x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

End game not in sight yet, but Tony Gonzalez says it's coming ... maybe

He says he is 95 per cent sure, but will Tony Gonzalez really walk away from the game at season's end, at the height of his abilities and on a team that can play for titles? Mike Tierney goes over the facts.

Though he is enjoying one of his finest seasons, Atlanta Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez, right, says he is '95 per cent sure' this season will be his last.
Though he is enjoying one of his finest seasons, Atlanta Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez, right, says he is '95 per cent sure' this season will be his last.

Well into the 16th season of an inevitable Hall of Fame career, Atlanta Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez is showing no signs of slipping.

His credibility - or the perception of it - is another matter.

Weekly grade-A performances tend to be followed by Gonzalez insisting that his pledge to almost certainly retire after this season remains in place.

Increasingly, the response from media and fans is, "Yeah, right."

They find it unfathomable that a fit player seemingly at his peak would walk away - without a limp, as many peers do.

Over the summer, Gonzalez put the likelihood of retirement at 95 per cent. It was not a question of decaying skills, he said.

The motivation is fear. Gonzalez cannot not bear the thought of declining to the level of being just a "decent" player. For sure, not to role player.

With 39 receptions (including 13 this past Sunday) and four touchdowns through five games, Gonzalez is on pace for his most productive season.

Adding to his satisfaction, the unbeaten Falcons are a franchise on the ascent, and his skill set - a wide receiver in a tight end's body - dovetails perfectly with the pass-heavy approach that is in vogue.

"I'm having fun but I haven't changed my mind at all," Gonzalez told reporters the other day while not attached to a lie-detector device. "I'm still at 95 per cent" sure to retire.

That he is careful enough not to assign a figure of 100 per cent acknowledges that humans change their minds.

The Falcons, for example, could miss out on the Super Bowl, and he might conclude that the steady improvement of quarterback Matt Ryan could justify a 17th season.

"I'm just enjoying it one week at a time," Gonzalez said. "To end it like this, playing with some great players, a great quarterback, great receivers [on the] outside, it's a lot of fun."

The typical player would not ponder checking out with a few more fruitful seasons in the tank. Gonzalez is far from a typical player.

With a thirst for knowledge and experiences, Gonzalez reads books, often two at a time, and travels extensively, recently visiting Belgium and Germany. Once a devoted vegan, he still leans toward vegetarian. He operates a business that sells nutritional supplements. He has a family with long-time mate October Gonzalez, with whom he underwent a "commitment ceremony" rather than a wedding.

A full life after football awaits.

"I want to make sure," he said in July, "that I'm at the top of my game when I do go out."

Consider it done, if 95 per cent grows to 100.

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