Former Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Saturday, and his acceptance speech was filled with words of inspiration.
The 14-time Pro-Bowler shared heartfelt sentiment about his times playing in both Kansas City and Atlanta. He thanked members of the Falcons organization, including owner Arthur Blank, general manager Thomas Dimitroff and coach Mike Smith. Gonzalez gave special shout-outs to former teammates Sam Baker, Coy Wire, Julio Jones, Roddy White and Matt Ryan, who he called "one of the best quarterbacks in NFL history."
Gonzalez compared Falcons games to a church service, where fans of the team and members of the congregation are both equally apt to "rise up."
But the most powerful moments of Gonzalez's speech came towards the end, when he began talking about life lessons he's gleaned over the years.
At the start of his illustrious football career, Gonzalez was too scared to take the field in Pop Warner. He would participate in warmups and stretches, but he was too afraid to participate in contact. That fear continued into the eighth grade, where Gonzalez went straight home after class on a skateboard as fast as he could because of a bully he was scared to face.
One day, the Hall of Fame tight end received a call from this bully who demanded to set a date for a fight. When that day arrived, Gonzalez again fled from the fight and hid inside of his closet at home while the bully and his friends demanded he come out.
On the day of his graduation, Gonzalez once again sees the bully at the ceremony. Following graduation, Gonzalez says he fled and hid behind a wall, where his family later found him.
"I'm standing there behind the wall and my family is looking for me," Gonzalez said. "They're like, 'Where the hell is Tony?' I'm hiding. And it's like out of a movie, they come walking up. I see them all at the same time, cousins, uncles, aunts; I see my brother, Chris, and I see my mom. Those are the faces I remember, and I remember the look on my mother's face. She's looking at me crazy at this point like, 'What are you doing?' That's what my brother said, I could read his lips. 'What are you doing?'
"I remember I got so riled up. I said to myself, I made a decision that day, in that instant, I said I'll never be afraid again. I will never run from anything else in my life ever again. I'm going to face it head on. I'm going to scratch and claw. If I take an ass-whooping, I'm going to take an ass-whooping. That's all there is to it."
The next year, as a member of the freshman football team, Gonzalez jumped to the front of the line on a particularly physical drill. After playing to a stalemate in that drill, Gonzalez gained the confidence to believe he belonged and could handle himself physically.
Gonzalez's athleticism landed him at the University of California, Berkley, where he became a star on the basketball court and the football field. But it was one memorable experience watching airplanes take off and land after a night of going out that impacted Gonzalez's mindset about his future.
"I projected myself to those planes. I could be on one of those planes heading back to Los Angeles, back to Huntington Beach, doing nothing. Or I could be on that plane going somewhere special, somewhere that's going to change my life forever. But I've got to focus. I've got to focus, I've got to take it seriously."
Perhaps the most memorable moment of Gonzalez's speech came at the very end, when he read a letter to his four children.
The letter was filled with advice and lessons for his children. Lessons gleaned throughout the course of a Hall of Fame career, but also from the joy he's gained being a father. Gonzalez implored his kids to find something that they love doing and to follow that with the totality of their passion. In that pursuit of passion, Gonzalez advises them to not listen to the comparisons to others that will eventually come.
"You will be compared," Gonzalez said. "When this comparison comes, don't listen. Good or bad, do not listen. Remember, comparison is the thief of joy. You will get knocked down, you will fail and you will doubt yourself. But that is a good thing. That, my sweet children, is where the gold is. That is where you will come face to face with who you really are and find out what you are truly made of. Be fearless and go there. The fight you have with inner fear is the most worthwhile fight you will ever have. Life takes off on the other side of fear."
The 2019 Canton Repository Grand Parade was held in Canton to celebrate the 2019 class of Pro Football Hall of Fame enshrinees. Take a trip through the parade route with Falcons legend tight end Tony Gonzalez.