The Greatest of All-Time.
Those words are often thrown around very loosely with regard to several different things (sports or otherwise), but in the case of Tony Gonzalez, they are absolutely accurate and fitting. If I gave you unlimited guesses to see who was the second ranked player on the NFL’s all-time receptions list for a tight end, would you ever get to Jason Witten? Would you realize that Gonzalez has nearly a five hundred catch advantage on Witten for the top spot? My guess is that you wouldn’t, but it’s just one of a long line of utterly ridiculous (and impressive) records for the 13-time Pro Bowler.
Because this is an Atlanta sports blog, we certainly remember Tony’s 5 years with the Atlanta Falcons at the top of mind, but before he ever arrived in Flowery Branch, he was probably already the best to ever do it. Still, he broke every single tight end record as a member of the Falcons, and even raced to #2 on the all-time receptions list overall, trailing only the incomparable Jerry Rice.
Gonzalez spent his final 5 seasons in Atlanta, including his unfortunate farewell tour in 2013 with a 4-12 record, and the numbers were staggering even at an “advanced” age with regard to high-level athletes. Tony played in all 80 regular season games over those 5 seasons, catching 409 balls for 4,187 yards and a staggering 35 touchdowns. As a tight end who was sometimes the 2nd or 3rd option, he never caught less than 70 balls as a member of the Falcons, and even at age 37, he submitted a Pro Bowl-caliber effort with 83 catches for 859 yards and 8 touchdowns in his final campaign.
More than the stats, however, Gonzalez brought with him a professional mindset that was much-needed in the Falcons locker room. He arrived after the first “breakout” year from the Mike Smith/Matt Ryan-led team, but it’s no surprise that the Falcons were firmly in the mix during every season prior to 2013, and Gonzalez served as a perfect example of leadership and preparedness that kept him going through an incredibly long career.
It is borderline ridiculous to suggest that a tight end who spent the majority of his career before the NFL’s “pass-happy” craze of the present day would land in the top-10 in every major statistical category, but that’s where he lands. In addition to the aforementioned #2 spot on the all-time receptions list, Gonzalez is currently 5th in receiving yards and 6th in receiving touchdowns (trailing only greats like Rice, Terrell Owens, Randy Moss, Cris Carter, etc.), and miles ahead of any other player at his position.
I’ve often argued for Jerry Rice as the single greatest NFL player of all-time, basing that claim on the fact that his numbers are so much better than any other receiver. Using that basis, though, there may be a real argument for Gonzalez, as there isn’t a tight end within 5,000 (yes, five thousand) yards, 400 catches, or 40 touchdowns of his career marks.
Even if he isn’t the greatest player in NFL history (and he’s probably not, for the record), the Atlanta Falcons have just finished a 5-year run where they featured the best tight end in the history of football, and when he (by all accounts) is an elite-level person on top of it? We’ve all been blessed.
Thank you, Tony.