“The Gates of Retirement”

2003. A then-kid at the time named Antonio Gates was entering his rookie year in the NFL. He was signed as an undrafted free agent out of Kent State. The then San Diego Chargers had a disappointing year in his rookie season. He put together a quiet season catching 24 passes for 389 yards on the year with two touchdowns. Gates also finished the year averaging 16 yards per reception. When he first came into the league, I noticed him right away. I knew he could be a threat if used correctly. After 16 years in the NFL, Gates has decided to call it a career and retire which I saw coming. He hasn’t played this year.

Antonio is one of the best tight ends I’ve had the pleasure of watching play this game. What amazes me about his story is he never stepped foot on a football field. He was a basketball player. Often told by scouts that he was too much of a “tweener” to play in the NBA, he arranged workouts for NFL scouts. He would choose to work out for the Chargers and they immediately signed him to a contract. 2004 was the year that really made me pay attention to him. He became Drew Brees’ top target and finished his second season in the NFL with 13 touchdown receptions, which was then a record but has been broken by Rob Gronkowski. As I often said about Tony Gonzalez, Antonio played basketball on the football field which made him such a nightmare to defend. He was never the quickest guy but was quick enough to get himself open to make a play. Each time he was open or even when he had defenders draped all over him, he found a way to position himself for the football just as he did for a rebound on the basketball court. 85 was an excellent route runner. He was very crafty which he used to his advantage to get open. The one thing he always did was use his body against the defender. As I said a few sentences ago, he’d basically box the guy out for the catch. I remember a play from a game in 2014 when the Chargers were playing the Raiders. He ran over the middle as he always did. When the ball got to him, he caught it and got drilled by Brandon Ross. However, he was still able to hold onto the football.

He’s a guarantee to be the third tight end ever to get into the Hall of Fame (Gronkowski will be the second). For years, Tony Gonzalez was the guy who set the standard at the position. Antonio wasn’t too far behind him. Tony was the first basketball player to make that transition to the NFL. Then came Gates. Since Gates, a few more who were basketball players came to the gridiron. Julius Thomas and Jimmy Graham also began as basketball players. In 2017, Antonio recorded his 112th touchdown reception surpassing Gonzalez on the all-time list for most touchdowns by a tight end. He finished his career with 116 touchdowns. I can’t wait to see him with his gold jacket in Canton one day.


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