Football 101: No. 36, Tony Gonzalez
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Tony Gonzalez brought something to the tight end position that seemed impossible: Glamour. Tight ends, by nature, are not glamorous. Tight end is a muddy, soggy, wet sweater of a position. You block. You try to get in the way. You go out for four-yard passes. You get piled on. You try to carry a tackler for three yards. You block some more.
Ditka in the mud. That’s the tight end position.
Winslow limping off the field. That’s the tight end position.
Dave Casper, eyeblack under his eyes, looking to the sky to try and find the ball. That’s the tight end position.
Gronk dragging half the New York Jets down the field. That’s the tight end position.
But Tony Gonzalez played tight end … and brought the glamour with him wherever he went. He was born with it. Looks. Charisma. The great smile. He could play any sport. He was a basketball star in college. He was one of the best skateboarders in his Orange County, Calif., neighborhood. He could surf with anyone. In high school, he was named Orange County Co-Sportsman of the Year.
Yeah, the other kid was Tiger Woods.
He was destined for greatness, for stardom, for camera lights to be flashing all around him no matter what path he took. “I like to have fun!” he pronounced when the Kansas City Chiefs took him in the first round of the 1997 draft.
And then, the strangest thing happened — something he never expected. He flopped. After a limited but promising rookie season, Gonzalez went into Year 2 with the full expectation of being a star. Instead, it was a season of dropped passes and missed blocks and a smattering of boos and endless questions about his commitment to the dirty work necessary to become a good, much less great tight end.
This is when Gonzalez started a journal. And one day he wrote down the question that mattered most: “What kind of person do you want to be?”