The scoreboard read, “Congratulations Tony Gonzalez On An Illustrious Career” as he ran out the tunnel for one last time to a standing ovation at the Georgia Dome on Sunday.
He trotted out and pumped his right arm three times as Tina Turner’s “Simply the Best” blared from the speakers.
Several folks weighed in on Gonzalez’s career and his place in football lore as perhaps the greatest tight end to ever play the game.
Here’s what they had to say:
“This is a complicated question, because the NFL is 94 years old and I have great respect for history. I think players like Otto Graham and Don Hutson are too often forgotten when discussing the best who ever played quarterback and wide receiver, for instance, and they certainly belong very high in the discussion at each spot.
“Tight end has changed as a position so much over the years, going from the sixth blocker on the line who occasionally caught passes to one who, in offenses featuring players like Tony Gonzalez and Antonio Gates and Jimmy Graham and Rob Gronkowski, is often the main focus of the offensive game plan. And so while Mike Ditka and John Mackey, and later Ozzie Newsome and Kellen Winslow, and more recently Shannon Sharpe could all justifiably stake the claim as the best ever, I believe Tony Gonzalez is the best tight end who ever played.
“Part of it is his genes. It is downright freaky to have a player at such a physically demanding position play 17 seasons and miss only two games due to injury; he missed one game in this century, and the century is 14 seasons old. Part of it is production.
“Tight ends in any era would die for a 78-catch season, and that’s been his average year. Part of it is his athleticism. Part is his competitive zeal — he worked every day down to the last day of Falcons practice at his craft. He was a willing blocker, a ‘B’ blocker, a better blocker than his reputation but not one of the game’s best, to be sure. Added up, his tremendous production over such a long period, and the fact that his skills simply haven’t diminished much at age 37, make him the best tight end in history, I believe.”
— Peter King, editor in chief, TheMMQB.com
“We never got any breaks. You want to catch one break for Tony’s sake so that we could get a win. We knew this was going to be his last game. We just couldn’t get a break today, and it’s been like that the whole year. It’s been tough, and it was tough today, especially when you feel like you have a chance to win games. It came back to bite us again. Something bad happen.”
— Falcons wide receiver Roddy White, frustrated about not sending Gonzalez out with a win
“He’s a great football player, and he’s even a better guy. I learned a lot of life lessons from him out on the football field that I’ll take with me. When it comes to football, just the preparation. Not being satisfied. He goes out there and catches in between plays when he’s not in. He catches over 100 balls day. He’s already the best tight end ever. He just continued to keep his routine and got better every day. Hopefully I’ll have that kind of motivation.”
— Falcons center Joe Hawley
“It was an innocuous game in November 2007 at Arrowhead (Stadium). Damon Huard was the Chiefs (quarterback), and Tony Gonzalez was their only weapon. Despite putting two and even three defenders on Gonzalez, the Packers could not stop him. I never forgot that game. Yes, he is the greatest tight end ever.”
— Bob McGinn, beat writer covering the Packers since 1980
“It is difficult to compare players from different eras, and I am always hesitant to do that, but there is no question that Tony Gonzalez belongs in any discussion of greatest tight ends. The numbers, of course, are overwhelming, and may obscure the fact Gonzalez was so good in the nuances of playing the position, too, that he could block very effectively, that he was a complete player and was not a wide receiver masquerading as a tight end. One of the attributes I look for in Hall of Fame voting is a player’s long-term impact, and I think one of the takeaways from Gonzalez’ career is how his basketball background helped him in football — getting position to shield a pass with his body, blocking out defensive backs to get to the ball, etc. As a result of his career, I think you are seeing more of those multipurpose tight ends now and will in the future. Add to that his longevity, his durability and his character, and well, it’s hard to say anybody was better.”
— Ira Miller who covered the NFL full time from 1997-2006 for the San Francisco Chronicle and now does occasional NFL work for The Sports Xchange.
“Was there a better blocking tight end than Tony G.? Absolutely. Was there a more dangerous downfield threat than No. 88? Positively. But he was the total package, durable, tough, clutch, soft hands, yards after catch, the total package. He simply was the best. The only thing lacking in his stunningly brilliant career is the cherry on top — a Super Bowl ring. But even the missing bling doesn’t detract from his rightful place in history.”
— New Orleans-based sportswriter Brian Allee-Walsh, who has covered the NFL since the mid-1980s
“I can’t thank Tony Gonzalez enough for what he has brought to the Atlanta Falcons organization. He has been a great teammate, a great player and a great mentor to a lot of men that are going to play this game moving forward. There are a lot of lessons you can learn from Tony Gonzalez just by watching him. It has been a pleasure and an honor to have the opportunity to coach, in my opinion, the greatest tight end to ever play the game.”
— Falcons coach Mike Smith on Gonzalez