marty never winning a Super Bowl. That bothers me, maybe because I haven’t won one. I haven’t won the big game either. I hope that does not define me as a player. There is no way that should define me as a player, and nobody can ever tell me differently. If, down the road, someone says about me, Well, he never won the big one—he never won the Super Bowl, I will say to them, Screw you. Just screw you. You don’t understand the game. You don’t understand me. I will absolutely not allow anyone to let my career be denigrated because of that.”

What he’ll be thinking walking off the field on Sunday for the last time

“Relieved. Happy. Proud. Proud of what I’ve accomplished. The whole family will be there. I think I’ll feel somewhat relieved. I will be sad too. But I don’t think it’ll hit me ’til opening day next year, when I’m sitting there and the games come on and I’m not playing anymore.”

themmqb.com

34 comments
shoota79
shoota79

277 games 17 years as an NFL TE & only 2games missed due to injury is simply amazing to me . 

bytheway
bytheway

Hey, Peter, given all the investment the NFL had made in concussion research and player safety (long overdue, I might add) why have you, a dedicated hockey fan and Bob Costas, prime peacock on NBC sports, where hockey is the featured winter sport, not spoken out and dedicated any measurable time to the concussion laden National Hockey League.  80 concussions last year, reports of retired enforcers committing suicide, a recent spate of retired player suits against the league,  a league that appears to condone players punching each other senseless, one that allows thugs on skates to populate teams and has dedicated next to nothing, when compared to the NFL, in the area of concussion research. You have written volumes criticizing the NFL (with good reason), but nothing notable on the Peacock Network's hockey that I have witnessed. A response in ten things I know this week would be welcome and give many of us asking the same question some reason to believe you are in agreement that hockey concussions  should be a serious focus for the media as well.

Mark112
Mark112

Tony should seriously consider sticking around with the Falcons for another year. He plays as if he's twenty-five and the Falcons can't possibly be as bad next year as they were this season. The Saints are on the downward arc of their run and Charlotte could easily rebound back to mediocrity next year. Atlanta will win its division next year if Gonzalez plays and after that he's got millions in the bank with the rest of his life to enjoy it.

Octavio
Octavio

Makes me sad that he's retiring.  Good for him and all...but I sure will miss watching him play.

bytheway
bytheway

Mr. King, remember when you dissed the Patriots for taking Collins over Brown.   The truth, as I mentioned at the time was that Ozzie had Collins rated higher and this season has proven Ozzie to be correct as usual. Brown was second in line and Collins  mazes his teammates with the raw ability and versatility he has. And how about all the criticism directed at Bill for drafting the two Rutgers CB's.  How's that working out? Harmon will be even better than Elam ( more sideline to sideline speed)  who looked confused Sunday night.

bytheway
bytheway

Toni will resurface next year for one last run at the Superbowl and Patriot fans will be ecstatic.

eddie767
eddie767

Tony G.has nothing to regret,he showed up to play every week. He played his part even when others didn't. Next stop Canton 8/18.

DavidHarte
DavidHarte

Winning championships matters: Joe Montana, Ronnie Lott, Jerry Rice...Fran Tarkington, Lem Barney, Andre Reed.

nomodonuts
nomodonuts

Would you consider extending your career for one more year with Tom Brady as your QB? Something tells me you would fit in the scheme here quite well!

HerschelAnderton
HerschelAnderton

a class act

AND

a hall of famer


a dying breed... especially in the cesspool called the NFL 

RichardCHamilton
RichardCHamilton

Tony Gonzales is everything the NFL is not. And throw in Goodell. Some people are just too good to play in that heap of trash called the NFL. Did you see the latest. All the anti-spector-fan Super Bowl rules and regulations. 

R3
R3

The NFL sorely needs more players like Tony Gonzalez. A super-talented athlete a and super class act. All the best in your retirement, Tony!

honeybee2lafaire
honeybee2lafaire

I think the Falcons should retire No. 88 but I wasn't even alive for Tony G's first two seasons as a Chief. I don't remember his time there. 

Ocean_State_Patriots_Fan
Ocean_State_Patriots_Fan

Gonzalez’s legacy as the greatest tight end in NFL history will not be affected by the fact that he hasn’t won a ring.But the question begs:Why did Gonzalez elect not to retire last year?Did he extend that courtesy to Atlanta because he thought the 13-3 2012 Falcons, who narrowly lost the NFC championship to the 49ers, had a realistic chance of getting a Lombardi this season?In truth, Super Bowl rings do matter.A lot.And Tony should be bothered by that.What bothers me is that the now 4-11 Falcons seemingly didn’t extend the same courtesy to Gonzalez (during the Week 8 trade deadline) by allowing him to join a playoff-caliber team like the Chiefs, with at least a realistic chance to ride off into the sunset with a ring on his hand.

tom o
tom o

Glad somebody else saw the intentional cheap shot at Gronkowski's knees for what it was.

SteveRudemyer
SteveRudemyer

Peter, I agree TG is a great athlete, but in respect to the closing sentence in your opening paragraph, we have seen all types of offensive records broken over the past 5 years.  With the explosion of the tight end position and the spread offense, should we be surprised if this record doesn't last 5-10 years?  We have seen recently that no record is safe, especially on the offensive side of the ball.

JMillerNC
JMillerNC

I wish I had realized earlier in his career just how phenomenal Tony Gonzalez is; what a fantastic player.  God bless you in your retirement, Tony!

Jkhadley289
Jkhadley289

Tony Gonzales is the epitome of class. Best of luck in your retirement.

TheDudeSpeaks
TheDudeSpeaks

@bytheway Dude, what on earth does that have to do with this awesome story about a legend? Please, acknowledge greatness. Whine about it on a different story.

JMillerNC
JMillerNC

@RichardCHamilton hey NFL hater, why don't you go enjoy life in the ultra-clean pool known as Major League Baseball.  They don't have scandals there.  /sarcasm

Marsh the Great
Marsh the Great

@honeybee2lafaireWell, that's a shame. During his time in Kansas City, Gonzalez really changed the way that offenses incorporated the tight end into their games. Tony was really the first tight end that started consistently using the "box out" to establish position on the ball. Because of his exceptional hands and speed for his size, he also became a trendsetter by regularly lining up in the slot (remember, there was no spread in the NFL during the first 2/3 of his career). While forebears like Shannon Sharpe and Ozzie Newsome did these things on occasion, it was Gonzalez who owned these tendencies with superior athleticism. He is the greatest receiver (at any position) in Chiefs history and it was an honor and a pleasure to watch him change the game during his many seasons here. Most Chiefs fans would have had his jersey retired 10 years ago if it were possible). He's that well-respected and loved here, to this day.

Marsh the Great
Marsh the Great

@Ocean_State_Patriots_Fan IIRC, it was Tony who declined to be traded mid-season because of loyalty to his teammates (i.e. he didn't want to abandon them because they were struggling). Say what you will about the Falcons and their struggles but I don't think they're really at fault for not trading someone who didn't want to be traded. As for Gonzalez, I think that really speaks to the strong character and leadership that we've known him to exude over the years. I don't think just a whole lot of ringless super-vets would forgo being traded to a contending team for the sake of loyalty. 

Dave36
Dave36

@Ocean_State_Patriots_FanAgreed. Atlanta showed a lack of class and respect for him. They should have done anything they could have to get him to a playoff bound team.

EasyGoer
EasyGoer

@tom o He wouldn't have brought it up if Gronkowski wasn't a tight end. Waaa

Marsh the Great
Marsh the Great

@SteveRudemyerWhile this is certainly true, the bit about longevity is still very important in that regard. As great as guys like Jimmy Graham and Rob Gronkowski are when they're healthy, their injury history would suggest that they won't be around long enough to challenge Gonzalez's records. Even though there is so much emphasis on the passing game now, it's the uncommon durability that suggests that his marks won't be so easy to surpass.

DeeEllEll
DeeEllEll

@JMillerNC - Well said.  We all probably would have realized sooner how good he is if he played somewhere other than KC.  Unfortunately, he played on some pretty bad Chief teams.

bytheway
bytheway

@TheDudeSpeaks @bytheway DaDude Speaks, but DaDude seems to know nuttin about freedom of speech. By the way, Toni will resurface next year like Lazzerus in Patriot red, white and blue to finish a Superbowl winner. DADA.

CMFJ
CMFJ

@Marsh the Great @honeybee2lafaire 


I think you bought into broadcasters using the "box out" thing because Gonzalez was a basketball player at Cal a little too much - it was happening in the NFL for years before that.  Not that he didn't use his body well, but it isn't really the same as boxing out.  It is more like posting up and receiving an entry pass.  


Also, Sharpe was essentially a WR playing TE, so to imply that Sharpe didn't use athleticism as much as Gonzalez is silly.  Gonzalez combined that with the power usually associated with TEs, which was the difference between the two.

CMFJ
CMFJ

@bytheway


"...seems to know nuttin about freedom of speech."


Actually, you do not know anything about freedom of speech.  Take a remedial 4th grade civics lesson or google "freedom of speech".  It doesn't mean not getting called out for being stupid.

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