Will record be a farewell in Kansas City?
|Rich Gabrielson/Icon SMI|
|How much longer will Tony Gonzalez remain a Chief after he breaks the record for receiving yardage among tight ends?|
Posted by ESPN.com's Bill Williamson
Shannon Sharpe, who is about to surrender the title of best receiving tight end ever to play in the NFL, said Wednesday he felt "a little sad" for Tony Gonzalez.
No matter how productive he still is, Gonzalez's NFL days are dwindling. He is 32 and has played in the NFL for 12 seasons, all for the Kansas City Chiefs. Gonzalez said he can see himself retiring after next year. His first several years were spent on contending Chiefs teams, but the club is now knee-deep in a youth movement. Kansas City has lost 12 straight games dating back to last season.
Sharpe said he hopes Gonzalez would consider trying to move to a contending team if he doesn't think the Chiefs will contend anytime soon.
"I don't know how Tony feels about it," Sharpe said. "That's something that he is going have to decide with his family."
At about the same time Sharpe was commenting on Gonzalez's future, Gonzalez himself was telling the Denver media during a teleconference Wednesday afternoon that, yes, the thought of moving on has crossed his mind.
"Yeah, I definitely could," said Gonzalez when asked if he could envision asking management to let him leave if he doesn't see a path out of the rebuilding phase.
"I love being a Chief, there's no doubt about it, but if it was something where it was going to take three or four years or whatever before they get this thing right, I think it would be in their best interest probably to say, well, we better see what we can get for you and send me off. But I love being a Chief. I couldn't imagine playing anywhere else at this point. At the end of this season, hopefully I don't have to ask that. Hopefully we turn this thing around. But this is home. This is where I became a man, and I have a family now. I came here when I just turned 21, so this is home."
From his comments, it's clear that he would be greatly pained to leave Kansas City. He has become an integral part of the community and he is the face of the Kansas City organization. Few players are more beloved in their home city than Gonzalez is.
Still, it's understandable that Gonzalez's desire to win overrides his desire to retire as a Chief. There's no doubt he'd prefer Kansas City to make a quick turnaround, but that's an unlikely prospect.
"Tony deserves to make a run for a championship," Sharpe said. "The feeling you get when you win championships is just so amazing, and I would love for Tony to get that feeling."
While Gonzalez could end up saying goodbye to Kansas City at some point, Chiefs' fans need to soak up Gonzalez when they can. They have the chance Sunday.
Gonzalez needs 50 receiving yards to surpass Sharpe as the all-time yardage leader among tight ends. Sharpe amassed 10,060 receiving yards in 14 seasons. Gonzalez is already the NFL's career leader in receptions (835) and touchdowns (67) for tight ends.
That record will be the last notch in Gonzalez's triple crown and will cement him as the greatest receiving tight end in NFL history. The honor should take the sting off an otherwise bleak season for the Chiefs, who at this point look like a two- or three-win team.
"I think, obviously, it's something I take satisfaction in with those names at the top -- obviously with Shannon Sharpe, and Ozzie Newsome and Kellen Winslow, being mentioned with those guys who I grew up watching," Gonzalez said. "I've been playing tight end, that's my position. I wasn't a receiver that turned tight end when I got to college. I've been playing tight end since my freshman year at high school. It's a position I've admired for a long time and watching the greats go before me, and now knowing that I'm surpassing them, it's an incredible feeling."
It's fitting Gonzalez has a chance to break Sharpe's record against the Denver Broncos at Arrowhead Stadium on Sunday. Sharpe, of course, compiled most of his receiving yardage as a Bronco. Sharpe said he is "at peace" with Gonzalez breaking his record.
"I consider Tony a friend, and I'm happy for him," Sharpe said. "He's a guy who is very deserving of this."
Sharpe said the fact that Gonzalez will bypass him is ironic. He said he believes the Chiefs drafted Gonzalez in the first round in 1997 to counter what Sharpe was doing for AFC West rival Denver.
"It worked," Sharpe said of Kansas City's decision to draft the California star. "Tony has been a great player for Kansas City."
Now the question is, for how much longer?
While it's obvious Gonzalez wants the final years of his career to be in Kansas City, the current rebuilding stage is also weighing on him.
"It's bittersweet. I look at it some time and back when they first started getting rid of all of our veterans I was like 'This isn't what I signed up for.' I just redid my contract and now you're getting rid of everybody," Gonzalez said.
"The word was 'rebuilding,' and why would I want to be part of something like that? I had those feelings of frustration and I was [upset], but at the same time there's nothing wrong with change and trying to start all over ... I keep using the word frustrating, but that's the way to describe it. It's frustrating. I want to win. This is my 12th year and I don't know how many years I have left, and I don't want to just sit out here and go out with a losing record. But at the same time I'm going to enjoy the moment."