x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Gonzalez still quite a catch in the NFL

Tony Gonzalez is 35, an age when most are past their prime in the NFL. Yet the 15-year veteran is still producing and considered one of the best tight ends in the league.

It's not like Tony Gonzalez is just catching on in Atlanta - the 15-year veteran was considered a certain Hall of Fame candidate when he was still in Kansas City.
It's not like Tony Gonzalez is just catching on in Atlanta - the 15-year veteran was considered a certain Hall of Fame candidate when he was still in Kansas City.

The question is legitimate for almost any player whose body has endured a decade-and-a-half of NFL pounding. Yet it seems odd when directed to Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez, a physical marvel who shows no sign of slippage as his 15th season winds down.

Based on receptions, Gonzalez, 35, is on track for his finest year of a sure-fire Hall of Fame career since finagling a trade from the Chiefs in 2009. Driving the relocation was a yearning to experience the joys of a play-off win.

Atlanta, whose stock was rising, became his landing spot. While the Falcons have taken him twice to the post-season, they have gone one-and-done.

The Falcons appear play-off bound again this season. How they fare might determine if there is a 16th season for Gonzalez, who claims uncertainty, pointing out that the Falcons might affect the decision if they decline to re-sign him.

There would be no shortage of suitors for Gonzalez, who seems to achieve a new milestone each week. On Sunday, one catch will bring his season total to 60, a standard he has met a record 12 consecutive times.

Two Sundays ago, he became the 13th player to surpass 13,000 receiving yards.

The most remarkable statistical achievement came in late October, when he moved into second place behind Jerry Rice for lifetime receptions, now at 1,128. As a tight end, Gonzalez assumes more blocking duties than wide receivers, which warrants an extra round of applause for his numerical feat.

One more Gonzalez number that will knock your thickest socks off: two, the times that injuries kept him from answering the bell.

"I love the game," he says, but is not obsessed with it, which might explain his longevity. In the off-season he surfs, plays basketball, travels extensively and runs his vitamin supplements business.

Year-round, he reads, often toggling between two books, and dispenses nutritional advice as he adjusts his own dietary approach, having evolved from vegan to a once-a-month carnivore.

"I love to keep expanding my mind," said Gonzalez, who brings the bonus trait of a consummate teammate, shown by example. On a practice day, no time is wasted as he fields up to 100 passes, many of them wild, from assistant coach Andrew Weidinger.

"Horrible arm," Gonzalez says appreciatively of Weidinger, who helps simulate the unpredictability of game throws.

Receptions leader Rice, ahead by 421, is out of reach, like some of those practice passes from the coach.

But Gonzalez, well in front of the next active player - Hines Ward of Pittsburgh - continues to separate himself from the rest of the pack.

He is an NFL anomaly in many ways, none more so than being a mid-30s player who can retire near the peak of his game.