I wrote the following note on my facebook site just after Tony G was traded this past spring. I will miss watching him every Sunday, but now have another game to watch… and that’s a good thing!
So Long, Tony G…
I’m in mourning today from yesterday’s news that the Chiefs traded future Hall of Fame tight end Tony Gonzalez to the Atlanta Falcons for a 2nd round pick in next year’s draft. Although I know the deal makes sense for both teams and for Tony G, as well, I’m sad because the fans of KC will miss seeing the end of his brilliant career. In this day of overused superlatives, Tony’s play and committment to Team was a mix of postmodern mold breaking and old school work ethic.
Tony’s body broke the mold of how tight ends were supposed to look, play, and be used in the offense. Although former Denver Bronco’s TE Shannon Sharp cracked the old mold, Tony blew it apart with a combination of size, speed, and ability to make the spectacular catch appear routine. Standing 6’6″, and just a shade over 250 pounds, with 4.5-4.6 speed in the 40 yard dash, Tony’s physical tools were unique. However, there are many football players that look good in the uniform and out that aren’t really players. Tony’s body was a gift, but he didn’t take the gift and rest on ability alone. He honed his natural ability into spectacular skills through tenacious work habits. Joe Posnanski, a columnist from the Kansas City Star, wrote a column about Tony’s career and ending in KC:
“The thing that struck me about Tony Gonzalez is that every time I saw him catch a pass — every single time, no matter if it was during practice, on the sideline during a game, or just goofing around afterward — he always tucked the ball away.
I saw him catch probably 5,000 passes through the years. He tucked every one of them away.”
Joe started his article with the above quote. Tucking the ball away is fundamental for a receiver. Protecting the ball from fumbles caused by grasping defensive players. It is the second fundamental you are taught after catching the ball with your hands. Len Dawson, former Chiefs quarterback, member of the NFL Hall of Fame, and color commentator for Chiefs radio broadcasts, constantly harped on Tony’s habit of catching the ball with his hands rather than allowing it to come into his body. That is the first fundamental of catching the ball. I’m sure Tony learned that lesson as a high school and University of California basketball player. Playing both sports in both high school and college is frowned upon by many proponents of either sport, due to the risk of injury. But playing more than one sport is also old-school, as is playing because you love to play. Tony’s love of the game, his passion to get better could be seen in Posnanski’s article. Another part of a tight end’s job description is to block. In the past, blocking was the highest priority of a tight end’s job, especially in the KC era of Martyball, when TG was drafted. Marty Shottenheimer was a coach who loved to run the football in his offense. When Tony was a rookie, he wasn’t the best blocker. However, Tony worked on it…no…HE WORKED ON IT! Every year, all year.
Tony was also a good teammate. He especially exemplified that in the past year when he encouraged Tyler Thigpen, third string quarterback made starter due to injuries, to spend extra time outside of practice not only throwing the ball with Tony, but also studying film of their next opponent. The dramatic improvement of the offense, although not resulting in wins, certainly was a testament of the time they spent together.
Lastly, Tony has been criticized in the past and just recently, for some of the things he said publicly. He has been called a whiner. I believe this to be an unfair characterization. Tony was brutally honest in his assessment of any given situation when asked. A whiner comments without being asked and the comments are usually self-serving. Tony was brutally honest about his performance as well as that of his teammates and administration. He certainly wasn’t Shannon Sharpe, spouting trash for purpose. Instead, he was honest about the outcome, focus, and performance of his team.
I played tight end in both high school and college. I loved watching Tony Gonzoles play every Sunday. I will miss that.