Lost in the shuffle of the upcoming Harbaugh Bowl, the attention surrounding Ray Lewis, the collapse of the Patriots, and all the amazement over the abilities of Colin Kaepernick is Atlanta tight end Tony Gonzalez.
All indications are that Gonzalez will be retiring after 16 seasons in the NFL, having never been to a Super Bowl, and falling heart-breakingly close in his final season. So, while the media spends the two weeks leading up to the Super Bowl gushing over Lewis and the fact that the final game of his career will be in New Orleans next Sunday night, maybe we should just take a couple minutes to consider Gonzalez, the great career he has had, and the fact that his career appears to have ended without a trip to the Super Bowl.
Gonzalez may not have revolutionized the position quite like the great John Mackey did, but when the Kansas City Chiefs drafted him in 1997, Gonzalez led a new era of tight ends: a new breed of athletic, receiving tight ends that are dynamic in the passing game, and can be utilized all over the field, not just in the red zone. Gonzalez soon gained notoriety for having played both football and basketball in college, and when he quickly became a star, teams around the league began to use Gonzalez as the new mold for tight ends and began looking for tight ends that were exceptional athletes and had experience in both football and basketball.
Of course, none of the imitators have come close to accomplishing what Gonzalez has in his career. The Chargers’ Antonio Gates came closest, and even his career numbers pale in comparison to the numbers Gonzalez has put up. Plus while Gates is starting to show signs of decline, Gonzalez remains a Pro-Bowl caliber tight end.
Compared to other tight ends, the statistics Gonzalez has amassed throughout his career are astronomical. When it comes to receptions, yards, and touchdowns, no one at the position in NFL history is close to Gonzalez; in fact, Gonzalez is beyond the best tight end to ever play the game, he’s one of the best pass receivers to ever play the game, period. Only Jerry Rice has caught more passes, only five other players have caught more touchdown passes, and only Bruce Matthews has been selected to more Pro Bowls. Also, in 16 seasons, only once has Gonzalez failed to play in all 16 games, playing a mere 15 games in 1999.
Unfortunately, a career as glorious as the one Gonzalez has had has one flaw, one thing that’s missing: and that’s an appearance in the Super Bowl.
After toiling in Kansas City for far too long, his move to Atlanta four years ago was supposed to give Gonzalez a chance to reach the Promised Land. But as the Falcons reached short on Sunday, so did Gonzalez, and it couldn’t have happened to a less-deserving player.
So while Lewis gets all the attention for concluding his career in The Big Game, let’s take a few minutes to acknowledge a player that won’t be fortunate enough to end his career in the Super Bowl; a player that will end his career without ever appearing in a Super Bowl; a player that is just as accomplished as Lewis; and a player that is without a doubt the greatest tight end to ever play the game: Tony Gonzalez.