In the midst of this excitement of this year’s NFL Draft, a big decision was made to not bring back the best tight end of all time, and more importantly, one of the best Los Angeles Chargers of all time.
During this year’s NFL Draft, it was hard for me to get excited. I was super into the pick of Derwin James in the first round, as he was a steal for the Chargers at number 17. I was pretty interested going into rounds two and three. But then, on Saturday, we got the news reported from numerous sources that the Chargers told the longest tenured player in franchise history, Antonio Gates, that they would not be re-signing him. It took me out of the draft completely.
Now, let me start off by saying, I actually agree with the decision by Tom Telesco and management to move on from Gates. It is Hunter Henry’s time, and they’ve brought in Virgil Green, who’s an excellent blocker. But it doesn’t make the decision hurt any less. Gates has been a Charger since I was four years old in 2003. He’s made my Sunday’s, Monday’s, and Thursday’s. It was fun to be in the backyard with my friends when I was younger pretending to imitate NFL commentators as we were throwing the ball yelling “Rivers to Gates for the Touchdown!” (my personal favorite is Kevin Harlan).
Past my obvious fandom and respect for the player, Gates’ unconventional ride to becoming one of the best NFL players of all time is something that makes me enjoy his story and perseverance even more. He was a third-string tight end entering the league that didn’t even play football in college. The idea of a basketball player becoming the greatest player at a position he never played is absolutely asinine, and it’s what makes him so special. He’s also one of the many undrafted players that had great success at the pro level. Take note, 2018 undrafted free agents.
The last few years, as all of us fans know, have been a struggle for the Chargers. It’s been four years since they’ve made the playoffs. But having guys like Rivers and Gates has made the bad times less bad. This year, in yet another season where the team struggled early and missed the playoffs, one of the best moments of the year was Week 2’s huge touchdown from Rivers to Gates. Against the Miami Dolphins at home, that touchdown made Gates the all-time leader in touchdowns by a tight end. The Chargers would lose that game on a *shudders* Younghoe Koo field goal miss as time expired. But I’ll always remember that touchdown more than anything else that happened.
Peyton Manning and Marvin Harrison lead the all-time rankings in total touchdowns between a quarterback and receiver. Second is Joe Montana and Jerry Rice. Third, Rivers and Gates. That’s a stat that shows you how unstoppable this duo was. And if a team double covered Gates, it usually meant they left someone wide open. Tight end may not be the sexiest position on the field, but Antonio made it look easy.
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His work on the field could only be matched by his work and heart off of it. Gates hosted the annual “Shop with a Charger” event for many years, where he would take 50 underprivileged children holiday shopping at a toy store and meet with them and their families. After he stopped doing it in 2016, he inspired and enlisted the help of Corey Liuget to continue the tradition. It speaks to his character that Gates could not only get others on the football field to perform better with him on it, but also that he could inspire those around him to be better. Gates also participated in the Chargers’ annual blood drives and sponsored his own free football camp back in his hometown of Detroit.
In summary, Antonio Gates leaves a storied legacy as a Charger. He’s not only one of the best Chargers of all time, but also the best tight end of all time. Whether he retires now or signs with another team for the last part of his career, he will eventually retire with the blue and gold. His character speaks for itself. His loyalty to an organization that’s had it’s fair share of struggles over the years means a lot to me, and I’m sure other Chargers fans feel the same way as well. It also feels like the end of an era for me. As someone who’s been watching Chargers games since I was 6 (now 19 in college), it just feels like a part of my life ran past me. The era of LT, Gates and Rivers is almost over. No one will ever wear his number again. See you in Canton, and the Chargers Hall of Fame, No. 85.
Thank you, Antonio Gates.