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Posted: January 4, 2014 10:00 p.m.

Sayonara, Tony Gonzalez

Anthony Banks/

Atlanta Falcons' tight end Tony Gonzalez ended his career last weekend in the Falcons' final regular season contest against the Carolina Panthers.

Last Sunday, the Atlanta Falcons played their last game of a very miserable 2013 season, but this was also the last game of Tony Gonzalez’s illustrious Hall of Fame career.

Gonzalez played 17 seasons in the National Football League. He spent the first 12 years of his career with the Kansas City Chiefs, where he established himself as a household name. However, in the 2009 offseason, he made a difficult decision to leave the Chiefs and decided to come to Atlanta, where he spent the final five years of his career.

In honor of Gonzalez’s career, the Falcons decided to make last week “Tony Gonzalez Week”. On Dec. 27, I looked on the Falcons’ Facebook page and saw where a featured columnist wrote, “In honor of No. 88, we have created the 88 greatest moments of Tony Gonzalez’s career."

When the final Sunday of Gonzalez’s career came around, many expected him to be very emotional, but surprisingly, when he arrived at the Georgia Dome he was all smiles.

As I sat in the press box of the Dome on Sunday, I had the opportunity to hear the honor and praise that were given to Tony Gonzalez.

Carolina Panthers’ coach Ron Rivera approached Gonzalez at midfield about 30 minutes before game time and said,“You should think about coming back next year.” 

Despite the praise, Gonzalez replied, “Naw, this is it.”

Panthers’ quarterback Cam Newton even referred to Gonzalez as “a role model for a lot of people like me.”

According to profootballtalk.nbcsports.com, Panthers linebacker Thomas Davis asked Gonzalez during the game: “(Is there) any way possible I could get a signed jersey from you?” Gonzalez replied, “Yeah. Like, after the season.”

The fawning over Gonzalez by his teammates, his opponents and the league is the ultimate level of respect.

Gonzalez has played the role of mentor to younger guys in the locker room the past few years of his career, and on Sunday, I was able to hear a pregame conversation between Gonzalez and teammate Levine Toilolo.

“I’m gonna be back for the final game of your career,” Gonzalez said. “How long do you wanna play?”

Toilolo replied, “Ten to 12 (years).”

It was great to hear Gonzalez motivating the youngster to continue to improve his game and achieve his goals.

Not willing to go out quietly, Gonzalez continued making history against the Panthers. He caught four passes for 56 yards, which extended his streak to 211 consecutive games with a catch, second all-time to Jerry Rice.

At halftime of Sunday’s game, the Falcons honored Gonzalez with a helmet that on one half had the Kansas City Chiefs’ logo and on the other side, the Falcons’ logo. A red carpet was even rolled out for Gonzalez, and when the short ceremony concluded, his children came running down the carpet to hug their daddy.

It was such a heartfelt moment.

Although the Falcons failed to get the victory, the last catch of the game was made by Gonzalez. He finished his career with 1,325 catches, 111 touchdowns and 15,127 receiving yards in 270 career games played.

I’ll say here what I said to Gonzalez after the Nov. 10 game against Seattle. Thanks, Tony G. Congrats on a Hall of Fame career and thanks for showing the up-and-comers how it should be done.

We can never say it enough, but I’ll say it one final time for one of the classiest individuals to ever step on the gridiron - thank you Tony Gonzalez.

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