Memories of the Hall of Fame-bound tight end’s 270th career game were captured by NFL Films as Gonzalez was wired with a microphone for the first time in his illustrious, 17-year career.
Anyone who caught a glimpse of the segment noticed the tremendous respect expressed by others toward Gonzalez, particularly Panthers quarterback Cam Newton, who called Gonzalez a "role model’’ to younger players such as himself.
Veteran Carolina receiver Steve Smith offered similar high praise when I spoke with him about Gonzalez.
"You look at a guy like Tony and you think that hopefully, when that times comes for me, I’ll get the same treatment,’’ Smith said. "He got the red-carpet treatment, and it’s pretty cool. But it’s also pretty cool to see a guy like him ... he’s had the dream career. A lot of people aspire and hope to be like him.
"Obviously, I know going to the playoffs and making the Super Bowl were important to him. I don’t know him that well to say this, but I think it the long run, he wouldn’t trade a Super Bowl for all the success that he’s had.’’
Gonzalez ended his career with 15,127 receiving yards, fifth all-time behind Jerry Rice (22,895), Terrell Owens (15,934), Randy Moss (15,292) and Isaac Bruce (15,208). Gonzalez ranks first among tight ends in NFL history in receptions (1,325), touchdowns (111) and yards.
Smith said there is no doubt Gonzalez is a first-ballot Hall of Famer.
"Of course. He definitely is,’’ Smith said. "One thing about the Hall of Fame the last couple of years, it seems like it’s been all about a Super Bowl. Yes, some of those guys might have Super Bowls, but there are guys like Tony who, statistically, have surpassed them all.’’