Before he retired from football, venturing into the profitable-but-welt-free world of climate-controlled broadcasting and acting, Tony Gonzalez lived to win a ring.
It didn’t happen when he played in Kansas City. So he fully endorsed a late-career trade to Atlanta. He came so close to a Super Bowl in his fourth season with the Falcons — say it with me: 10 yards from the end zone in the NFC Championship game — that he postponed retirement a year to come back in 2013. Disaster. The season’s stunning unraveling (4-12) prompted Gonzalez to approach management late in the year about being traded to a contender for one final shot. Because, the ring.
“I wanted to do what was best for the team (and) myself,” the former Falcons tight end and future Hall of Famer recalled Tuesday. “Maybe fans would say, ‘Screw you.’ And you have a right to say that. But put yourself in my shoes, knowing that this is over. The only reason I came back was to try to win a Super Bowl, and everybody got hurt, things didn’t go our way. I wanted to get out of there and chase a ring one more time.”
A trade never materialized. General manager Thomas Dimitroff told Gonzalez he feared a public backlash. “I wasn’t going to cry about it — I totally understood,” Gonzalez said.
He harbors no resentment toward the Falcons. In fact, he is driving their bandwagon.
Tony Gonzalez believes the Falcons will win two more games: on Sunday against Green Bay for the NFC championship, then in three weeks over New England for the Super Bowl.
Maybe his end-of-career plans for a ring didn't work out. But there's a legion of Atlanta sports fans who hope he achieves greatness as a prophet.
Gonzalez, an NFL analyst for CBS since retirement, was in Atlanta on Tuesday promoting an upcoming Vin Diesel movie, "XXX: The Return of Zander Cage," in which he has a role. His comments came in interviews with the AJC and the "We Never Played The Game" podcast, co-hosted by WSB's Zach Klein.
Gonzalez praised his former quarterback, Matt Ryan, saying he should win the league’s MVP award this season.
“He’s in a complete zone right now, and so is Aaron (Rodgers),” Gonzalez said. “That’s why it’s going to be fun to watch this game.”
But who wins?
“Atlanta,” he said.
Gonzalez gives an edge to the Falcons’ defense in the Georgia Dome over Green Bay’s and added, “You’re probably not going to see too many punts in this game. It’s going to be a high-scoring game just like last time when the Falcons won (33-32 on Oct. 30).”
He projected an Atlanta-New England Super Bowl, but said the Green Bay matchup is “a tougher game” for the Falcons than playing the Patriots would be.
"New England goes more to (the Falcons') strength," he said. "Nothing against the New England defense — I think their defense is great. But I don't think their offense is as great as Aaron Rodgers is playing right now. It just seems like the Falcons can outscore you. They've been averaging 34 points. What other team can score that?"
Gonzalez believes Ryan struggling in 2015 was “the best thing that could have happened to him,” comparing the down year to his second season, when he led the NFL with 17 drops.
“Guys like you were beating me up, saying I’m a bust, the worst pick ever,” he said. “You kind of have to go through that transformative power of crisis to get your routine down, your mind right and achieve greatness.
“There’s nothing like getting embarrassed nationally. It hurts. And it should hurt. Then you start to turn over stones that you never would have before. You can’t keep doing it the way you were before because that way didn’t work.”
Retirement has given Gonzalez new perspective on his final season. Statistically, he had five great seasons with the Falcons. He didn’t drop off in 2013, even at the age of 37. But with hindsight, he said he now takes some responsibility for the 4-12 season. In addition to losing a string of starters to injuries, including Julio Jones, the Falcons may have been impacted by their decision to let Gonzalez miss training camp to spend with his family.
“(Coach Mike Smith) even wrote in his book about how he would’ve maybe done some things differently. It’s what happens after you have success,” Gonzalez said. “Looking back, if I could’ve done some things differently. … I didn’t help the situation. That was a mistake for me not to go to camp. I should’ve gone for my teammates.”
His desires to play for a contender down the stretch of a lost season were understandable — and, yes, the Falcons could have acquired a draft pick in trade. But even if a deal seemed logical for both parties, he’s right: It wasn’t going to happen.
“At that point, Julio was hurt for the year, Roddy (White) was hurt pretty much the whole year and (for fans) it would be, ‘Now you took away one of the offensive weapons we have?’ That was part of the reason why Thomas was like, ‘I can’t do that.’”
But there were no such dilemmas this season, and Gonzalez foresees a happier ending.
Would he like to be playing in Sunday’s game?
“No, my time is over,” he said. “This is Matt Ryan’s time. The MVP of the league Matt Ryan’s time.”
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