No matter what happens, Antonio Gates will forever be a legend.
Gates transcended the game. He was a former college basketball star who decided to try out for football. He showed up to San Diego without playing a snap of football at Kent State. To say he wasn’t your average tight end is an understatement.
Instead, Gates was a big-bodied, athletic beast who was a nightmare to cover. He was a “rare breed,” if you will. He had the speed, the hands, the awareness, the big-play capability and the ability to box you out. When you think of elite pass-catching tight ends over the years, Gates and former Chief and Falcon Tony Gonzalez will be on the top of the list.
Nov 6, 2016; San Diego, CA, USA; San Diego Chargers tight end Antonio Gates (85) scores a touchdown as Tennessee Titans inside linebacker Avery Williamson (54) defends during the first quarter at Qualcomm Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports
He helped open the door to what we see today. Gates was signed by the San Diego Chargers in 2003, but he came onto the scene his sophomore year. In 2004, Gates caught 81 passes for 964 yards and 13 touchdowns, which is still a career-high for him. Those 13 touchdowns put him fourth on the list for most touchdowns that year, and he was the only tight end on the list who finished in the top 20 in that category.
A year later, Gates recorded his first career 1,000-yard season. He was the only tight end to go over 1,000 yards receiving that year, too. Going forward, Gates built an incredible rapport with Philip Rivers, who became the Chargers’ starting quarterback in 2006.
He’s been Rivers’ security blanket for so many years, a player you could always rely on to make the big play. Rivers and Gates have connected on a touchdown for an NFL-record 82 times.
A silent assassin: That’s the best way to describe Gates. He’s a soft spoken, humble human being who absolutely dominated when he was on the football field.
Oh, and did I mention that Gates, an eight-time Pro Bowler and three-time All-Pro selection, was an UNDRAFTED FREE AGENT. That’s more impressive than the making of Westworld.
From his rookie year until present day, Gates has tallied 874 receptions, 10,934 yards and 109 receiving touchdowns. He’s been quite durable, too, playing in at least 10 games every season (199 total). With five games left to play in 2016, Gates has the chance to surpass Gonzalez for the most touchdowns by a tight end in NFL history. As of now, Gonzalez, who ranks fifth overall in career receiving yards (15,127), leads all tight ends with 111 career touchdowns, which ranks sixth on the all-time receiving touchdowns list.
Gates is right behind Gonzalez with 109 touchdowns.
The 36-year-old doesn’t have a lot of time left, though. It’s impressive that he’s scored five touchdowns this season, which is tied with second-year pro Tyrell Williams and rookie Hunter Henry for the most by a Charger this year; but does he have enough left in the tank to get three more?
Gates is not a big part of the offense anymore, especially with the way Henry has been playing. In Sunday’s win against the Houston Texans, Gates was not targeted once. His 77-game catch streak ended, and it’s looking more and more like his career will come to an end following the 2016 season.
But you know Rivers, who said that getting Gates the record was one of his goals this season, will do everything in his power to push his teammate towards greatness. I hope these two keep connecting while they can, because the phrase “Rivers to Gates for the touchdown!” will be missed.
The Chargers are lucky to have a player like Gates on the team. Oddly enough, they seem to be attracted to the great tight ends (Kellen Winslow Sr. and hopefully the upcoming Henry).
When I think of the San Diego Chargers, Antonio Gates is a name I will always remember. Getting the all-time touchdown record by a tight end will only make him more of a legend.