Tony Gonzalez: Greatness comes only after overcoming fear

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Tony Gonzalez was last but certainly not least in a Pro Football Hall of Fame ceremony that lasted almost five hours. The former Chiefs and Falcons tight end spoke for 39 minutes and 17 seconds — the longest of the eight Hall of Famers’ time on stage — finishing a few minutes before midnight.

Gonzalez’s speech focused on his failures that led to his success, telling three stories in his life when he was knocked down but not out. It included a rough second season in Kansas City when he led the league with 16 dropped passes.

“I got benched twice during games. The coach said, ‘Go sit on the bench. You’re not playing well,'” Gonzalez said. “I got booed by the home crowd, and rightfully so. I got written up in the paper. They said, ‘This guy is on the verge of being a bust,’ and it hurt. I remember being in my room crying, depressed, drinking, deep hole. The more it seems you get depressed, the harder it is to get out. And I was stuck there for a while until my brother wrote me a letter and said, ‘Hey, Tony, I don’t know what we’ve seen out there, but it’s not you. Get back to being Tony. You can do this.'”

Gonzalez obviously did just that making 14 Pro Bowls, being voted All-Pro seven times and becoming a first-ballot Hall of Famer and arguably the greatest ever to play his position.

Gonzalez, 43, ended his speech by reading a letter he wrote to his three children. He gave each of them the letter Saturday morning.

“You know football has brought me great happiness,” Gonzalez said. “It’s given us a life I never imagined. But none of that can compare to the joy, fulfillment, satisfaction or pride and love I feel for being your father. I know this Hall of Fame weekend has been about me and my experiences to get to this moment. However, I now want to shift this moment to you guys. There is no doubt in mind that everything I have achieved, you can achieve more. This is only if you are fearless enough to discover what you truly love to do. In order to do this, you must stay present, stay curious, stay joyful. You do this, chances are you won’t have to find what you love. What you love will surely find you. When it finds you, give it all you’ve got.

“Where else would you rather be if you love what you’re doing? Why wouldn’t you want to learn more about what you do if you love it? I promise you, time will slip away when you find what you love to do. But get ready, because in your pursuit of finding what you love to do, you are guaranteed of getting something that no one on this earth is immune to. Beautiful growing pains are coming. Critics are coming. Like every child of a success person, you will be compared. When this comparison comes, don’t listen. Good or bad, do not listen. Comparison is the thief of joy. You will get knocked down. You will fail. And you will doubt yourself. But that is a good thing. That is where the gold is. That is where you will come face to face with who you really are and what you are made of. Be fearless and go there. The fight you have with inner fear is the most worthwhile fight you will ever have. Life takes off on the other side of fear. When hard times come, dig deep, close your eyes and breath slowly. Tell yourself, ‘I’ve got this. I’ve got what it takes. I am more than enough.’ See the greatest version of yourself. Feel it with every cell in your body and let that vision guide you. For that is who you are meant to be.

“Success comes in all shapes and sizes, but there is a difference. True success is more than making a lot of money or being recognized as one of the best at what you do. True success is about giving back. It’s about kindness. It’s about quality of relationships. It’s about finding joy in other people’s joy. Trust me, I have learned these things the hard way at times. These principles, combined with doing what you truly love to do, will no doubt make you an all-star in the most important game there is, that is the game of life.”