Although the sports world seems to be in love with the fact that this is the final season for Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis, there is another player who is arguably the best to ever play his position that was in the same position this past Sunday. But since Tony Gonzalez isn’t as eccentric as Lewis, only the biggest NFL fans seem to have known about it.
It’s hard to call the guy who set the Tight End standard for this league “arguably” the best to ever play his position in the league. After all, if we’re just going by statistics, he blows away his closest competitors. He leads Shannon Sharpe by 427 career receptions and has 4, 208 more receiving yards. His next closest competitor on the all time touchdowns for a tight end is Antonio Gates and Gonzo has a comfortable twenty touchdown lead over him.
Off of statistics alone, Tony Gonzalez is the best tight end to ever put on an NFL uniform. The one knock against him was that he won his first playoff game ever just over two weeks ago. Hard to believe that a guy who has had this much success and been this consistent his whole career had never tasted a playoff victory until this season, but it’s true.
When he came into the league in 1997 as the 13th overall pick by the Kansas City Chiefs, no one would have predicted that he’d be this consistent for this long. But in his fifteen season career that has seen him be named a pro bowler thirteen times, an all pro six times and only missed two games his entire career, he’s never had previous success in the NFL postseason.
In his eleven years with the Chiefs, they made the postseason three times and flamed out in their first game each time. Before this season, the same story held true in Atlanta. But if you look at some of those armpit teams he played on in Kansas City, you understand why they did him the favor of trading him to a contender in 2009. And after coming maybe just one more catch away from playing in the Super Bowl, Tony the great is hanging it up far before he needs to.
Gonzalez has maintained his “95% sure” stance that he would retire all season long. One has to wonder after getting that close to going to the big dance if the other 5% will play a factor. But after listening to interviews and soundbites, it appears that he is hanging it up for good. And who can blame the guy? I’m always in favor of an athlete choosing to burn out over fading away. Who wouldn’t want to go out on their own terms instead of hanging on too long and ending up that guy who doesn’t realize his time is over?
The depressing part is that Tony Gonzalez is still, at the very least, a top three tight end in the game right now. Just look at his playoff performance the past two games. Fourteen catches and a pair of touchdowns, including some clutch grabs late in the game against Seattle. He still could play at a high level for another couple of years, at least. But we don’t know how much it hurts when he gets hit. We don’t know how his knees or joints feel. At 36 years of age and 254 career games on his tires, one could think that he doesn’t feel like a youngster out there anymore.
If this really is the end of the road for Tony, mark your calendars for five years from now when he has his name called as a first ballot hall of famer. I know that everyone always wants to assume the players from their generation are the best to ever play the game and usually, that sentiment is wrong. But in this case, I’d put Tony up against any other tight end in league history in that argument.
Farewell, Tony. The best tight end in NFL history…and it isn’t even close.