There are two favorites among the 15 modern-era candidates in the Pro Football Hall-of-Fame’s Class of 2019. One is safety Ed Reed. The other is tight end Tony Gonzalez.
Both are in their first years of eligibility, and both are expected to be first off the shelf when the Hall announces its class on Saturday. But nothing new there. If that happens, it would continue a trend – with five first-ballot choices in the past two years, including three (Ray Lewis, Randy Moss and Brian Urlacher) in 2018.
That's a big deal to fans and the media. But the question is: How much does it mean to the recipients? We asked Gonzalez on this week’s Talk of Fame Network broadcast.
“I’d be lying to you if I told you it wasn’t (big),” he said. “And if it doesn’t happen, it’s not going to happen. But, at the same time, if it does happen … to be considered a first-ballot (choice) … that means there was no question.
“It was like, hey, this guy was unquestionably one of the best ever to play. Not only was he one of the best ever to play his position; it’s a no-brainer that you put him in right away.
“I don’t think it makes me any better than anybody else, but it certainly does feel good. I think anybody’s lying to you if they tell you, ‘Hey, (it doesn’t).’ Look at T.O. (Terrell Owens). You guys know how that goes. It was like, ‘If I’m not first-ballot, I’m outta here.’ You can go ‘baby’ on that.
“Obviously, if it doesn’t happen I’ll be OK, but, yeah, I take a little pride in that. If I’m first-ballot, that is special. Really special.”
Gonzalez, of course, was really special during his 17 years in the NFL. He caught more passes than everyone but Hall-of-Famer Jerry Rice. He set a career record in receiving yards for tight ends. He was the first tight end to have 100 or more catches in a season. And he was a 14-time Pro Bowler, a 10-time All-Pro and a first-team all-decade choice.
But it wasn’t just ability that made him extraordinary. It was availability, too. In 17 pro seasons he missed just two games.
Add it all up, and you have a virtual certainty for enshrinement Saturday, and while Gonzalez takes nothing for granted, he conceded that he’s “a little nervous.” And why not? Reaching Canton is the climax of a pro career, though Hall-of-Famer Brett Favre once told us that he didn’t dwell on the Hall because he was satisfied with a career in the NFL.
“It would mean a lot,” he said of enshrinement. ”You look at the history of the NFL and all the great players that have come along. To say ‘I was one of the best to ever put on a pair of cleats at my position’ … you gotta take a little bit of pride in that.
“I do agree with Brett in that respect, in that it’s not going to make or break who I am as a person. I think my legacy stands for itself. But it is going to be sweet. And I would cherish it. Because it’s not just me that’s getting enshrined. (It’s) more for my family members … my coaches …. My high-school coaches … my college coaches … my teammates.
“To be able to say, ‘Hey, we played with Tony.’ People take a lot of pride in that. So it’s not just me getting inducted into the Hall of Fame. It’s going to be all of us going in there together. And I think that’s a big deal. I think that’s pretty cool that I was able to accomplish something like that.