Posted Online: Jan. 19, 2013, 5:52 pm

Falcons’ Gonzalez hoping to go out a winner

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By Randy Covitz

John Elway retired after winning the Super Bowl. So did Jerome Bettis and Michael Strahan.

Now it's Atlanta tight end Tony Gonzalez who's on the doorstep of going from the Super Bowl to retirement.

A week ago, Gonzalez, a former Chiefs star, won the first postseason game of his 16-year career when the Falcons edged Seattle, 30-28, and advanced to Sunday's NFC championship game in Atlanta against San Francisco.

Gonzalez has been saying all year that he was "95 percent" sure he was retiring after this season, and backup tight end Michael Palmer spread the word on Thursday that it was up to "97 percent," much to Gonzalez' dismay.

"It's still 95 percent," Gonzalez told reporters on Thursday. "Michael Palmer has a big mouth. If we get this win, it will go to 99 percent. If we're lucky enough to win the Super Bowl — that's the goal. Win the championship and get out of here.

"That's every athlete's dream. Any professional athlete would love to win a championship and leave. That's where I'm at. There's no doubt I can play this game another three years, if I wanted to — at a high level, too. But there comes a point in your career, where I've gotten everything I ever wanted from this game. And the only reason I've been playing the last couple of years, to tell you the truth, is for an opportunity like this.

"But pretty much, I have my mind made up, that this is going to be it."

Gonzalez, 36, had been 0-5 in his postseason career — 0-3 in 12 seasons with the Chiefs and 0-2 in his first three seasons with Atlanta — until last Sunday's roller-coaster victory. He caught six passes for 51 yards, including a touchdown, and his 19-yard reception with 13 seconds remaining set up Matt Bryant's game-winning 49-yard field goal.

The Falcons had blown a 27-7 fourth-quarter lead, and Gonzalez, whose 1,242 regular-season receptions rank second only to Jerry Rice's in NFL history, appeared headed for another disappointment.

"That's where that 5 percent is," he said. "If we get really, really close, and that means getting past (San Francisco) and getting to the Super Bowl, and we don't win, then you're like, 'OK, we're right there, so you have to come back and maybe get it,' but looking at history, you can't chase the Super Bowl.

"It's so tough to win a Super Bowl in this league. . . . It's not normal to do that year in and year out. You never know what might happen, especially in the NFL, with the injury rate . . . players coming back the next year. . . . Stuff happens, people leave . . . the last thing I want to do is chase a Super Bowl because we have the opportunity right now."

Gonzalez, a surefire first-ballot Hall of Famer, is trying to make sure Atlanta's younger players appreciate their opportunity.

"I told them to cherish it and make the most of it," he said. "You better realize, this opportunity doesn't come around that often. Make the sacrifices so when you step on the field, you are at your best. I told a young guy like Julio Jones, you're in your second year, and you won a playoff game and you're playing in the NFC championship game. I had to wait 16 years. "

That's why Gonzalez broke down in tears after the win last Sunday.

"To see them driving at the end when they scored that last touchdown (with 31 seconds to play), in my mind, I'm saying, 'Here we go again, it's not fair,'" Gonzalez said. "I looked in the stands where my family sits, shook my head, they were shaking their heads too. It wasn't meant to be. Then to get the job done and pull out the victory, a floodgate opened up inside of me.

"I never thought I was capable of crying after a game. Now I know how it feels, and I'm glad I got to experience it. Hopefully we can win (on Sunday) without going through that again."