When reading the news about a documentary being premiered about Tony Gonzalez, it immediately piqued my interest. The two-sport star athlete out of California had established himself as the greatest tight end of all-time. His contributions in Atlanta, despite being considered "past his prime" were outstanding. There aren’t many players that can claim they played at a high-level at 35 years old. Gonzalez is one of the rare players that can make that claim without hesitation.
Through watching a brief trailer and recognizing that Michael Strahan was one of the main producers, my expectations were high. It was going to be fascinating to see a behind-the-scenes look into Gonzalez’s last few seasons in Atlanta. His long-awaited achievement of winning a playoff game in 2013 to the frustrations of playing for a hopeless team just eight months later.
It turned out to be far different from my prior expectations, which was both positive and negative. The football nerd inside of me wanted to see locker room and sidelines footage of what went on during Gonzalez’s time in Atlanta. "Play It Forward" seemed to be a fitting name to focus solely on football. The documentary turned into the polar opposite, as it embodied family values and persistence in having a strong work ethic.
As Tony became the greatest tight end to play the game, it was never anything to close what he envisioned as a child. In fact, Tony hated football and was constantly pushed by his brother Chris to appreciate the sport. Chris was a talented athlete through high school before being involved in a severe car accident. That hindered his progression in playing football past a community college level. The accident didn't change his support for Tony, who he would constantly throw the ball around with.
Chris managed to find a new light in working towards becoming a firefighter. Through studying rigorously for exams, it showcased his ambition towards striving for his ultimate goal. Many scenes revealed countless papers and books that were needed for this exam. That ambition can compare to Tony’s decision in returning to play for Atlanta in 2012. No accomplishment is greater than being a champion for any athlete. Some may argue that becoming a millionaire is the ultimate accomplishment, but it has proven under many cases that money comes along with glory.
Tony’s goal of becoming a Super Bowl champion for a dangerous Falcons team in 2012 was realistic. The Gonzalez family watching Tony play against San Diego highlighted the joy of Atlanta’s eight-game winning streak to start the season. A crowd of 20 to 30 family members were ecstatic to watch Tony live at least one more time. It was envisioned that this would be his last season, although things certainly changed in the 2013 off-season.
Through this unbelievable season, it was the first time Tony played without communicating with his step-dad. Michael "Pop" Saltzman unfortunately passed away on Father’s Day in 2012 through battling cancer. Saltzman was a heavy influence on Tony and Chris starting from their early teenage years. His role in the documentary was limited, due to his unfortunate death during the early stages of recording. Through listening to Tony and Chris, he was the father that they never had growing up. His influence was felt through audio and video recordings.
Tony stated that they would talk after every game. Whether it was a grueling win or harshest defeat, "Pop" was always his main provider of guidance. His mother was always very supportive through shaking a cowbell and constantly being the most vocal fan. October (his lovely wife) was always right beside him as well. She was consistently shown through taking care of the children or explaining a certain situation. Support was never short amongst the Gonzalez family. Through a summer barbeque in 2012, Tony was adamant on letting his family know that they’re always with him. Whether it was a false start or big play, "they were going to go through this together".
After seeing countless headlines about off-the-field incidents in the NFL, it was refreshing to see the sport in a positive light. That may sound cliché considering of how much work the NFL does with charities and foundations. We still don’t see positive stories highlighted very often, besides rare commercials and the Walter Payton award. For a player of Tony's magnitude to showcase his family through a full season, it should hopefully bring a positive impact to the mainstream audience. The exposure that his brother Chris received was heart-warming as well.
Tony Gonzalez will always be one of the most respected players in NFL history. No documentary was going to increase or decrease that description. What this documentary did was increase the respect for Gonzalez as a human being. Instead of solely focusing the attention on his career, this was a platform for his brother Chris and family to get well-deserved recognition. Without Chris, it’s highly unlikely that Tony ever fathoms playing football. He would have never developed into a 10-time All-Pro or the holder of every major statistic for a tight end. The persistence to keep on throwing the ball in the backyard and embracing the game drove Tony towards making football his passion.
The family connection in both of their lives was evident through the final stages of the documentary. Tony was able to have his family in Atlanta for both playoff games. They showed the family meeting up with him following each game. After the heartbreaking loss to San Francisco, it was still apparent how Tony was appreciative of their support. No tears were noticeable in the parking lot following the loss. That seems bizarre, considering it was his last opportunity (at the time) to achieve his ultimate goal of winning in a Super Bowl.
Every hug and kiss meant impacted him in a positive manner. That support led to Tony traveling back to California in supporting Chris on his graduation day. From watching Tony continuously work hard to play at a high level for 17 seasons, Chris was going to do the same in achieving his goal in become a fire fighter. After failing on multiple occasions, Chris eventually passed the paramedic exam and graduation day couldn’t have been more gratifying.
The documentary was about 75 minutes long, yet it left a lasting impact on me. The determination of both brothers in pursuing their ultimate goals, while keeping a close bond was powerful. Tony may have failed in his quest to win a Super Bowl. It certainly wasn't because of his shortcomings. His outstanding play in 2012 led to many analysts believing that he can play another two to three years, if he desired to do so.
Any information of this documentary being accessible online hasn't been announced yet. I consider myself very fortunate to be living in New York for this occasion. Hopefully, it will be released to the public because it’s an excellent and inspiring documentary. Some may be disappointed that minimal footage was shot in 2013. It’s highly understandable given that season couldn’t have been more of a disaster.
They shot extensive footage throughout 2012, which had to be the main priority for every viewer. Any resentment towards Gonzalez from the infamous ESPN article should be erased following this documentary. It goes beyond in showing his dedication towards football, his family, along with being a supportive father and brother. Play It Forward encompasses on what every professional athlete should be as a human being.