Clutch. Unbelievable. Sure-handed. Skillful.
Use whatever word in the English language you wish to describe him, but Antonio Gates is right up there as not only one of THE BEST tight ends to play in the NFL, he is also one of the most revered players in the history of the San Diego Chargers. Accolades abound for this man who wears lightning bolts on his sleeves and the No. 85 on his back. Here’s a look at what not only Bolts’ fans, but football enthusiasts, have to admire about one of San Diego’s favorites.
Gates wanted to play both basketball and football after high school so enrolled at Michigan State University. At the time, Nick Saban was the head football coach. Saban didn’t want Gates side-tracked and told him he could only devote his time to football. Determined to continue his dual-sports activities, Gates transferred first to Eastern Michigan University, then College of the Sequoias in San Joaquin Valley. Eventually he found his way to Kent State and became the power forward of their basketball team. During his 2001-2002 season, he helped guide the Golden Flashes to their first regular season championship in school history, posting a MAC-record 17-1 league mark in 2001-2002. The Flash then went on to the NCAA Elite Eight, posting wins against three top-25 opponents: No. 20 Oklahoma State, No. 8 Alabama and No. 7 Pittsburgh. Individually, Gates set a school record by scoring 640 points as a senior, receiving the AP’s Honorable Mention All-American Honors. His blue and gold #44 jersey was retired by Kent State on February 27, 2010 – only the fourth time in the school’s history a player was so honored.
NBA scouts did not think that at 6’4″ Gates would be able to make it in basketball. It was the way he snagged rebounds, made jumpers and boxed out defenders that caught the eyes of NFL scouts. He then focused his energy on preparation for the NFL. His first tryout (and about 20 teams wanted him) was for San Diego. From the time he stepped onto the field at Chargers Park in 2003, it was obvious that Gates was going to be something special. Then general manager A.J. Smith signed him to a two-year rookie contract worth $537,000. Quarterback for the Bolts during the 2003-04 seasons was Drew Brees; he threw 105 passes to Gates for 1,353 yards and 15 touchdowns. Elected to his first Pro Bowl, Gates was on the receiving end of two touchdown balls in that contest (Brees and Peyton Manning). And there was more to come, albeit with a new guy throwing the ball.
Rivers to Gates Era Begins:
Philip Rivers became the signal caller for the Chargers in 2006. A brief holdout ended with Gates inking a six-year deal worth $24 million. As Rivers’ primary target, he became a nightmare for defenses in the passing game. The duo’s first year together saw them connect 71 times for nine scores and 924 yards in the regular season. Statistically, they have not fared so well in postseason play – in five trips (2006-09, 2013) their statistics are 36/51 passes, 375 yards and zero touchdowns.
Though the 2007-08 seasons saw Gates struggle with foot injuries, he came back in 2009 and had a year for the books by nabbing 79 catches for 1,157 yards with eight TDs. His 2010 season (complete with a new five-year, $36 million contract) began with Gates racking up 653 yards on nine TDs and 40 grabs through the first eight games. Plagued by plantar fasciitis, Gates played in the 2011 season opener then sat out the next two games. Returning to the line-up after the October 16 bye, he went on a tear: 32 passes/389 yards/4 touchdowns. Typically March roars in like a lion, but the Bolts really stepped it up in December, and this time was no exception as the team won the first three games of the month. Gates was on a roll, hauling in 15 throws from Philip Rivers totaling 169 yards. At this point, No. 85 is very close to tying a record set by one of the best wide receivers in Chargers history. Did he do it?! The Christmas Eve game in his hometown Detroit against the Lions was a bittersweet one…the Bolts lost that game while Gates snared four receptions that day and chalked up another team record. At the close of 2011, there was one more: it marked the seventh time Gates had more than 60 catches in a season. Eight years into his career and records are falling left and right!
Nowhere near done, 2012 saw the duo of Rivers and Gates become the best QB/TE pair by setting an NFL-high 56 catches and 60 TDs. In 2013, Gates played all 16 games for the first time since 2009, finishing with over 70 receptions (77) for the fourth time in his career. Over his 10 years in the NFL (2003-2013), Gates established himself as one of THE most clutch receivers on 3rd down in the league. By the end of the ’13 season, his 213 grabs were 23rd in history and 3rd most among tight ends (Gonzalez and Witten are the others). During those same 10 years, 30 of his 87 touchdown receptions came on 3rd down – making him seventh in NFL history of all players and second for his position. Along came 2014 with another complete season (16 games/69 catches/821 yards/12 TDs) and not only team but NFL records bit the dust.
Catching His Way into the Record Books:
Here is how Gates stacks up with fellow tight ends Tony Gonzalez, Shannon Sharpe and Jason Witten. Each has been voted to multiple Pro Bowls/All-Pros teams. A former basketballer like Gates, Gonzalez (Chiefs/Falcons) is recognized for being one of the original downfield threats out of the tight end position. Only Witten (Dallas Cowboys) is still active and has spent his entire career playing for the same team. Presently only Sharpe (Broncos/Ravens) has that most precious piece of metal – actually three! – the Super Bowl ring!!
Tony Gonzalez: 1,325
Jason Witten: 943*
Shannon Sharpe: 815
Antonio Gates: 788*
Career Receiving Yards:
Tony Gonzalez: 15,127
Jason Witten: 10,502*
Shannon Sharpe: 10,060
Antonio Gates: 10,014*
Tony Gonzalez: 111
Antonio Gates: 99*
Jason Witten: 57*
Shannon Sharpe: 55
Path to the Hall of Fame:
Number 100. Will that landmark catch come in week one of the 2015 season? And keep your eyes peeled for 10,061.
The first ball that Gates gets his hands on that goes for a touchdown will place him in a three-way tie with Franco Harris (Steelers) and Curtis Martin (Patriots/Jets) for 20th All-Time for touchdowns scored. Should the Rivers-Gates duo manage 13, he glides by Tony Gonzalez and into a tie at 12 with Shaun Alexander (Seahawks). The prolific QB-TE pair capitalized twelve times last year, so having veterans Stevie Johnson and Jacoby Jones in the fold with Keenan Allen could make this a real deal.
How sweet would it be for him to reach another career milestone against the Lions on September 13? With 47 yards literally in his grasp, Gates becomes the No. 3 tight end in receiving yards, currently held by Sharpe at 10,060.
NFL records for Gates are:
– set an NFL single season TD record for tight ends with 13 (2004)
– 7th TE with 500 career receptions (2010)
– 5th tight end to reach 600 catches (2012)
– 4th tight end to pass 10K career receiving yards*
– 9th All-Time with 99 TDs (tied with Don Hutson)*
– 4th player in league history with 12+ TDs at age 34 (Cris Carter, Terrell Owens, Marvin Harrison)*
– 4th TE to achieve 20+ 100 yard games (Tony Gonzalez-31; Kellen Winslow-26; Jackie Smith-22; Antonio Gates-21)*
– The QB-TE combo of Rivers and Gates have 70 touchdown passes, the most in NFL history.*
Here are more of his accomplishments with the Bolts:
– Pro Bowl – eight consecutive years, 2004-2011
– All-Pro – five times, 2004-06 and 2009-10
– All-Time Reception leader (788)*
– All-Time Touchdown leader (99)*
– 4th All-Time Receiving yards by passing Kellen Winslow (6,741) with 7,005 (2010)
– Breaks Charlie Joiner’s 25 year record of 586 career catches on December 24, 2011
– Sets the QB-TE receptions for touchdowns with 56 (2012)
– 2nd TE to play 10 years for the Chargers (2013)
– Franchise leader in Receiving yards by passing Lance Alworth (9,584) with 9,596*
Whenever Gates decides to hang up his cleats, this quote by friend and teammate Philip Rivers perhaps says it best:
”He’s the ultimate competitor. And in saying that, the ultimate competitor not in competing to get records like this, but just in wanting to go out and play and help us win. When you approach it that way, usually things like this get accomplished. So he’s done it the right way.”
Once that announcement is made, I’m guessing there will plenty of fans and players alike who will be saluting the football player who will be a Hall of Fame first-ballot choice five years from his final game. Just a guy who never played a down in collegiate gridiron, yet went on to be one of the top tight ends in NFL history.
Congratulations, Antonio Gates, for being one of the best tight ends ever. You have carried yourself like a professional on and off the field ever since the day the Chargers took a chance on a former basketball player. It is safe to say that it worked out pretty well.
Thanks for reading and BOLT UP!!!
*career numbers at the end of the 2014 NFL season for each statistic listed
Chargers fans and NFL fans in general have their eyes focused on March 10, the day when free agency begins. For once, the Chargers have an abundance of spending cash and gaping holes that need to be filled on offense and defense. We’ve become used to and applauded GM Tom Telesco for doing a lot with very little financially. Its is going to be very interesting to see what he does with a pocket full of Benjamins instead of a pocket full of pennies.
Still, with all the needs to be addressed, the need to save money while still getting great value will always be a priority. In this column i’m going to give you three intriguing options that may very well achieve those goals. One has been discussed increasingly as days go by and two have been off the radar this past season. All three have one thing in common, troubled pasts.
- Justin Blackmon WR, Jacksonville.
If you saw my mock draft last year, you noticed I had the Chargers trading a 4th round draft pick for Blackmons’ rights. For those of you who’ve forgotten, Blackmon is a 6’1, 210 pound freak of nature out of Oklahoma State. A back-to-back winner in 2010 and 2011 of the Biletnikoff Award heralding college football’s best wideout, Blackmon was the fifth overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft.
Blackmon ran the 40-yard dash in 4.48 at the 2012 combine and his speed is only enhanced by exceptional leaping ability and physical, aggressive nature when going up for the ball. All those things made Blackmon a bigger target than he is stature-wise.
In his rookie season, he burst on the scene catching 64 balls for 865 yards and 5 touchdowns. Blackmon’s downfall has come off the field in the form of substance abuse. His second season was marred by suspensions from arrests for DUI and driving under the influence of marijuana. Blackmon only played four games in the 2013 season and has not played a game since.
Jacksonville is hoping to know Blackmon’s status before the draft. He has to apply for reinstatement after his year-long suspension in the 2014-15 season and it looks like he has worn out his welcome. A change of scenery in a locker room filled with veteran leaders could be just what the doctor ordered. Blackmon turned 25 at the beginning of January. A season away has hopefully rekindled his desire to play and given him time to get his personal life in order.
Focused and reinvigorated, he would step in as a legitimate number one or two wide receiver. An incentive-laden two-year contract would give the Chargers a low-risk, high reward potential player at a thinning position. A mid to late round draft pick would still be sufficient to get him out of the Sunshine State.
- Daryl Washington, ILB Arizona.
Living in Phoenix, I have seen a lot of Washington and listened to his coaches and teammates sing his praises since he was drafted in 2010. Like Blackmon, the 28-year old Washington seems to have run out of lives in Arizona.
Let’s count the offenses…
Washington was suspended for the entire 2014 season for violating the league’s substance abuse policy, his second such offense. The first caused a four game suspension in 2013. In addition, he violated the league’s personal conduct policy stemming from an aggravated assault conviction of his ex-girlfriend. After pleading guilty, he received one year supervised probation.
On the field, Washington was an exceptional and a disruptive force on the defensive side of the ball. He was one of the team captains, tasked with making sure the rest of the defense was in the right place and calling plays on defense. Despite missing four games in 2013 he was still third on the team with 81 tackles (59 solo), 3 sacks and 2 interceptions. He made the Pro Bowl in 2012 after amassing 134 tackles (107 solo), 9 sacks, 4 passes defensed, 2 forced fumbles and one interception.
Another big indicator he’s played his last game in a Cardinals uniform, during the 2013 offseason Cardinals GM Steve Keim said: “It’s completely unacceptable that Daryl has once again put us in this position.” A player like Washington who is on the right side of 30, loaded with potential and spared a year of wear and tear on his body will come with a higher price tag but to get that kind of production from an inside linebacker helps everywhere else on defense. In four seasons he only missed one game aside from the games he missed due to suspension and durability is definitely a trait that has been seriously lacking in San Diego.
- Adrian Peterson RB, Minnesota.
This has been a name that has been popping up recently in connection with the Chargers. We all watched as the child abuse scandal unfolded before us last season. Peterson missed all but the first game of the season and after being removed from the Commissioners’ exempt list was suspended the final six games of the season without pay. He was bought to trial for disciplining his 4-year old son with a switch, leaving behind lashes that were used for evidence.
There hasn’t exactly been a groundswell of support for Peterson among the front office in Minnesota. The team seems to be looking to rebuild without him, leaning on the talents of 2014 first round draft pick, QB Teddy Bridgewater. After compiling a respectable 7-9 2014 campaign without AP, Minnesota seems to be headed in the right direction.
As the league’s highest paid running back, Peterson is scheduled to make 12.75 million this season and is still under contract for the next three years. He will also count 15.4 million against the Vikings salary cap which is another reason they look to be ready to cut ties with their star player.
After entering a no contest plea to misdemeanor reckless assault, Peterson received two years probation, 4000 in fines and 80 hours community service. He will be able to apply for reinstatement on April 15.
By adding Peterson, the Chargers would instantly become a Super Bowl favorite in the AFC. His signing would be akin to Peyton Manning coming to Denver. With a franchise quarterback leading what was the 10th ranked passing attack in the league last season already in place, a dominant feature back would put the Chargers over the top.
The last of the dominant every down running backs, Peterson is the anti-Mathews. In seven full seasons he only missed 8 games, half of those came from missing the final four games of the season after tearing his ACL in 2011. He then returned and ran for an astonishing 2,097 yards and 12 touchdowns en route to winning the NFL MVP award in 2012. A punishing runner, he has the ability to catch out of the backfield, elude and break tackles and possesses phenomenal breakaway speed.
Peterson will be 30 by the time the season starts but he has essentially had a full season off to heal his body. We’ve seen what he can do coming back from a devastating injury in record time, what will he be able to do returning completely fresh and determined to reestablish himself as the top back in the league? Defenses will have to jam the box with an extra defender (which still has minimal effect against AP) to contain him and that will leave the Chargers receivers and tight ends in favorable one-on-one matchups. A three-year contract for Peterson will give Philip Rivers, Antonio Gates, Malcom Floyd, Eric Weddle and the longtime Chargers their greatest shot at a deserved Super Bowl championship since the Tomlinson era.
Chemistry is very important in a locker room. The question now is will Telesco give these three players serious consideration if and when they become available? We know the GM is big on high character, team-oriented players and he leans toward younger, high potential, multi-dimensional players. Was that because that’s truly his philosophy or because of the pennies in his pocket, that was the road he was forced to travel?
Keep in mind Telesco did offer a contract last offseason to veteran wide receiver Steve Smith (who’s had his fair share of on and off the field incidents) last year and would have got him if Baltimore didn’t have the team that exiled him, Carolina, on their schedule. The revenge factor was too great for Smith to pass up and he went on to a great season in Baltimore.
These players have endangered themselves and people around them through drug and alcohol abuse and domestic violence and that should not be taken lightly. Their past transgressions should serve as a cautionary tale to the rest of us. They have had a year or longer to get their lives back in order and (hopefully) come back to the game ready to perform and endear themselves to their new teammates, coaches and fan base. A change of scenery, a chance to play on a playoff-caliber team in a low media intensity city like San Diego and opportunity to start rebuilding their image will provide plenty of motivation and that will only benefit the Chargers. These players are game changers and that is what the bolts sorely need.
Morality is a slippery slope. These players have (or are soon to be) castoff from their teams because their behavior has become too big a distraction to keep them around. Who hasn’t made mistakes and been motivated to come through it better than you were before? We’re known as the land of opportunity. People come here from around the globe searching for a new start. In the end, we’re not considering these players to be the heads of our household, we’re considering these players to be standout components that will get us what we crave as Chargers fans: A Super Bowl championship.
My name is The Greg One, and I approve these players.