Spurred on by falling one game short of the Super Bowl last year, future Hall of Fame tight end Tony Gonzalez decided to hold off retirement and play one more season for the Atlanta Falcons. But in a cruel twist of fate, the Falcons were a tremendous disappointment this season and ended up nowhere near the playoffs, meaning Gonzalez will head to the Hall of Fame without playing in a Super Bowl. However, that didn’t stop Gonzalez from finishing his career on Sunday as a class act.
Despite high hopes heading into the season, the Falcons tanked early in the season, and it was obvious by Atlanta’s bye in Week 6 that they wouldn’t be reaching the Super Bowl this year. There’s no doubt that it was tough for Gonzalez to be part of such a bad team during what he knew would be his final season, but he didn’t pout or throw in the towel, nor did he demand a trade to a contender; he just kept on playing like a true professional.
Even with his team undermanned, especially on offense, and struggling to win games, Gonzalez played hard throughout the season and did everything he could to be a part of the solution and make Atlanta a respectable team this year. In doing so, Gonzalez ended up leading the Falcons in receptions with 79, while also leading Atlanta in touchdowns with eight and racking up over 800 yards receiving.
Compared to the player he used to be, the numbers Gonzalez put up this year were quite modest, but for a 17-year veteran at the end of his career on a team that missed its top two receivers for much of the season, it was quite an impressive year, which is a testament to the hard work that Gonzalez has put in throughout his career. The fact that he has continued to work hard week after week despite being on one of the NFL’s worst teams in his final season shows that he is a class individual that the league will miss.
Aside from the fact that he is a future Hall of Famer who owns NFL records for the most receptions, yards and touchdowns by a tight end, Gonzalez is just a class act. His work ethic and his professionalism are second to none in the NFL, and that was as obvious in the final game of his final season as it was at any point in his Hall of Fame career.
Gonzalez didn’t end his career the way he would have liked; he didn’t go out playing on a winning team, and he retires without ever playing in a Super Bowl. But he ends his career a class act and one of the most accomplished and respected players in NFL history; and there’s no one who can take that away from him.
Bryan Zarpentine is a New York Mets writer at RantSports.com. He also writes frequently about the NFL, College Football, College Basketball, and International Soccer. Like him on Facebook, follow him on twitter @BZarp and add him on Google.