This Sunday one of the greatest careers in the history of the NFL will come to an end; after 17 seasons Tony Gonzalez will finally hang up his cleats.
Long before Jimmy Graham, Rob Gronkowski and Julius Thomas began terrorising defenses’, Tony Gonzalez was single-handedly blazing a trail for a new breed of Tight End. Gonzalez’s exploits on the field played a key role in shaping the current NFL where offense is king.
Drafted by the Kansas City Chiefs in the first round of the 1997 draft, Gonzalez was somewhat of an unknown quantity entering the NFL. Gonzalez had only played two seasons of football for UCLA and had aspirations of becoming a professional basketball player.
Ultimately though Gonzalez’s basketball skills would be crucial to his success with both the Chiefs and Atlanta Falcons. Gonzalez’s speed, agility and leaping ability made him a nightmare for defenders to cover and made the tight end a vital part of NFL offenses.
Gonzalez’s 11 touchdowns in the 1999 season introduced a new dimension to NFL offenses as bigger more athletic tight ends began to become more common and took advantage of smaller, slower line-backers.
Without the unprecedented success of Gonzalez great tight ends such as Antonio Gates, Jimmy Graham and Martellus Bennett, all former college basketballers, would never have become household names in the NFL.
The emergence of athletic pass catching tight ends has been a key factor in the offensive explosion that has occurred in the NFL over the last six or seven years. Offenses are now putting up more points, yards and embarrassing more defenders than ever before.
The ability of a receiving tight end to draw double coverages and stopping safeties from dropping deep has created more one-on-one opportunities for receivers to terrorise opposing cornerbacks.
The huge size of modern tight ends makes them a huge asset in the red-zone as they can bully opponents and attack the football at its highest point. The huge target offered by tight ends makes them a favourite third down target for quarterbacks, thus keeping drives alive.
The tight end position has certainly become one of the NFL’s premier positions with players now as much, if not more, attention from defensive co-ordinators as wide receivers. The NFL’s current crop of exceptional tight ends owe much of their success and millions of dollars to Tony Gonzalez as without him the tight end position might still be viewed as nothing more than an extra lineman used on running plays.
Sunday will see the greatest player ever to play the tight end position retire. Gonzalez holds nearly every record there is for a tight end. A 13 time pro bowler, tied for second most all time, and a 10 time all pro, Gonzalez has caught 111 touchdowns and is one of only 12 players to have more than 15,000 receiving yards.
Despite all the stats Gonzalez’s greatest achievement may be that despite playing one of the world’s most dangerous and violent sports he has only missed one game over the course of a 17 season career.
Former Dolphins Quarterback Dan Marino is considered by many to be the greatest player never to win a Superbowl however after Sunday he may not even have that title to cling to. Gonzalez truly was a special player who contributed a great deal to the NFL, if ever there was a player whose on-field exploits deserved a ring it has to be Tony Gonzalez.
Pundit Arena, Niall Connolly.