On Thursday Night Football, Tony Gonzalez recorded his 102nd career touchdown reception—and nobody is surprised. He’s only been doing this sort of thing for 16 seasons and is the all-time greatest NFL tight end that I’ve had the pleasure to watch.
At age 36, Gonzalez is as productive as he’s ever been. He was catching passes from the tight end position before everybody was catching passes from the tight end position. Now that guys like the New Orleans Saints’ Jimmy Graham and the New England Patriots’ Rob Gronkowski have enjoyed incredibly prolific seasons, productive, pass-catching tight ends seem almost commonplace.
But Gonzalez has been catching balls in the NFL since Gronkowski was in elementary school. It’s his consistency that contributes just as much as his productivity to his Hall of Fame resume.
Of 252 possible career games since being drafted in the first round out of Cal by the Kansas City Chiefs, Gonzalez has played in 250. He started 234 of those. Entering Thursday night, he had recorded 1,218 receptions, 14,050 receiving yards and 101 touchdowns in his illustrious career.
Gonzalez’s receptions figure ranks second all-time in the NFL, period. Not just among tight ends. The veteran leads all active players in receptions and trails only the legendary Jerry Rice—who is recognized as the greatest wide receiver ever.
Only eight guys can factually claim that they have caught 1,000 passes as an NFL player. Gonzalez is one of them.
He’s caught 70 or more passes every year since 1999 and hauled in five or more touchdowns in 13 seasons. His receiving yardage total has topped 600 15 times, 800 11 times and 1,000 four times. The 36-year-old is on pace for 1,027 yards and nine touchdowns (on 97 grabs) in 2012.
Prior to Thursday night’s game, Gonzalez was second among all tight ends in targets, receptions and yards and fourth in TDs this season.
It’s safe to say that he’s owned the middle of the field for quite some time. Gonzalez should be a first-ballot Hall of Famer after he decides to call it quits.
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