Former Falcon tight end Tony Gonzalez has received his gold jacket. The first-ballot Hall of Fame inductee joined his class to receive the honor at the 2019 Pro Football Hall of Fame Gold Jacket Dinner.
When Tony Gonzalez arrived in Atlanta in 2009, he was already well on his way to a spot in the Pro Football Hall of Fame based off his play during his 12 sensational seasons in Kansas City.
His five years in Atlanta ended up being some of the best years in his 17-year career, solidifying his spot in Canton, Ohio. Gonzalez caught 409 passes for 4,187 yards and 35 touchdowns in his five seasons with the Falcons. On Saturday, Gonzalez will be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame on the first ballot.
With Gonzalez in the lineup, the Falcons made the playoffs during three of his five seasons. He also earned four consecutive trips to the Pro Bowl (2010-13) during those years. Not only was Gonzalez one of the best players to ever wear a Falcons uniform, his leadership is what also stands out most, say his former teammates and head coach.
Here's how Falcons owner and chairman Arthur Blank, general manager Thomas Dimitroff, former head coach Mike Smith, former teammates Matt Ryan, Julio Jones and Harry Douglas describe Gonzalez's legacy in Atlanta:
What Tony Gonzalez means to him:
"As a player, he was one of the most reliable players that I've played with. Week in and week out you know what you could expect from him. Incredibly consistent. He was a mentor to me. My first year playing with him was my second year in the league. He taught me so much about what it means to be a professional. How to balance work and life. He loved to have fun, but he knew how to lock in and get ready to work. I still try and apply that to my life now. There's a time and place for everything. I really learned that and watched that from him."
What made Tony Gonzalez unique as a player:
"He was automatic. You threw it anywhere around him it was a catch. Every time we called this particular one play, Y potion, he was going to catch it. Or when we ran another play called 'Shell', he was going to get open and catch it. It didn't matter what the coverage was or who was guarding him. He was unbelievably consistent and just automatic when it came to making plays. In my opinion, he's the best to ever do it at his position. I was just really fortunate to be apart of it for five years.
What made Tony Gonzalez such a special player?
"His pure talent, athleticism and skill were all unique and made him a stand out tight end in our league. But all of that combined with his is intellect, instincts and determination to make big plays really set him apart and made him elite. Matt knew he could count on him to make the big catch in traffic or to be in the right spot at the right time and that confidence – both ways – resulted in a lot of big, game-changing plays for us."
What it means to have Tony Gonzalez inducted into the Hall of Fame:
"He is the first Falcon to go into the hall of fame that played for the Falcons during my ownership so it is special for me and my family. I expected him to be a first-ballot inductee because he was such a special player in Kansas City and Atlanta. They don't make many like Tony Gonzalez."
What stands out about Tony Gonzalez?
"Unbelievable dedication, passion and focus. I don't know if I've seen a more determined and dedicated worker on the field than Tony Gonzalez. "He came in here and not only did what he's always done on the field but he was able to continue to lead here and help develop Matt [Ryan] in his own way as a quarterback but also Julio Jones and Roddy White. All of the people around him really benefited from the tone that he set."
What about Tony Gonzalez makes him unique?
"His uncanny ability to if he didn't get open and had someone pawing all over his back he was coming down with anything. He could catch to right of him to the left of him, up and down. He put those big hands out there with those big white gloves and they were just a like a beacon for Matt Ryan to throw to. When Matt was back on his heels and he was tossing the ball up, more than likely Tony was going to come down with it."
What stands out about Tony Gonzalez as a football player?
"Tony was the guy who couldn't be covered. He was such a good route-runner and knew how to use his body. He could make every catch. He was a fun guy to coach because you knew if you ran routes where he had options to go in or out or hook it up that him and Matt were going to make it go."
Looking back on the time you coached him, what do you remember most about Tony Gonzalez on the field?
"On the field the thing that stood out about Tony is when the defense was doing their part at practice, what I think the other offensive players noticed was Tony was always in the back behind the huddle catching balls. He had these little drills he did. I think he caught something like 200 balls a day doing that. He was always asking someone to throw, Matt to throw, me to throw, a backup quarterback to throw. Tony was always utilizing his time on the field."
What does Tony Gonzalez mean to you?
"Coming in being a rookie, Tony taught me how to prepare. Roddy was there but Tony did a great job as well with me. Getting me ready to go, the way to practice and how to take on being a professional. Tony is actually one of those guys who actually, I cut out beef and pork and all of that stuff out of my diet after talking to him. He influenced me and I've been doing the same thing to this day."
What made Tony Gonzalez unique?
"He was just a pro. Everything about him, everything he did. The way he practiced was the way he played. He did the same routine, he kept everything the same. It didn't matter if it was raining, snowing or hot, Tony prepared the same. He went out there and he balled. Every time he was accountable."
What does it mean to have been teammates with Tony Gonzalez?
"It was a blessing to be able to see his work ethic. He taught me a lot of things about taking care of my body to be able to last longer in this league."
Can you put into perspective how talented of a football player Tony Gonzalez was?
"It's crazy because I don't even think you can put it into perspective. I don't think there will ever be a tight end to play the game of football like the way Tony played it. It didn't matter if he was single, double or triple covered, if the ball was anywhere near him, he was going to make the catch."
Former Falcons great Tony Gonzalez will be enshrined into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.