Comparing legacies: Ray Lewis and Tony Gonzalez
After his team lost to the 49ers in last week’s NFC Championship game, Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez has most likely played his last game in the NFL. Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis on the other hand, has a chance to go out on the highest of highs – with a Super Bowl win against San Francisco in New Orleans on February 4.
As we watched two incredible conference championship games last weekend – and were eagerly awaiting the results to know who would be participating in Super Bowl XLVII – we all kept a keen eye on two retiring champions. While Atlanta’s Tony Gonzalez has stated that he is 95 percent certain that he will not be returning to the NFL next season, Baltimore’s energetic linebacker Ray Lewis, was more than certain when he announced his retirement on January 2.
Both players have left a mark on the game that all NFL fans can appreciate; and both will be forever missed from the game.
But first, let’s take a look at the legacy Gonzalez will leave behind in the NFL.
Tony Gonzalez will go down in history as one of the greatest tight ends (TE) to have ever played the game. Naturally, teammates like fellow TE Michael Palmer will be quick to suggest that the 16-year veteran is the greatest of all time at his position.
“Tony is one of the greatest players ever, not only one of the greatest tight ends ever. He was the first person I was thinking about,” Palmer said.
That conversation is a difficult one considering the plethora of talent at that position. Hall of famers like Mike Ditka, John Mackey and Shannon Sharpe would have something to say about that. However, when you look at the numbers, Tony Gonzalez is not that out of place in such a discussion.
Over his career, Gonzalez has amassed impressive numbers, eclipsing all players at the TE position in all the key categories. He has managed to be the all-time leader for TEs for most receiving yards (14,268), most touchdown receptions (103), and most receptions (1,242). The latter category he is 2nd all-time – by any player – to only Jerry Rice.
Only one wide receiver had more receptions than Tony Gonzalez, which is incredible considering receptions are more synonymous with receivers than tight ends.
I cannot be the only person to find this an unbelievable stat considering the amount of phenomenal wide receivers that have graced the gridiron.
In hindsight, you can now see why the Kansas City Chiefs traded up to pick 13 in the 1997 draft to secure their man from the University of California-Berkley; the college where he also made it to the sweet sixteen in the NCAA tournament as a basketball player.
If the 13-time pro bowler decides to make his retirement official in the coming weeks, he has definitely gone out with a bang.
Gonzalez had 93 receptions during the regular season which puts him 2nd among players at his position; and 8th overall. In addition, among all tight ends Gonzalez is also 4th in touchdown receptions and 3rd in total receiving yards.
“I was ready today,” he said in relation to their NFC championship game loss to the 49ers. “I would love to keep playing, but that’s the nature of the beast.”
These words are words from a man that believes he has more to offer the NFL, and after grabbing eight catches that yielded 78 yards including one touchdown in possibly his last ever game, it’s hard to argue that he hasn’t got more left in the tank.
Nevertheless, it would appear outside pressures are becoming too much of a factor in his decision to retire.
Gonzalez has cited that his son living in California, and not being able to see him for 6 months out of the year for the past 16 years, is part of the rationale for wanting to retire; along with other reasons.
While there’s still speculation about Gonzalez and whether his retirement is for certain or not, Ray Lewis’ retirement is set in stone and will come to a dramatic conclusion against San Francisco in Super Bowl XLVII.
After an injury-riddled season where the 17-year veteran was sidelined with a torn triceps in Week 6 against the Dallas Cowboys, Ray Lewis has been on an incredible ride since returning in the wildcard game against the Indianapolis Colts. That ride has seen him make it all the way to the final week of the NFL season; and a chance at securing his second championship ring.
Like Tony Gonzalez, Ray Lewis isn’t exactly limping towards the finish line either.
Lewis has accumulated 44 tackles during these playoffs so far, which not only leads all Baltimore defenders, but also leads all playoff contenders in this category for the current post-season.
After being drafted out of the University of Miami by the Ravens in 1996 with their first round pick (26th overall), Ray Lewis has proceeded to wreck havoc on the defensive end after initially being labeled as “too slow” and “not overly athletic” for a man at the middle linebacker position.
Over his career the future hall of famer has amassed 1,336 tackles, 41.5 sacks and 31 interceptions – it’s important to note that the tackle count was not an official statistic until 2001; however ESPN has his career total tackle count being 2,050 for arguments sake.
His individual accolades include: 13× Pro Bowl; 7× All-Pro first-team; 3× All-Pro second-team; 2× All Pro NFL Defensive Player of Year (2000, 2003); and 3× AFC Defensive Player of the Year (2000, 2001, 2003).
Not bad for a guy who was “too slow” eh?
Oh, and let’s not forget he was Super Bowl champion in 2001 and was also named Super Bowl MVP in that game against the New York Giants.
Despite all this, Ray Lewis has not been able to avoid the clutches of controversy during his NFL journey; which will forever taint the Raven’s legacy.
That Super Bowl triumph over the Giants was approximately one year after arguably the lowest point of his life; a incident that will forever plague him, and continually hover over his head as he blossomed in the NFL for the following 13 years.
Ray Lewis was charged with a double-homicide, along with two accomplices. The charges were eventually dropped and a deal was made where he would testify against the other two defendants while pleading guilty to an obstruction of justice charge.
A dark time in Lewis’ life that has motivated him to become the man he is today; a man of faith.
A year later, Ray Lewis and his Ravens go on to win the Super Bowl.
The linebacker’s MVP performance was the start of a long journey in turning around the public’s view of him by not judging him on the one incident alone.
Nothing can excuse what happened back in January 2000 – especially for the victim’s families – but Lewis turned to God to help make him a better man and to hopefully turn into a role model for others one day.
And if you ask any of his teammates in Baltimore, a role model is exactly what he has become.
The Ray Lewis story is a colourful one. It’s a story of a man who has made mistakes, learnt from those mistakes, and now encourages others to learn from them too.
Both Tony Gonzalez and Ray Lewis will go down as one of the greats at their position and will one-day find themselves inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.
But while we wait to see if, or when Gonzalez makes his retirement plans official, why not get around a TV on February 4 and watch the final game Ray Lewis will ever play in the NFL. A decorated Raven, looking to bow out of the game as a two-time Super Bowl champion.
Whatever happens down in New Orleans on Super Bowl Sunday, it’s safe to say, the NFL has lost two very special footballers.
Thank you for the memories.