Tony Gonzalez shares the turning point in his football career
Tony Gonzalez was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2019 and made 14 Pro Bowls over a 17-year NFL career. Though he was nearly an instant success in the pros, his career wasn’t always so certain to end on a Hall of Fame path.
Gonzalez was the subject of a documentary feature in season 9 of NFL Networks’ “A Football Life.” His episode happened to be airing on Friday night and I was watching some of it. I was struck when Gonzalez mentioned the turning point of his career.
The 45-year-old admitted in the documentary that he was slacking early in his college career.
“I was miserable. I was doing everything you could think of as a college student. I was drinking, I was doing other stuff up there at Berkeley if you know what I’m talking about. Not really going to class, not really focusing on my workouts. Just getting by on my talents,” Gonzalez said of how he spent his first two years in college.
Gonzalez had 37 catches for 541 yards and two touchdowns during his sophomore season at Cal. He had 10 catches for 150 yards and a touchdown during Big Game against rival Stanford in 1995. But Gonzalez lost a fumble in the fourth quarter that set up Stanford’s game-sealing touchdown in a 29-24 game.
That was Cal’s final game in a 3-8 season. Gonzalez said he was crying uncontrollably after the loss, feeling terribly about his mistake. Though the moment was brutal for him, the shame of the play helped him turn things around.
“That offseason, I remember sitting up one night late in Berkeley after one of my nights of going out. I was by myself and I was sitting in the Berkeley hills and I’m looking out. And I’m looking at the planes flying in and out of Oakland. And it just dawned on me in a split second like, ‘what the hell are you doing?’
“I’m like, I could be on a plane going somewhere very special, or I could be on a plane going back home.”
It was at that point that Gonzalez changed everything and decided to dedicate himself.
“And I started going to class everyday. I stopped hanging out late. I started taking the workouts seriously. And … everything took off for me,” he recalled.
Gonzalez, who also played basketball at Cal, became the No. 13 overall pick in the 1997 NFL Draft. His career started off slowly as he battled through problems with drops, which hurt his confidence. Once he refocused and regained his confidence by reading some inspirational books, his career took off again for good, and he never looked back.
Gonzalez really had an incredible career. When the Chiefs traded him after the 2008 season, they probably thought his best years were behind him. Instead, Gonzalez looked as good as ever with Atlanta and made the Pro Bowl in four of his five seasons with them despite being age 33-37 during those years.
Once Gonzalez dedicated himself to the game, he became unstoppable. Now he is recognized as one of the greatest tight ends to play football.