Former Falcon Tony Gonzalez probably could have been a star in the NBA. Instead, he chose the NFL path, and the most productive tight end in history has entered the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
A six-time All-Pro, Gonzalez helped revolutionize the position, lining up in traditional tight end spots as well as flanked out or in the backfield — pretty much everywhere on the field. Then he beat slower linebackers or smaller defensive backs everywhere on the field in 12 seasons with Kansas City and five with the Falcons. He stands second in receptions with 1,325 only to Jerry Rice, like Gonzalez a Hall of Fame inductee in his first year of eligibility.
A first-round draft pick by Kansas City in 1997, Gonzalez was 33 when traded to Atlanta in 2009. By then, he already held NFL records for catches and yards receiving by a tight end.
His final totals included 15,127 yards receiving and 111 touchdowns in the regular season. He made 14 Pro Bowls and the NFL All-Decade Team of the 2000s.
"Be fearless, and focus," said Gonzalez, who was presented by his cousin, Dennis Allen. "I believe (success), it's in your heart and your mind. I learned this just from watching the greats."
Gonzalez particularly thanked his 101-year-old grandmother, his wife, who he said doesn't like football, and the fans in KC. Gonzalez was one of the most popular players in the entire league for those 17 seasons.
"After I was traded, I went back to play a game in Kansas City," he recalled. "During pregame they introduced me, which I thought was very special. Then something happened, one of the greatest moments of my career: The fans began yelling for me."
Former Georgia star Champ Bailey was also inducted Saturday.
Bailey came to the NFL as a do-everything player who could be used on offense, defense and special teams. He stuck to cornerback, though, and was so outstanding that he made the Hall in his first year of eligibility.
Bailey played for Washington and Denver in his 15-year career, and was a force in each of those seasons. He intercepted 54 passes, including one against New England he returned for 100 yards in the 2005 divisional playoffs.
A 12-time Pro Bowler, a record for the position, and three-time All-Pro who made the NFL's All-Decade Team of the 2000s, Bailey was the seventh overall draft pick by the Redskins in 1999. He was dealt to Denver in 2004 for running back Clinton Portis in a steal for the Broncos.
Bailey immediately became a go-to guy in the Denver locker room, something he said he learned from his dad.
"If you are going to do something, try to be the best at doing something," Bailey said. "I think I did my best, dad."
Bailey credited Hall of Fame cornerbacks Darrell Green and Deion Sanders, mentors with the Redskins, for setting his foundation in the pros. Yet he noted he was "consumed by the game" that "gives a person discipline and perseverance," but it doesn't prepare you for "real life."
Referring to his fellow African Americans, Bailey asked that everyone listen "when we tell you about our fears. ... When we tell you there are many challenges we face because of the color our skin, please listen. And please do not get caught up in how the message is delivered.
"If we start listening, there is no limit to the progress we can make."
Also inducted were Ed Reed, Ty Law, Kevin Mawae, Pat Bowlen, Johnny Robinson and Gil Brandt.
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