Tony Gonzalez: Perils of Legacy


Atlanta Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez (88) is honored by owner Arthur Blank. Mandatory Credit: Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

1325 receptions

15,127 yards

111 touchdowns

That stat line quite simply tells the story of Tony Gonzalez,  the greatest Tight End in the history of the National Football League.

In a vacuum.

Now that Tony has played his last professional game, (in theory), it’s time for us as Chiefs fans to reflect on more than just the stats. They speak for themselves. We now get to look back on his legacy and what it means to us as fans.

My friend Jake and I have a lot in common. We both live in college towns (Iowa City and Columbia, respectively), we both went to Truman State University, and we’re both Chiefs homers. When Tony G’s recent interview with ESPN the magazine came out it dominated our monthly – and normally agreeable – chat about the state of Chiefs Nation.

Like most Chiefs fans, Jake and I share a lot of the same attitudes. We hated MartyBall until we didnt have it, we never trust our starting quarterback, and we hate the Denver Broncos. Tony on the other hand…

After I read that article I found myself with an odd sense of disappointment, mixed with a twinge of bitterness. In the piece Gonzalez mentioned that he was open to a trade to a contending team, and that he was disappointed that nothing came to fruition. Sure, I was a little let down that Kansas City didn’t trade for him, but it was more than that. Tony Gonzalez willing to jump ship on the team he would rather play for than the Chiefs, made my fond memories of his time in the Red and Gold seem…cheap, somehow.

"“Trying to get one more chance seems completely justified,” Jake (my friend) retorted. “He isn’t Terrell Owens, moving from team to team every year. I think he gets a tinted view from you.”"

Is that true? When I saw the Chiefs play the Falcons at Arrowhead last year I stood and gave Tony a standing ovation. I took the high road. I want to see him succeed. Then why did I react that way to his exit?

Atlanta Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez (88) Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Maybe it’s the memory of Neil Smith taking a victory lap as a Bronco in the playoffs after the ‘97 season. Maybe its all my years as a die-hard Royals fan. Maybe my view of loyalty is just old-fashioned.

I saw George Brett in his final home game. I even quietly wished for Jerome Bettis to win a Super Bowl in his last season. I miss rooting for a guy who spends his career (or most of it) in one place. There’s something romantic about growing up idolizing an athlete that embraces his team and community the same way you do.

Tony Gonzalez is arguably the greatest player in Chiefs history, and I never wanted there to be a debate as to whose helmet he wore in the Hall of Fame.

Does that make me a hypocrite for owning a Marcus Allen jersey or rooting for Joe Montana? Probably a little. Truth be told, I’m sure I have very little leg to stand on with my visceral reaction to Gonzalez’s exit. The modern NFL’s a business, and so on, and so forth…

I guess the heart of the matter for me and those Chiefs fans who react the same way to the last several years of his career is that by being so loyal we feel we put in our dues. We’re owed something. We fought through thick and thin because we knew there would be a chance at the Promise Land one day.

In the end, wasn’t that all Tony Gonzalez was asking for? Maybe a career of putting in his dues is his real legacy, and maybe we all just have to accept that.