Tony Gonzalez is arguably the greatest Tight End (sorry Mike Ditka) to ever play the game of football. In sixteen seasons, he’s been selected to the Pro Bowl an unbelievable thirteen times. He currently holds the NFL records for TD receptions (103) and total reception yards (14,268) by a tight end. But there was one glaring weakness in his Hall of Fame career…
In sixteen seasons, Tony Gonzalez had never won a playoff game.
Every year since I was age seven Tony has been playing professional football. He puts in months of grueling work over the summer to get his body ready for another season. He’s up early every week in the regular season training his body mentally and physically. Even in his sixteenth season, his work ethic is second to none. Head Coach of the Falcons, Mike Smith, had this to say about his Tight End:
“The thing that Tony brings to us is professionalism. I don’t think there is a guy who works harder.”
In a 2010 article in USA Today, Tony is described as:
A voracious reader of biographies of athletes and coaches in all sports as well as business and military leaders. He is always searching for the common denominators to success.
“The underlying theme in all of these books,” Gonzalez says, “is the unbelievable work ethic and confidence they bring to everything they’re doing. It’s unbelievable the time and effort they put into being great.”
Do you see the tension here that’s burning in his mind? He’s put in the effort, where are the results? Thirteen Pro Bowl seasons and not a single playoff win. He’s 0-6 in the games that really matter.
Now we come to January 13, 2013. Gonzalez has announced that he will almost certainly retire after this year. This was his final chance. Tony’s Atlanta Falcons are hosting the Seattle Seahawks in the divisional playoff game. The #1 seeded Falcons explode in the first half with a rhythmic, consistent offence and lock-down defense that combine for a 20-0 halftime lead. The Seahawks score first in the second half but the Falcons still enter the fourth quarter with a 27-7 lead.
Tony Gonzalez is 15 minutes away from the first playoff victory of his career. Then the momentum shifts. The Seahawks put up 14 quick points and trail by six with nine minutes to go. 70,000 fans in the stadium are emphatically imploring their defense to come up with a stop. None more than Tony Gonzalez. It still wasn’t quite enough. With 31 seconds left, the Seahawks took a 1-point lead.
I can only imagine what was going through Tony’s head, “Here it goes again… it’s not going to happen for me.” He’s got to be thinking back over all the years of hard work and effort. After all he’s poured into improving himself. With every ounce of strength willing his team to victory, it was still not enough.
No one wanted to win that game more than Tony Gonzalez. There was no one more fitting to catch the 19-yard pass from Matt Ryan with 13 seconds to go that put the Falcons in field goal range. And no one was more ecstatic as Matt Bryant’s 49-yard kick soared through the uprights to clinch the victory.
In a postgame interview, the magnitude of this moment for Gonzalez is obvious:
“I guess it just wasn’t meant to be,” he thought to himself. As soon as I saw this interview the transcendence of his thoughts were clear to me. Have you ever had one of those moments where you thought, “I guess it’s just not going to happen for me?” I have.
After months or years of hard work. After all the promises. After all the planning. Silence.
God promised Abraham a son in his 90’s! You think he ever had a Tony Gonzalez moment after that promise? The Bible says in Genesis 17:17 that:
Abraham fell facedown; he laughed and said to himself, “Will a son be born to a man a hundred years old? Will Sarah bear a child at the age of ninety?”
He laughed! There just wasn’t any time left in his mind. Four chapters later, we realize God’s clock still read 0:31…
Sarah became pregnant and bore a son to Abraham in his old age, at the very time God had promised him.
I can’t imagine the emotions exploding out of Tony Gonzalez with 31 seconds left. No time. No chance. No fair.
There are a lot of times in my life where I think it’s already too late for God to save the day. There’s no time left on the clock. It’s a Tony Gonzalez moment.
How quickly things change…