Atlanta Falcons tight end, Tony Gonzalez, has one of my favorite nicknames of all time, "Gonzo".
I don't know if it is somehow tied to the "origin of parts unknown" Muppet character with the curly, odd-shaped nose.
Or if the name is derived from the actual word which the Muppet character was named for.
The chicken or the egg? Who cares.
Gonzo is a fitting nickname for this uber-talented athlete.
Like a lot of football players before and since, Gonzalez was a two-sport star. His basketball skills turned the heads of many coaches, as well as college teammate and future NBA All-Star Jason Kidd.
Playing at Cal, Tony would switch from one type of shoe to the next as the football and basketball seasons blended together. Cleats swapped for sneakers. Grass fields for hardwood floors. Oblong shaped ball to round ball. You get the idea.
We know now that the pro scouts attending Tony's college games were from the National Football League and not the NBA. At 6'4" tall and weighing over 240 pounds not to mention a 36-inch vertical leap, Gonzo was highly-coveted by many teams in the NFL.
Then Kansas City Chiefs head coach Marty Schottenheimer watched Tony play basketball over the winter and just knew he was a gifted athlete. In the NFL Draft the following spring, Kansas City traded up five spots, the 13th overall pick, to obtain Marty's prized player.
Like most rookies in the NFL, Tony's rookie campaign was up and down like a roller coaster. His first seven games he only grabbed eight passes, while appearing dazed and confused on the field.
As they tend to do with players of his caliber, things started clicking. He made a connection with Chiefs quarterback Elvis Grbac, while beginning to figure out the coverages he faced.
By the end of the year, Gonzo had become established as a reliable "security blanket".Tony ended the year with 33 catches, a far cry from the numbers he would put up later in his career.
After a season long bout with "the drops", Gonzalez emerged as a force in 1999. He totaled 76 catches for 849 yard, plus 11 touchdowns. He earned his first all-pro honor. Defenses were forced to game plan for him. Fans, not just hometown Chiefs fans, but across the country, took notice of this new arrival.
Despite some disappointing seasons in the win-loss category, Gonzo was putting up un-heard of numbers for a tight end. How does setting a Chiefs team record by hauling in with 93 receptions for 1,203 yards sound for a tight end? Not too shabby, eh?
When summer came in 2002, and growing weary of the Chiefs' losing ways, Tony caught on with the Miami Heat’s rookies. Kansas City wasn't concerned they'd lose him to the NBA, everyone knew Tony wasn’t serious about his pursuit of pro basketball.
In September, the Chiefs rewarded his loyalty to the tune of a seven-year, $31 million contract, including a signing bonus of $10 million.
Gonzalez's dominance continued. Which was why it was so inexplicable that Kansas City just let him leave town via trade to the Atlanta Falcons. Yes, I know they were honoring Tony's trade request, but if memory serves, not much of a fight was put up on the Chiefs' part.
They did get a second-rounder in return, but must get a stomach ache every time he busts out an awesome performance in Atlanta.
Much like he did during his first years with the Chiefs, Gonzalez became Falcons' quarterback Matt Ryan's go-to guy. And go to him he did. To the tune of 83 receptions, 867 yards and six touchdowns in 2009. The numbers remained steady the next two seasons, as Tony emerged as a major cog in a scary-good Atlanta offense.
What's so SPECIAL about Gonzalez is this:
Tony Gonzalez adds a level of athleticism for the tight end position not seen since the days of Kellen Winslow (the first one, the GREAT ONE, from the early 1980's). Gonzo may be called so due to his being so fast and agile, despite such a large body.
What scares defenders is that he knows how to use that body in traffic, when a defender has draped himself all over Tony, Matt Ryan goes to him anyways. Tony is so strong and sure-handed receiver he always looks open.
However, as big, physical, receiving tight ends become more common, Tony is a fierce blocker, and he takes a great deal of pride in that. Although he does benefit from playing alongside a talented group of offensive lineman, he blends right in.
In fact, one reason his teams run the ball so well is because Tony can seal off corners and go out to block a linebacker.
If Tony Gonzalez holds true to his statement earlier this year, that this season will be his last, then the shoes Atlanta's next tight end will have to fill, will be astronomically huge.
You'll be missed, Gonzo!
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