Tony Gonzalez stood in a room of reporters below the Georgia Dome stands, his 17-year career behind him, and held up two hands as if to show placement. One hand represented his love for football. The other represented his love for his family.
The two were nearly equal, with the hand representing family slightly higher.
A catch in his throat came when Gonzalez spoke about his son, Nikko, who lives in California with his mother from a previous relationship.
“My family is here and football is right there next to it, for better or for worse,” Gonzalez said, gesturing his hands. “That’s just the way my mentality worked. I was obsessed with football and I was OCD about it. … I need to put that emphasis on my family and on to the next part of my life. This is like graduating to me.”
Gonzalez said he’d miss his classmates and teachers before he walked out of the Georgia Dome for the last time as a player, but moved ahead with the full embrace of whatever comes next in his life.
The Falcons weren’t able to send Gonzalez out with a win, falling 21-20 to the Carolina Panthers, but it didn’t tarnish Gonzalez’s final NFL experience. He had about 40 friends and family members on the sideline pregame and in the stands during the game to share his final 60 minutes of his previous passion.
Despite the loss, Gonzalez relished the opportunity to go out on his own terms. The Falcons tried to send him out with a trip to the Super Bowl last season that fell just short, and despite Gonzalez being as much as 97 percent sure that the NFC Championship Game would be his last, Nikko talked him out of it during the offseason.
While he returned to a team that finished 4-12 campaign that was marred and underscored by injuries, Gonzalez reiterated that he had no regrets about the way his career ended.
Super Bowl or not.
“Don’t ever look at me and say, ‘Well, he never won the big game.’ I hope there’s no glitch on my record because of that,” Gonzalez said. “And if you think that way, then I don’t think you know what you’re talking about. I really don’t. This is the ultimate team sport. I’ve been on some good teams, but we just weren’t able to get over the hump.”