He is in a profession where success can be defined in different ways. Money buys luxury. Records build legacy. But championships sit at a higher elevation. They don’t come with a platinum card or a pile of numbers.
“I’ve definitely learned,” Tony Gonzalez said the other day. “You evolve as a person. When you first come into the league, you’re thinking, ‘When I’m done with this game, I want people to look back and say I was one of the greatest. But then you start achieving stuff and you’re not winning. The stats move to the back burner the longer you play. You know the end is coming. I feel like I’m on borrowed time right now.”
It’s week two of season 13, and possibly the greatest tight end in NFL history can’t remember the last time he felt this good. In his Falcons’ debut against Miami last Sunday, Gonzalez caught one touchdown pass and set up another score with a finger-tip grab catch at the Dolphins’ one-yard-line. But what stands out to him most?
“Just being in the locker room after the game,” he said. “Just being on a winning team.”
Everybody says this stuff. Not everybody means it. But not everybody is 33 and owns so many records but zero playoff wins.
Gonzalez has spoken in the past about his desire to get out of Kansas City. A trail of losing seasons led to an ill-fated trade request last year. But this week, five months after the Chiefs finally moved him for a draft pick, he expounded on his level of frustration in Kansas City. Maybe his perspective grew in the last few weeks. While the Falcons opened the season with a win, Kansas City lost to Baltimore and made news by firing offensive coordinator Chan Gailey a week before the game.
“Unique,” Gonzalez said only when the Chiefs’ firing was mentioned.
But he wasn’t brief about much else.
“It’s not banging on the franchise — reality is reality, and we weren’t very good,” he said. “That gets old. It was tough. Frustrating. It makes you [ticked] off. It was like an emotional roller coaster. You learn a lot about yourself. I think I learned more about myself in the past year than I had in the previous five years. Just knowing what I’m capable of handling. When you put your heart and soul into something and it doesn’t go the way you want it to, it hurts. It grinds on you. It affects you. You get to see what you’re made of and how you react. You can become a jerk. Your family might not want to be around you. But for the most part, it helped me grow.”
After one game as a Falcon, Gonzalez has one touchdown and one win. It wasn’t that balanced in Kansas City. There was a time when the Chiefs were one of the league’s most stable franchises. But they lost 26 games in the last two years. Gonzalez had more than twice as many touchdowns (15) as the team had wins (six) in 2007 and 2008.
It was in the midst of last year’s 2-14 record that the losing got to be more than he could handle. “I can’t ever remember being in such a fog, where I was forcing myself just to work as hard as I could.”
So he asked to be traded, a rarity during the season for an NFL player. Teams called. Green Bay and Philadelphia were interested. But a deal never materialized, and because everybody knew of the trade request, Gonzalez had to deal with the fallout. Some branded him as selfish. Or disloyal. Or both.
“It wasn’t about abandoning my teammates,” he said. “It was about being realistic and saying, ‘My window is closing.’”
After the trade deadline passed, he met with his teammates, asking coaches to leave the room. He explained his side. “They all understood,” he said.
He laughed, adding, “Hey, it wasn’t just me who felt that way. I didn’t have the monopoly on feeling bad.”
That’s in the past now. Gonzalez said it wasn’t long after the Falcons acquired him when he had a dream.
“I was standing on the field and confetti was coming down,” he said.
Nothing too difficult there to interpret.
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