Tony Gonzalez took to the Georgia Dome field to a chorus of cheers and admiration from his teammates. Even members of the opposing Carolina Panthers' coaching staff and players stood clapping, appreciating the greatest career the tight end position has ever seen.
Gonzalez finished with four catches for 56 yards in his team's loss to Carolina, but it was an afternoon defined more by his legacy than a single start.
The most stalwart NFL veterans show signs of slowing, but not so for the 37-year-old who leaves the NFL as one of the league's top tight ends in 2013. He finished with 83 catches for 859 yards and eight touchdowns. It was the 13th season with more than 800 receiving yards in Gonzalez's 17-year career
Atl TE @TonyGonzalez88 now has 8 career 80+ catch seasons. Most by TE all-time.— Michael Signora (@NFLfootballinfo) December 29, 2013
Gonzalez's career numbers are destined for Canton. In 17 NFL seasons he has amassed 1,325 receptions, 15,127 yards and 111 touchdowns.
These numbers are impressive enough, but wholly unbelievable when you consider his receptions and yards could have belonged in the same conversation as NFL legend Jerry Rice -- provided he played another three seasons. Gonzalez went out on top, and it's unclear if a tight end will ever eclipse his figures on the field.