A resume of historic accomplishments still continues after a historic run in Kansas City for the 6’5″ tight end out of California
As Chiefs Kingdom watches First-Team All-Pro Travis Kelce puts together a Hall of Fame career, it’s important to understand who laid the groundwork for Kelce.
Tight end Tony Gonzalez was drafted in the first round of the 1997 NFL Draft out of California. Along with playing football there, Gonzalez also played for the basketball program and those skills helped translate to the football field. From using his body to shield off defenders to his coordinated route running, he quickly became a problem for NFL defenses. Gonzalez began his career observing veteran Ted Popson, who caught two touchdown passes in the 1997 season that saw the Chiefs finish with a 13-3 regular-season record.
After that season, No. 88 came to be the starter at tight end for over a decades time. Once he was given his opportunity, he quickly showed that he would be in this league for as long as he wanted to be. Once becoming a starter, Gonzalez was targeted 100 times or more in ten of his eleven seasons as a starter as a Chief. The lone season was 2002, where he was targeted on 99 passes. His second season saw a significant increase in targets as he received a starting role. His third season saw a breakout season that saw him catch 11 touchdowns in the 1999 season, according to Pro Football Reference.
Gonzalez was selected to be a Pro Bowler that season, the beginning of a 10-year run of consecutive selections for the 6’5″ tight end. Gonzalez is tied with quarterback Peyton Manning, offensive lineman Bruce Matthews and defensive tackle Merlin Olsen with 14 Pro Bowl appearances. In 2000, Gonzalez cemented himself as one of the best tight ends in the game. Totaling over 1,200 receiving yards with nine touchdowns. The following season saw a similar production, over 900 receiving yards, and six touchdowns.
Gonzalez has the most receiving yards for a tight end in NFL history with 15,127 yards, over 2,000 more yards than the next closest in Jason Witten. No. 88 had four seasons where he had over 1,000 receiving yards on the season. Gonzalez also ranks second in career receiving touchdowns for a tight end with 111, slightly trailing former Chargers tight end Antonio Gates who caught 116 touchdown passes. The combination of being a touchdown threat while also being able to run after the catch in the open field made Gonzalez a force to be reckoned with.
Along with his pass-catching, Gonzalez helped the Chiefs develop a dominant running attack. No. 88 continued to improve his run blocking to help running backs Priest Holmes and Larry Johnson control a game on the ground, opening up the field even more for No. 88 when it was time to pass.
Even after reaching a decade in the league, Gonzalez continued to show the league he wasn’t ready to hand them up. In 2007 and 2008, Gonzalez totaled over a thousand receiving yards in both seasons a caught five, and then ten touchdowns in his last season as a Chief. After the 2008 season saw the Chiefs finish with a 2-14 record, Gonzalez was met with a choice. Stay in Kansas City, and likely not be able to win a Super Bowl for the rebuilding Chiefs, or take his talents elsewhere. Gonzalez chose the latter and signed to play for the Atlanta Falcons.
After his first season there in 2009, Gonzalez was selected to four straight Pro Bowls to close out his NFL career. Though he never got that ring to show for it, Gonzalez helped the 2000s Chiefs in countless ways to help put them in a position to compete for the Lombardi trophy.
To this day, Gonzalez remains arguable the most dominant tight end to step into the NFL and garners the respect of Chiefs Kingdom for how dominant he truly played as a Kansas City Chief. Gonzalez was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame as a member of the class of 2019.
Gonzalez built off of tight ends such as Kelln Winslow and Shannon Sharpe to help evolve the position for guys like Chiefs Travis Kelce, 49ers George Kittle and Buccaneers Rob Gronkowski. Now, these players are helping to build for the next generation after them.