Role models are hard to come by these days, especially when it comes to athletes. With social media and so many other news outlets, you eventually find out who the athlete truly is. Then of course, you have players that are either a diva, talk trash, or flop to benefit their team. It’s hard to find true class acts in sports anymore and we now lost another one of those players in Tony Gonzalez.
Some people rate players off of championships and making highlight-reel plays. That mindset couldn’t be more wrong in judging a player. A players’ success should be analyzed by consistency and longevity. Dan Marino was a prime example of that, despite not winning a ring. Football will always be a team sport and players shouldn’t be judged by championships, even quarterbacks. For every great Super Bowl winning quarterback like Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers, you get average ones in Joe Flacco and Eli Manning.
Besides being a class act, nothing impresses me more about Tony Gonzalez than how consistent he was. Since 1999, he’s had 70 or more catches in every season. That’s a true barometer of how great he was. You always had to game plan for him, even when he wasn’t the focal point of an offense like last year. If you left him in single coverage, Matt Ryan wouldn’t hesitate and throw the ball high where the former small forward at California can go get it.
Obviously he was a tremendous athlete and used his basketball background to benefit him early in his career. As he got older, he started to make plays purely off of route running and catching the ball in traffic. When you hit the age of 35, you’re not going to beat defenders off of speed routes. Gonzalez is a student of the game and constantly found new ways to get open. There aren’t many players, who are as crafty as him. He always found a way to catch four to six passes a game at minimum, even when defenses game planned to stop him.
With Julio Jones out for most of the year and Roddy White being injured for most of the year, Gonzalez still managed to catch 83 passes. That’s just a testament to how special of a player he was. Atlanta had offensive line issues all year long and didn’t have great depth at wide receiver, which led to Gonzalez being double-teamed and practically mugged at the line of scrimmage throughout the season.
What had been considered as a “lost season” in Atlanta, he never demanded a trade or moaned to the media. You look at how great of a player he was, but his demeanor is what makes everyone respect him even more. Kansas City was rebuilding in 2009, which is why they felt it was necessary to allow him to play for a contender. Thomas Dimitroff has always been savvy by making at least one major off-season move a year for Atlanta. Most of them have benefited the team greatly and the trade for Gonzalez was a huge benefit for Matt Ryan, who was entering his second season. With so much negativity in all sports today and players making outrageous demands, he always remained positive and never resorted to childish behavior in his career
We all know about the records that he has broken for a tight end. How Gonzalez should be remembered for is what all Hall Of Fame players should be remembered for. Consistency and longevity to play at an elite level, especially at a demanding position like tight end. He’s the embodiment of that by missing only two games in 17 seasons.
Obviously it’s a shame that he never won a ring. I’m still bitter at Matt Ryan for forcing the ball to Roddy White on fourth down, when Gonzalez was in prime position to make the catch on fourth down. Then again, there are so many moments in that game where the Falcons should have scored and all they had to do was kick a field goal to win the game. You know a game was so dramatic, when your still breaking down the “what ifs” a year later. It was the closest Gonzalez has ever gotten to a Super Bowl unfortunately.
Everyone knows how he changed the game for tight ends and has made general managers realize you can take a chance on former basketball players. They might be too skinny at first, but they’ll eventually bulk up enough to take on a major role. Jimmy Graham and Antonio Gates have proven that, while Julius Thomas is the latest breakout star to come from a basketball background. They may not add much from a blocking standpoint, but they become nightmares for defensive coordinators because they can stretch the field so much. That’s why the Falcons passing attack was unstoppable at times in 2012.
As great as he was, it’s hard to pick out any favorite moments from his career. Every week, he would either make a play on third down or score a touchdown that would make Kansas City and Atlanta fans smile. The one play that will always stick out to me was in 2011 against Philadelphia on Sunday night, where he literally used his fingertips to score a touchdown. Ryan floated it perfectly towards the back of the end zone and Gonzalez somehow with one hand brought it down using his fingertips. That touchdown still makes my jaw drop, because he also had to make sure to have both feet inbounds and maintain control of the ball. Here is the clip, if you want to see it again.
How does Atlanta replace him? They have an intriguing six foot eight prospect in Levine Toilolo, but I’m sure they’ll like to bring in a veteran to challenge for a starting spot. Obviously Gonzalez’s production and what he does on the field is irreplaceable, but it’s time to move on. You have to respect him for going out on his terms and not feeling obligated to keep on playing. When he came back last year, it made all the sense in the world. Now it wouldn’t make sense at all. It’s time to let go and let Atlanta build towards the future once again.
John Lynch couldn’t have said it better, when talking about Tony Gonzalez during his last game against Carolina. “The term all-time great is thrown around too loosely, but I can tell you that through playing against him and broadcasting his games that Tony is truly one of the all-time greats”. You can’t sum up a better description about him than that. It was an honor to watch him play for five years for my favorite team. Hopefully more players, not just tight ends play the game like him. Thank you for all the contributions to not only Atlanta, but to Kansas City and to all football fans. He has proven that he will be remembered as the greatest tight end of all time and a role model for young athletes.
You can follow me on twitter at @Allen_Strk