There aren't many people in the game that Tony Gonzalez can go to for advice, to talk things out. So few are on his level, so few have been around for as long as he has. So when he wanted to chat about his future -- his immediate future, his next three weeks of future -- he had to go outside the current world of the NFL.
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He went to Michael Strahan.
Gonzalez said Thursday that he reached out recently to the former Giants defensive end and the two spoke about the glory of retiring with a Super Bowl victory as a final memory. Strahan did that with the 2007 Giants, never playing another snap after Super Bowl XLII. Gonzalez hopes to follow that fairy tale finish the way John Elway, Jerome Bettis and Strahan have.
"He said, 'Yeah, that's the way you want to do it,' " Gonzalez said Thursday. "That's every athlete's dream. Any professional athlete out there, it doesn't matter what sport it is, you would love to win a championship and leave. That's where I'm at."
After a 16-year career, Gonzalez won a postseason game for the first time last weekend. He needs to win two more to punctuate his Hall of Fame career, beginning with Sunday's NFC Championship Game against the 49ers. And this, he says, is his last chance.
"I know I can still play this game," Gonzalez said. "There's no doubt about it. I can play this game for another three years if I wanted to, at a high level, too. But there comes a point in your career where I've gotten everything I've ever wanted from this game, and the only reason I've been playing for the last couple of years is for an opportunity like this. Now that it's presented, I feel some closure coming in. I still have some more closure to take care of, though, and that's winning this weekend and hopefully winning if we get to the Super Bowl."
Gonzalez has said he is 95-percent sure he will retire after this season, but that number has fluctuated lately. "After last week, it probably went up a couple of percentage points," he said, chuckling, "and maybe if we get this win, it'll go up to 99."
Still, there is a scenario in which Gonzalez could come back.
"That's where that 5 percent is, if we get really, really close and that means getting past this and getting to the [Super Bowl] and we don't win," he said. "Then you're like, 'Well, we're right here and I can come back and maybe get it.' But looking at history, you can't chase a Super Bowl. That's tough . . . That's the last thing I want to do is chase a Super Bowl because we have the opportunity now and hopefully we can get it done now."
The Falcons are trying. Several have noted throughout the season and in these playoff weeks in particular that they would enjoy sending Gonzalez off into the sunset with a championship ring.
Gonzalez isn't just along for the ride, though. He's still a dominant tight end in an era of dominant tight ends that he helped introduce to the NFL. He caught 93 passes for 930 yards and eight touchdowns this season and was named to the Pro Bowl. Against the Seahawks last week, he caught six passes for 51 yards, including a touchdown. His 19-yard reception set up Matt Bryant's winning field goal with eight seconds left.
"I've been around for a long time," Gonzalez, 36, said when asked how he has been able to be so good for so long. "I compared it to when you watch those old kung fu movies and you see the guy with the long beard. The toughest fighter is not usually the young guy, it's the old guy who's been around for a long time. I figure I'm like that."
And now he's getting ready for his first chance to go to the Super Bowl.
"This opportunity, it doesn't come around too often," he said. "It's never come around for me, and this is probably the last time it's going to come around for me . . . That's the goal, to win a championship and get out of here."