Tony Gonzalez First Ballot Hall of Famer

In the NFL great players go to Pro Bowl. Excellent players are named All-Pro, and those of generational talent are enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The truly exceptional. The game changers. The once-in-a-lifetime player, they go in on the first ballot.

“I am thrilled for Tony to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He is unquestionably the greatest tight end to ever play the game and we were very fortunate to see him reach a number of milestones as a member of the Falcons. This is a great honor and I couldn’t be happier for Tony and his family.”

- Falcons Owner & Chairman Arthur M. Blank

Tony Gonzalez fits the bill. He was all of the above. Building on what players like Shannon Sharpe and Kellen Winslow did before him, Gonzalez changed the way the tight end position is played and utilized in the NFL. He paved the way for players like Antonio Gates, Rob Gronkowski, Jimmy Graham, Travis Kelce, George Kittle, and Austin Hooper.

"My routine hasn’t changed at all. I still catch my 100 balls a day. First of all, that’s what I think has made me the player I am. But then I want the young guys to see it. I think that’s probably been the most enjoyable part about it—I’ve had a chance to kind of show these young guys and mentor these guys. Whether it’s verbally or just doing what I’m doing—by example." - Tony Gonzalez

Gonzalez helped to change the tight end mold from an in-line blocker that would occasionally catch a pass into what it has become. In today's NFL, the tight end is a hybrid position that creates match up nightmares for a defense. Gonzalez was too big and strong for most cornerbacks and too fast and agile for most linebackers. He leaned on his basketball background, using his body to create space which is a tactic used by many receivers and tight ends today.

Gonzalez was selected to the Pro Bowl 14 times in his career, including four times during his five seasons in Atlanta. He was the fifth player in NFL history to reach 15,000 receiving yards and retired as the record holder for career receptions (1,325), receiving yards (15,127), touchdown catches (111), 100-yard games (31), Pro Bowls (14), and 1,000-yard seasons (four) by a tight end.

His Greatest Catch

"Man, that’s tough. I’d say one of the one-handed ones. Maybe the one-handed catch I had in the back of the end zone against Philly on Sunday night [in 2011]. I liked that one. Making the catch, getting the feet down. That’s my best catch, I think."

- As told to Peter King for Sports Illustrated

Only Hall of Fame receiver Jerry Rice (1,549) caught more passes than the 1,325 that Gonzalez secured during his career. Despite the differing positions, Gonzalez shares several career milestones with Rice. In 2013, Gonzalez joined Rice as the only players to catch at least one pass in 200 consecutive games. Number 88 finished his career catching a pass in 211 straight games, which is shy of Rice’s NFL record 274 games.

NFL career accolades

  • Gonzalez caught a pass in all but five of his 270 career games and his consecutive games with a catch streak spanned his final 13 seasons.
  • He also posted 11 straight seasons with at least 70 receptions, breaking a record previously held by Tim Brown.
  • Gonzalez ranks second in receptions (1,325), sixth in yards (15,217), eighth in touchdowns (111).
  • He was the fifth player in league history to reach 15,000 receiving yards.
  • During his five seasons in Atlanta, Gonzalez caught 409 passes for 4,187 yards with 35 touchdowns.
  • All Decade Team – 2000-2009
  • 14 Pro Bowls tied with Bruce Matthews, Merlin Olsen, Peyton Manning, and Tom Brady.

Gonzalez paved the way for a number of tight ends that were able to translate their basketball skills to the NFL, players like Antonio Gates and Jimmy Graham.

"I told Tony [Gonzalez] that in a couple years, I'm going to owe him quite a bit," said Jimmy Graham. "I'll take him on vacation somewhere, all expenses paid, for paving the way for me. He's really been one of the key pieces in the evolution of the tight end."
Added to Chiefs Ring of Honor in 2018
"When I first got to Kansas City, the tight end [Keith Cash] had caught 14 balls the year before," Gonzalez said. "I thought I was just going to follow suit, catch maybe 25 or 30 per year. But once they started giving us nods, spreading us out, using us like wide receivers, that started to change."

Gonzalez began his football career as a bit of a nomad. He started out as a running back but wasn't fast enough and was moved to fullback for a game. After that he tried things out on defensive side of the ball at linebacker and safety. Eventually, his coaches landed on tight end, figuring it was the place that made the most sense for his size and skill. That turned out to be a good decision.

"They figured I was a fast, bigger guy," Gonzalez told NFL.com "So they said, 'We're just going to throw it up in the air, and we'll have you run corner routes and stuff like that.' That's where it all started."
Created By
Gaby Moran


Atlanta Falcons and Associated Press

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