FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Atlanta Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez has one last road trip on his incredible 17-year NFL football journey.
The Falcons (4-10) are set to play the San Francisco 49ers (10-4) at 8:40 p.m. on ESPN's "Monday Night Football" at historic Candlestick Park.
Gonzalez is a Southern California native, but attended college and played basketball and football at California-Berkeley.
"Going back to Bay Area," Gonzalez said. "That's where it all started. It's nostalgic for me." Gonzalez, who needs about 20 tickets for the game, is looking forward to the reunion.
"I'll see a lot of people that I don't even know (I'll see) or that I haven't invited to the game," he said. "I'll just see them walking around. Every time that I go to Oakland or San Francisco, I see people on the sidelines or in the stands from back when I was in that area. It's fun. It's great." Gonzalez, widely considered the best tight end of the modern era of the NFL, is set to retire after the season.
He was coaxed out of retirement by the Falcons in order to make one last run at a Super Bowl title. But injuries and the lack of depth have dashed the team's hopes in 2013.
Gonzalez doesn't mind talking a walk down memory lane as he gets set for his last "Monday Night Football" game.
"It's special," Gonzalez said. "I'm looking forward to it." Growing up in Southern California, his team was the Los Angeles Raiders. But he had some room in his heart for the much more successful, during that period, San Francisco 49ers.
"We also watched a lot of the 49ers on TV," Gonzalez said. "I watched (Joe) Montana, The Catch, Jerry Rice and Bret Jones, the tight end out there. (John) Taylor, Roger Craig and Ronnie Lott. Those were some great teams and a lot of fun to watch when I was growing up." As the clock winds down on his career, Gonzalez, who went over the 15,000 yards receiving mark last week against Washington, is trying to soak up all of the scenes.
"Right now, I'm just really just enjoying the guys," Gonzalez said. "It's more about them. I am going about my business because I don't want to lose focus on my job and what I have to do when I go out there and play." There was his bet with wide receiver Roddy White that had the locker room buzzing late last week.
White didn't believe the 37-year-old former hoopster could touch the 11-foot high ceiling in the locker room.
Gonzalez did it with ease and credited his late night stretching before bedtime and something called body Fusionetics.
He earned "a cash amount that will be in my pocket soon," Gonzalez said.
Those little interactions are what he'll miss in retirement.
He also tipped his hand a bit.
On his recent touchdowns, he's been shooting jumpers or doing finger rolls. If he gets to the end zone against the 49ers, he plans on doing his trademark dunk over the goal post.
"If I get back in the (end zone), I might have something up my sleeve," Gonzalez said.
Whether if it's touching the ceiling on a meaningless bet or catching his 100 passes a day, Gonzalez has been driven to be great over his career.
"I just want to make each play a positive one," Gonzalez said. "You get graded in football. Each play, you get a plus or a minus. I want to make sure that I have all pluses and I want (position coach Chris Scelfo) to write in the little space, great play here, great play there." He attributes his longevity and durability to being consistent.
"That's what I've always said separates players because we are all good players and we've all shown flashes of greatness as NFL football players," Gonzalez said. "What separates you is being consistent. If you can flash and be great consistently, that's what separates average players from good players, good players from Pro Bowl players and Pro Bowl players from Hall of Famers." He crafted that approach after studying Michael Jordan, Barry Sanders, Rice and business tycoon Warren Buffett.
"That's what makes you great is having a great routine," Gonzalez said. "Everything else will take care of itself." Ironically, Gonzalez may not best tight end on the field for this one. San Francisco's Vernon Davis, a bigger and much faster player, has 12 touchdowns this season. Davis has a ways to go to make Gonzalez' longevity, but he's an awesome talent.
Gonzalez believes that he's helped the tight end position evolve over his tenure which saw 12 season in Kansas City before he was traded to the Falcons in 2009.
"I took it from what Shannon Sharpe was doing and Kellen Winslow and the early guys like John Mackey and tried to improve on it and tried to be the best player that I could be," Gonzalez said. "It's freakiest what's going on at that position now and what's going on with the numbers that those guys are putting up. ... Guys like Vernon, Jimmy (Graham) and those young tight ends that are coming up through the ranks right now, it's great. I feel proud that I was able to be a part of something like that."
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