FLOWERY BRANCH — Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez knows that his return to Kansas City, the place where he started his illustrious career, will be emotional.
He plans to leave for Arrowhead Stadium on the early bus Sunday, one that’s usually reserved for rookies, younger players and staffers.
Gonzalez wants to make sure that he has enough time to say hello to everyone and still have enough time to go through his pregame rituals before facing the Chiefs at 1 p.m. in the season opener.
Gonzalez, 36, spent the first 12 seasons of his NFL career with the Kansas City Chiefs.
“It’s going to be special,” Gonzalez said. “It’s going to be kind of weird going in there. It’s going to be like going back to the house that you grew up in.”
Gonzalez doesn’t know what it will be like walking on the field from the visitor’s tunnel.
“There’s a lot of heartbreak on that field,” said Gonzalez, referring to a some first-round playoff exits with the Chiefs. “A lot of triumphs, too. It’s something that I’m looking forward to.”
Kansas City fans are on par with Green Bay and Pittsburgh fans. Gonzalez has warned the Falcons about how rabid and loud the fans can get at the end of the national anthem and when the Chiefs get a first down.
“It’s unlike anything you’ve heard,” Gonzalez said. “I told them every time they get a first down, the whole crowd is going to yell ‘first down.’ It’s a great environment as far as tailgating. … I expect with it being opening day that it’s going to be a rowdy crowd.”
Gonzalez requested a trade in 2008 because he didn’t believe he could endure another rebuilding program. He was traded to the Falcons for a second-round pick that was used to select cornerback Javier Arenas.
In his three seasons with the Falcons, Gonzalez has continued to climb the receiving charts. He’s become the second-leading receiver in NFL history with 1,149 catches. He trails only Jerry Rice, and ranks ninth all-time with 95 touchdowns.
He caught 80 passes last season and has not shown any signs of dropping off. He feels like he can play another two or three years, physically. But because he’s not sure if he can continue to mentally grind his way through two or three more seasons he said he’s 99.9 percent sure this will be his last season.
So this could be his last trip to Arrowhead, where he made it his trademark to dunk the football after scoring a touchdown.
“I don’t want to see any dunks,” Chiefs coach Romeo Crennel said.
Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan has a different opinion.
“I do,” said Ryan when asked if he wanted to see Gonzalez dunk over his old goalposts.
The Chiefs went 13-3 in Gonzalez’ rookie season. In his second season, he dropped 17 passes and rededicated himself to the game.
“To tell you the truth, I don’t think I’d be the player that I am today if I didn’t have a season like that,” Gonzalez said. “It was embarrassing.”
Gonzalez started reading inspirational books. He received a book of Vince Lombardi quotes from his brother.
“Then from there, I read his biography, and that’s kind of the book that really started it off for me, learning from a great coach like that,” Gonzalez said.
He has several fond memories from his days with the Chiefs.
“You really think about the relationships,” Gonzalez said. “A lot of the guys that I used to play with will be there. Jason Dunn, Kevin Lockett, Shawn Barber and Billy Baber, guys that I have relationships with still until this day. That’s really what I remember most about it.”
On the field, Gonzalez’ rookie season was special.
“I was playing with guys like Marcus Allen and Derrick Thomas,” Gonzalez said. “It was just the great coaches as well. Coaches like Dick Vermeil and Marty Schottenheimer, Hall of Fame-type coaches. That was a good experience for me.”
After all the hand shaking and hugging is over, Gonzalez will be ready to play.
“This is my 16th year, and it’s football when it comes down it,” Gonzalez said. “I’m going to fall back on my instincts, go out there and do my job.”
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