KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Former Kansas City Chiefs tight end Tony Gonzalez concludes his first-ballot-Hall-of-Fame career on Sunday for the Atlanta Falcons. Chiefs fans will enjoy this piece in which Gonzalez looks back on the early portion of his career and in particular his first game for the Chiefs on Aug. 31, 1997 against the Broncos in Denver.
Chiefs fans might have trouble recalling this now, but Gonzalez's rookie season was quite the disappointment. He caught just 33 passes and at the time was considered a bust. He dropped a lot of throws and, as he notes in the story, didn't have the work ethic he had later in his career that would allow him to overcome the problem.
Eventually, he did overcome it and became a superb pass catcher. He could go and get a ball as well as -- and perhaps better than -- anyone who ever played his position.
Gonzalez played the first 12 seasons of his career for the Chiefs before the controversial trade that sent him to the Falcons. The Chiefs didn't get fair value for Gonzalez, netting a second-round draft pick that they eventually turned into Javier Arenas, a since-departed nickel back and kick returner.
But the Chiefs didn't have a lot of leverage at the time. Gonzalez wanted out of Kansas City and would have been a problem in the military-style regime of the new general manager, Scott Pioli, and coach, Todd Haley. So the Chiefs were forced to take the best offer they could find.
It's too bad the Chiefs couldn't have found a way to bring Gonzalez back to Kansas City to finish his career once it became obvious that this season the Chiefs were the playoff contenders and not the Falcons. How much better would Kansas City's passing game be if Alex Smith had Gonzalez to throw to?
It didn't happen, so Chiefs fans will have to be content with the 12 seasons of Gonzalez they had. And, despite a rough start, it was a great ride.