Thank You, Tony Gonzalez

Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

The future Hall of Famer has just twelve quarters of football left in his prolific career. He will be missed on the field, and in the locker room.

We all remember the elation we felt to learn that Tony Gonzalez had decided to delay retirement to play one more season for the Falcons. Coming off of the team's success last season--which was greatly impacted by Gonzalez's 930 receiving yards and eight touchdowns--it just felt like everything was falling into place for the Falcons to make a serious run.

And, alas, here we are, with three wins in week 13 of the NFL season. The Falcons were eliminated from playoff contention midway through the season, earlier than any other team. This is not what anyone expected. This is surely not what Tony Gonzalez expected. Yet Gonzalez has been the consummate professional, displaying nothing but leadership and maturity, setting an example for those around him.

Gonzalez has been named to the Pro Bowl 13 times in his career, and is a six-time All Pro. He is first among active NFL players for career receptions with 1307, and first among all active players for career receiving yards with 14,946. Those numbers place Gonzalez second, behind Jerry Rice, for all-time receptions, and fifth on the all-time list for receiving yards. He is also first among all active NFL players for career receiving touchdowns with 109. 65.5% of the passes Tony Gonzalez has caught in Atlanta have resulted in first downs.

Gonzalez's leadership has been fundamentally important to this team during this difficult stretch. Instead of clamoring for a trade, or pointing fingers, or complaining, Gonzalez has maintained a perspective of leadership. He told ESPN.com's Vaughn McClure that the team needed to stay focused on winning.

We still have to play the game and we have to play it to the best of our abilities, and hopefully, that can start to translate to winning, because that's what we play this game for.  - Tony Gonzalez

One of my most memorable moments as a Falcons fan was staying in the Georgia Dome to watch Tony Gonzalez leave the field following the divisional round playoff victory over the Seattle Seahawks. You could tell he was savoring the experience. It was his first postseason victory in his 16-year career. And, sadly, it will be his only playoff victory.

That won't keep Gonzalez from savoring these last three games of his career. Per Jay Adams at AtlantaFalcons.com, we can expect to see Gonzalez on the field a lot as this season, and his storied career, wind down. Adams says that Gonzalez played 100% of the offensive snaps against the Green Bay Packers, and that is a trend that we can expect to continue over the course of these last three games.

The fact that Gonzalez has remained resolute about playing to the best of his abilities in a difficult season, and setting an example of a high standard of performance for his teammates, is a testament to the kind of player Tony Gonzalez is. He is one of the greatest of all time, and we have been fortunate to have him in Atlanta these five seasons.

Thank you, Tony Gonzalez. Thank you for being such a reliable fixture on this team. Thank you for your contributions to this offense. Thank you for your goal post dunks--you have many imitators, and none of them does it as well as you do. Thank you for setting an example for your teammates, particularly the Falcons' young players, modeling your commitment and dedication to excellence for them even in a season that has fallen far short of our high expectations for 2013.

Most of all, thank you for coming back. It didn't turn out the way any of us had hoped or expected, but it was a joy to see you out on that field for one more season. You will be missed.

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