Last year, tight end Tony Gonzalez was 95 percent sure he’d retire. He didn’t.
This year, Gonzalez moved the number to 100 percent. But he mused during the season about a possible return to the Falcons in 2014 — after hoping that he’d be traded to a contender.
In a lengthy look at Gonzalez’s final (we think) season in Atlanta, Seth Wickersham of ESPN The Magazine writes that Gonzalez at one point told quarterback Matt Ryan that Gonzalez could swoop back in next season, if things are going well.
“Maybe, if the team is hot in November, 9-2 or something, I could come back for the last two months,” Gonzalez said.
Wickersham explains that Gonzalez decided he was definitely done a few days later, after Packers safety Morgan Burnett yelled, “F–k you! You ain’t sh-t!” to Gonzalez and none of his teammates came to Gonzalez’s defense.
While that exchange apparently cemented Gonzalez’s desire to move on, he almost moved on from the Falcons in October, at the trade deadline. Gonzalez knew he couldn’t ask for a trade, like he’d done in Kansas City. But he would have accepted one. And eventually he wanted one. Per Wickersham, Gonzalez was hopeful for a deadline deal, with the Seahawks (ouch) and the Chiefs believed to be interested.
As Gonzalez texted friends to find out if any rumors could be coming to fruition, the Falcons were steadfast in their desire to not make a deal.
“Welp,” Gonzalez said to his wife, Tobie, after 4:00 p.m. came and went on October 29 without a trade. “We’re staying here.”
“Well, sh-t,” Tobie said.
Gonzalez may be uttering that word and others when he reads the entire article, because it peels back an image that had been carefully manicured throughout his length career.
“He bitches to teammates about losing,” Wickersham writes. “He pouts about the constant double-teams. He muses about telling everyone to kiss his ass goodbye.” Gonzalez is quoted as saying he “acted like a pissed-off kid” after not being traded.
“I’m going to show them,” Gonzalez said. “I’m just going to leave. They’re never going to see me again. I’m not going to care about them.”
Gonzalez didn’t leave, but he’s now gone. If he were decide to return, the Falcons still hold his rights. If he were to decide to come back in November (after the trading deadline) and if the Falcons were to release his rights then, Gonzalez would be required to pass through waivers — which would allow a non-contender to block his path to a contending team.
While it’s highly unlikely that Gonzalez will return, especially to a team other than the Falcons, the first element in any comeback is a belief that a comeback is possible.
“The hardest thing next year will be watching games knowing that I could play at a Pro Bowl level,” Gonzalez said.
He can say he’s done every day between now and December. If on only one of those days he decides he isn’t, the man who showed that a five-percent proposition is possible could show that a zero-percent chance can hit, too.