Carl Peterson: How UCLA played a role in bringing Tony Gonzalez to the Chiefs

Former Kansas City executive Carl Peterson reveals how ties to his alma mater, UCLA, helped lead him to Tony Gonzalez.

(EDITOR’S NOTE) To access the Carl Peterson interview, fast-forward to 1:04:50 of the above attachment)

Most of you know the Kansas City Chiefs traded up in the 1997 draft to choose Hall-of-Fame tight end Tony Gonzalez. But what you might not know is how they got there.

Well, now you will.

On the latest Talk of Fame Network broadcast former Chiefs’ president and GM Carl Peterson revealed who and what helped him make the 1997 trade with Tennessee that landed Gonzalez with the Chiefs’ first overall draft choice.

Kansas City had targeted the star football and basketball player from the University of California, which isn’t exactly news. Nor is word that the Chiefs believed they wouldn’t get him if they stayed at the 18th spot in the draft. But this might be: They had “inside help” from an unlikely source: UCLA … or, rather, Peterson’s connections at UCLA.

“The inside here,” Peterson said, “is that Floyd Reese was the general manager of … I think it was the Houston Oilers. But maybe you’re right; maybe Tennessee had made the move in ’97 (it had, but it was called the Tennessee Oilers at the ’97 draft). But Floyd and I had coached together at UCLA, and we're both UCLA alums.

“So (I) had kind of an ‘in-deal’ there that I needed to get done because, very frankly, another UCLA alum – a quarterback who took the Dallas Cowboys to three Super Bowls (Troy Aikman) – let me know that Dallas was going to draft him if he was available on their pick. I think they had the 14th or 15th pick.”

They didn’t. Actually, the Cowboys had the 25th pick. And they also had a Pro Bowl tight end in Jay Novacek. But he’d missed the entire 1996 season with a degenerative back, and the Cowboys were looking for a potential replacement … with Gonzalez on their radar.

Only they never had a chance.

Gonzalez was long gone when Dallas – which moved from the 25th spot to the 22nd in the draft – made its choice. So the Cowboys chose LSU tight end Matt LaFleur instead. The rest, of course, you know.

But had Peterson not acted? It’s possible the Cowboys could have … or would have … moved ahead of the Chiefs. After all, Gonzalez was projected as a mid-round draft choice.

Which is why Peterson was convinced he had to launch a preemptive strike. So he did, jumping five spots to the 13th position, formerly occupied by Tennessee. The cost was a third-round and sixth-round pick and swap of first-and-fourth-round choices. But the payoff was huge: The Chiefs turned their first-round pick into a Hall-of-Fame tight end. Tennessee turned its first-rounder into defensive end Kenny Holmes.

The NFL calls that a transaction. Others might call it grand larceny.

“I didn’t think it was larceny,” said Peterson. “I gave up a third-round draft choice … and maybe a smaller one with that … to Floyd to move up five spots.

"But Tony was an exceptional, not only … obviously … college football player, but he was an outstanding basketball player at Cal-Berkeley. And we had actually seen him play on our highlight film that we did for every player in getting ready for the draft …

“Anyway, I knew that this guy could be something special if we could get him. Of course, moving up five spots … that was really important. Couldn’t have done it without Floyd Reese, and I’m always indebted to him. We always talk about it.

"He got a good player, too. But, at the end of the day, you don’t know when you’re drafting … whatever round it is … that this guy may become a Pro Football Hall of Famer. And Tony did that. And he certainly is well deserving of all those accolades.”

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