Gonzalez set to break tight end receiving record Print
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Friday, 26 September 2008 07:26
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 KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) -Something a fresh-faced Kansas City rookie said in 1997 caused a crusty old veteran to ``go nuts.''
``I told them I didn't think you had to be a violent person to play football,'' recalled Tony Gonzalez. ``He said, `What are you talking about? Of course you have to be violent to play this game.' I told him I didn't consider myself a violent person.''
Eleven years later, on the verge of becoming the most productive tight end in NFL history, Gonzalez seems to have put that argument forever to rest, and ignited another:
Is he the greatest tight end ever?
On Sunday against Denver, he needs just 50 yards to overtake Shannon Sharpe's record of 10,060 yards receiving. Already in his possession are the tight end records for touchdown catches (67) and receptions (835).
But the litany of ``firsts, mosts and bests'' does not stop there for the man with the nonviolent nature and ferocious will to compete.
tight end in league history to put up 1,000 yards receiving against three franchises. His nine Pro Bowl selections are the most ever by a tight end, and he's the only man at his position to lead the league in receptions for an entire season.
Yet, ``violent'' is just about the last word anyone would use to characterize the studious, hardworking California native who also has a penchant for saving lives and traces a wildly diverse family tree through Asia, Africa, Europe, North America and the Caribbean.
A talented basketball player who once scored 16 points in an NCAA tournament game, Gonzalez at the outset of his NFL career did have to resolve the violence issue.
``I thought about it a lot,'' he said. ``You have to play this game with a little bit of `oomph.' I call it courage. I call it confidence. That's why we have shoulder pads and helmets, so we can go out there and hit people, and hit them hard.
``You can't play football any other way.''
Once voted ``handsomest athlete in Kansas City'' in an informal radio poll, Gonzalez for many years hosted a popular seminar teaching Football 101 to women. And while he does enjoy a night on the town, most fans would probably be shocked at how many evenings the celebrity athlete is quietly immersed in his beloved books.
through biographies of both Barack Obama and John McCain.
``I love reading,'' he said. ``Both heavy and light books. One of my favorites was `How To Be Like Mike,' by Pat Williams, the Orlando Magic GM. And I loved `The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success' and `The Ten Secrets to Success and Happiness.'''
One of his most challenging was ``Power vs. Force,'' which explores ``the hidden determinants of human behavior.''
``That was one that really requires you to concentrate,'' Gonzalez said. ``Another great read is Eckhart Tolle's `A New Earth.'''
The son of a deacon in the Seventh Day Adventist church, Gonzalez has studied religion and spirituality all his life.
``They're all saying the same thing: Get rid of your ego,'' he said. ``The same things Jesus taught. How to have peace. How to have love. How to have courage. How to have confidence. Coming together as people. Be less judgmental, have an awareness of your thoughts, why you're thinking the way you are. Be in the moment.''
The rookie-laden Chiefs are 0-3 and the possibility is growing that in spite of all his personal achievements, Gonzalez may never play in a Super Bowl. So he draws from his study of the Zen philosophy of staying in the moment.
``I try not to look ahead. When you do that, you lose focus,'' he said. ``And then you're not giving yourself a chance to enjoy the moment.
If you put in peace and love and happiness and enthusiasm and courage and humility, you get that back.''
A couple of years ago he took an interest in nutrition and became a vegetarian.
``I've been researching red meat,'' he said. ``Many people say meat is what allowed our brains to evolve, and I agree. But 95 percent of the meat in America is industrialized, corn-fed, which is not their natural diet. You are what you eat, and what your animal eats.''
While rooming with Gonzalez in training camp, rookie tight end Brad Cottam learned two things.
``He's always working,'' said Cottam. ``You see him stay late after practice, catching extra passes, running extra drills, doing the little things coaches make rookies do.
``And he's always reading. Did you know he's going back and tracing all the food groups back to their source?''
Even in a room filled with robust young athletes, Gonzalez's lean and finely chiseled physique stands out. His devotion to training and eating right, along with plenty of luck, has allowed him to miss only two games his entire career, sustaining excellence long after attaining excellence.
In 2000, when he was 24, he totaled 1,203 yards in receptions. In 2007, when he was 31, he totaled 1,172.
``He seems to get better every year,'' said teammate Patrick Surtain. ``Tony looks like he could keep going until he's 50.''
uched his, two California men were able to keep going, period.
During a game in San Francisco in 2002, Gonzalez crashed into a sideline photographer and the man was sent to a hospital for an MRI. His injuries were not serious, but the large, undetected brain tumor revealed by the examination was. Doctors said it would have been fatal if untreated much longer.
Then last July while Gonzalez was having dinner, a man at a nearby table began choking on a piece of meat. While the man's companion screamed, ``He can't breathe, he can't breathe,'' people in the crowded restaurant sat and stared. But Gonzalez jumped to his feet and folded his arms around the stricken man's chest, squeezing hard until the meat popped out.
``Tony saved my life,'' said Ken Hunter. ``Tony Gonzalez is a great man.''
Is he the greatest tight end? Sharpe had more downfield speed. And some critics will say Gonzalez never won a championship.
``No matter what people say about me, I'm still going to keep doing what got me here and keep trying to tweak it to get better,'' he said. ``When you start reading too much about yourself or hearing too much about yourself, it's hard not to let it go to your head.
``Fortunately, I'm around people - my grandmother, my mom, my brother - who are not going to let me get caught up in my own hype.''
late paternal grandfather had not been Argentinian, as everyone had thought. He was actually born on an island off the coast of Portugal and moved as a youngster to Argentina. His grandmother, who just celebrated her 90th birthday, is half Jamaican and half Scottish.
On his mother's side, he's African, American Indian, Irish and Polish.
Intrigued by his varied ancestry, Gonzalez once took a genetics test and discovered he's also 12 percent East Asian. Where that part came from, no one is sure.
``Just call me a human being,'' he said with a big grin. ``An earthling.''

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