Leaving Los Angeles Chargers GOAT tight end Antonio Gates’ statistics to the end, let’s begin with the essence of the man:
Seven Sides to No. 85
Respect. Antonio Gates had the respect of his Chargers teammates, his opponents, his coaches and people who cover the game for a living.
Leadership. He was not a big talker, but he was absolutely a leader. Part of that was huge third-down completions; part of that was the most multi-touchdown games of any tight end ever. But mostly, he was a presence. He was a presence in practice, in the Chargers’ locker room, on the sidelines, even on the plane rides. All players are physically present for the team, as in roll-call, but from all accounts, Gates was present, as in aware, invested, listening and thinking.
Personal Life. Here’s a list of all the scandals and controversy that arose over 16 years: …. (do you hear the crickets?). Gates was not perfect, but he was dedicated to his family, with him fully present. His professional partner, Philip Rivers, has garnered the most attention as a Chargers family man, but Gates has quietly gone about the business of being a husband and a father. Without looking it up, do you know the name of his wife? Me neither, — and good for them!
Integrity. This sums up the first three qualities. Integrity means that all is one, and one is all. There are not parts of his behavior that clash with perception. Publicly and privately he is the same man. He means what he says, he does what he says. Star athletes are under intense scrutiny, and any measures of immaturity will be exposed. Even LaDainian Tomlinson had growing up to do. Gates once held out for a renegotiated contract, it didn’t work and he returned a little sheepish. I think he changed agents after that.
True Grit. If you’ve ever had plantar fasciitis, you know what Gates endured for most of a season. On many game days and many other injuries, Gates willed himself through the game, adjusted to his limitations.
Durability. Numbers don’t lie. One key number is 16. 16 years in the league as a tight end is extremely rare. Ask the phenomenal Rob Gronkowski (9 seasons). Ask the immortal Kellen Winslow Sr. (8 seasons ). Another key number is eight.
Set aside Gates’ first season (as never having played college football ball) and his last season (coming back after being released to replace injured Hunter Henry), and Gates averaged eight touchdowns per season. Eight touchdowns was his AVERAGE. To put in perspective: this season, the talented Chargers tight end Hunter Henry scored five touchdowns; the incredible Mike Williams only two, and the amazing perennial Pro Bowler Keenan Allen netted six. Averaging 8eight touchdowns is very rare over seven years, but 14 seasons?
Gifted. Undrafted. Never played college football. Showcased one-handed snags when Odell Beckham Jr. was in elementary school. Scored more touchdowns than any other tight end in history. Ever.
Tony Gonzalez equals Gates but does not exceed him, because of Tony’s more favorable playing situation.
Gonzalez was THE star receiver with Kansas City and ended up with more receptions and yards, but also, Gonzalez got 2,012 targets compared to only 1,459 for Gates, 27 percent more opportunities and Gonzo even had a longer career, but Gates still earned more yards per catch, and of course more touchdowns.
Gates and Rivers are the most prolific quarterback-tight end touchdown duo ever, and the second most of ANY quarterback-receiver duo in the history of the league (behind Joe Montana and Jerry Rice, and ahead of Peyton Manning and Marvin Harrison).
But here’s the mic drop:
Gates has the 7th most touchdowns by ANY receiver in the history of NFL.
So, for his place in the Hall of Fame, to paraphrase President Teddy Roosevelt…
Gatesy can talk softly and carry a big stat.