ATLANTA – Tony Gonzalez has punched his ticket to Canton.
"When you get the knock, your heart drops," Gonzalez said of his reaction when he learned he would be inducted into the Hall of Fame. "It's great."
After a prolific 17-year career, Gonzalez is among the 2019 inductees to the Professional Football Hall of Fame. The eight-person class includes the following: Ed Reed, Champ Bailey, Ty Law, Johnny Robinson, Kevin Mawae, Pat Bowlen, Gil Brandt and Gonzalez.
Gonzalez's résumé speaks for itself as he owns the records for most receptions (1,325) and yards (15,127) for a tight end. His 1,325 receptions rank second in NFL history. He earned 14 Pro Bowl selections and was a six-time All Pro.
In 80 games with the Falcons, Gonzalez caught 409 passes for 4,187 yards and 35 touchdowns.
Gonzalez was instrumental in Matt Ryan's development as a young quarterback. During his tenure with Ryan, the Falcons enjoyed their most successful run in franchise history, making three straight playoff appearances, including a trip to the NFC Championship Game in 2012.
"Tony was such an important part to our organization," Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff said. "He did such great things for Matt's development as well. He was such the go-to guy. Matt had so much confidence in him. He set the tone in so many ways. He allowed Julio to watch him and see what he was as far as focusing on being a professional. I think Tony was great that way for our organization. We miss him a lot here, of course, but I'm excited for him."
Falcons owner and chairman Arthur Blank echoed Dimitroff's comments on Gonzalez's accomplishments as a Falcon.
"I am thrilled for Tony to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame," Blank said. "He is unquestionably the greatest tight end to ever play the game and we were very fortunate to see him reach a number of milestones as a member of the Falcons. This is a great honor and I couldn't be happier for Tony and his family."
Gonzalez retired at the age of 37 and his ability to produce at the level he did so is one many things that stand out about his career and something he's admired for.
"He gave it all he's got," Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski said of Gonzalez. "What's so special about him is just the way he kept it going. The age he played [until], the way he was competing [until], it was just spectacular."
Not many get the privilege of learning they've earned a spot in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in the same city where they played. Gonzalez noted that is certainly special for him and his family.
When asked about what his five seasons in Atlanta meant to his career, Gonzalez mentioned he never intended to play as long as he did.
And the decision to keep playing certainly paid off for both Gonzalez and the Falcons.
"Honestly it made my career to come [to Atlanta]," Gonzalez said. "It really did. When I got to Atlanta it was like all the sudden you're a part of this winning organization. I got to play to play with guys like Matt Ryan, Roddy White, Julio Jones [and] John Abraham. Going to the playoffs, I won a playoff game, played in the NFC Championship game. It really was a nice bowtie [to my career] that lasted a lot longer than I thought. I was going to be here two years. I just had some really good times out here. It's a great city, I love it here."
In honor of Tony Gonzalez's being named a 2019 Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee, we take you through his 17-season NFL journey from his rookie years to the final season of his career.