Tony Gonzalez has been the first at a lot of things in his 16 years in the NFL. On Sunday, he'll experience another first in his career — a return to the place he called him for the first 12 seasons of his Hall-of-Fame career.
Everything about Sunday's game against the Kansas City Chiefs will be odd for Gonzalez because he'll experience Arrowhead Stadium in a completely new way: as a member of a visiting team.
During training camp, Gonzalez said the odds were high that this season would be his last. It's fitting that he begins that season with a road trip to where it all began.
The tight end said Thursday that he's careful not to get too caught up in the emotion of what will be a day he'll surely never forget. He's approaching things as he would a game with a lot riding on its heels, like a playoff game, when he wants to be at his best.
"The week after that we've got a Monday Night Football game. Peyton Manning's coming in here," Gonzalez said. "It's going to be the same type of atmosphere. It's going to be hyped and emotional. I want to go out there and win this game very badly just like I do every week. I'm just going to do what got me here and prepare the way I've always prepared. I expect good things out of this team."
He anticipates a welcome wagon of ex-teammates, Chiefs staffers and fans there to say hello and perhaps goodbye for one last time as a player. He's been all over Kansas City's media this week and he plans to get to the stadium earlier than normal to make sure he has enough time to shake many of the hands that clapped for him through so many Pro Bowl seasons in KC and still have ample time to ensure he's prepared mentally for the game.
Through it all, Gonzalez said that last part is what is still the most important. There's a football game to play and once all the emotion of pregame is cast aside, he's looking to deliver a loss to those same fans that were hugging him earlier in the day. Once the game clock starts, Gonzalez' game face will be on.
"This is my 16th year. This is football when it comes down to it," he said. "All the hype and the pregame and the media, it all disappears after that first snap. You've got to go out there and play football which is something I've been doing for a long time. I'm going to fall back on my instincts and do my job."