As a Chiefs fan, I can vividly remember two instances where the loss of a player has provoked a large emotional response from me. Now don’t get me wrong, there are a series of wins and losses by our boys in Red and Gold that have either left me grinning from ear to ear or ready to punch a wall. However, there are two days in Chiefs’ history where the loss of a player has left me nearly speechless.
The first day in memory was February 8, 2000. It had been nearly two weeks since the news of Derrick Thomas’ accident. However, the incident still seemed surreal. Fellow fans and I had prayed for Derrick’s health and even convinced ourselves that he would be able to rebound from his injuries and play next season, regardless of what the new was telling us. To my friends and me, Derrick was Superman. He was the first true hero we had growing up. We remembered when he was drafted and how our dads were so excited about his prospects. I was personally in attendance when he gained nearly semi-permanent residence in Dave Kreig’s kitchen on Veterans Day in 1990. I had seen Derrick turn the tide of a game with one big play. We just knew that on any given Sunday he would blow past the offensive tackle and knock the ball away from the quarterback. We kept telling ourselves that Derrick would pull through and we would be able to see him ransack opposing backfields once more.
Then the news came. For me it was local sports radio. I was in college at the time and was on the debate team at Wichita State. I was just leaving for campus to prepare for the next weekend’s tournament when I heard the news. I had to pull over. I couldn’t believe what I had just heard. When I finally made it to campus and walked into the squad room there, my friend Brian was there as well. Words didn’t need to be spoken. We both knew the magnitude of the loss. We not only lost a Chief, but we lost a hero and a role model to so many. Those effected by his charity, especially those children who were given help through the Third and Long foundation, as well as the rest of our heroes in Red and Gold would be dramatically affected. While developing this story I spoke to another friend who is a lifelong Oilers/Titans fan. He too was able to remember where he was when the news broke on Sports Center. He can almost recall it as visibly as when he found out about the death of Steve McNair.
Carl Peterson said it just right in 2004: “…our defense has never been the same since we lost him…Time and new players have not been able to make the Chiefs whole.” This sentiment was not lost on the Kansas City faithful as the city has never been the same. However, ol’ Carl was able to say it right once again when he spoke at Derrick’s Hall of Fame induction: “For all Derrick Thomas fans, the light has gone back on.” I can’t even imagine the list of what Chief’s fans would give just to have Derrick back with us and to be able to see him even as an ambassador at Chiefs’ games. Even if Derrick was unable to play football after the accident, his leadership and presence would mean the world to everyone in Kansas City.
On April 23, 2009 I was watching ESPN when the news of the Tony Gonzalez trade came across the screen. I had heard rumors before the announcement but once again I dismissed them like I did with the negative possibilities of Derrick Thomas after his accident. I felt there was no way that the Chiefs could let Tony go. To me it would have been the same as trading Derrick away when he just had a few seasons left. There was no way that number 88 could show up in any other color other than those of the Chiefs. I didn’t think much of Haley and the jury was still out on Pioli but there was no way that they could be dumb enough to let the leader of the team and the greatest offensive player the Chiefs had ever had go to anyone, even an NFC team. What were they thinking when they even entertained the idea?
I was in denial for months. Even when I made my way to the stadium for the first preseason game the next season I was still donning my Gonzalez jersey. Something in the back of my mind told me that it was all a bad dream and when the team came out of the tunnel, Tony would still be there. But quickly my denial turned to despair. Tony Gonzalez was a Falcon and we may never again see him in a Chiefs uniform.
But I was talking to a fellow sports reporter today and the question came up. What if Tony G. hadn’t been traded? What if he was allowed to finish his career in Kansas City? How would the team be different if our leader was still on the field? Let’s take a look and see how things may be different.
First, I wanted to take a look at other offensive talent and see if we would be in the same place. There are a few players that I believe would be directly affected if Tony was still a Chief. In no particular order, they are:
Dwayne Bowe: Now Dwayne was limited to eleven games in 2009, Tony’s first year with Atlanta. But for Bowe, his true breakout year was 2010. He had 1162 yards, 15 touchdowns and 55 first downs. Last year he was only three yards short of his previous total, but was ten touchdowns short of 2010. Some of the decrease in scoring can be attributed to the quarterback issues, some to play-calling and some to Dwayne being lazy. Call me a fool, however, but I think his performance would have been similar with a few additional touchdowns with Tony G. in the lineup. Remember that Gonzalez would take the attention of more than just a linebacker. In some cases, the number one cornerback would be on Tony G. Gonzalez caused defensive coordinators to make drastic changes in some of their schemes. With both Bowe and Gonzales on the same side of the ball, and assuming the rest of the personnel at the receiver position was the same, Bowe would be able to get open on a few more scoring plays and gain a few more first downs.
Tony Moeaki – The question would be whether or not Moeaki would still be drafted by the Chiefs. My gut tells me that Pioli would have been smart enough to know that Tony G. only had a couple more years left in the tank and that with Moeaki’s physical ability and Gonzalez leadership, he would be drafting a more than suitable replacement. Now granted his rookie production would be lower. Moeaki may have benefited from Gonzalez being in the lineup by not being in the same situation where he was injured. He would have most likely had another great two years of learning behind the future hall of famer. Not that Moeaki’s future isn’t bright now, but imagine the benefit of having Tony G. as a mentor for three years.
Jamaal Charles – As with Bowe you could argue that Jamaal would have less of an opportunity for production with Gonzalez in the lineup. However, I see two potential benefits for Charles with Tony G. in the lineup. First, Gonzalez is a great blocker as a tight end. He was great when the Chiefs ran the ball and was just as great down-field on passing plays. I would say that Jamaal may have a slight reduction in carries, but his yards per carry would be the same if not slightly better and we would see very similar production from JC.
Matt Cassel – You can’t argue that Cassel would be more successful with Gonzalez in the lineup. One of the benefits of having Tony G. in the lineup is his big body that is beneficial in traffic as well as a great football mind that can make the decisions when reading defenses and making adjustments. Having this additional option as well as another leader on the field would most definitely help relieve some of the pressure of off Matt and help him mature as a quarterback.
As with Moeaki, there would also be the chance that the Chiefs would not acquire either Steve Breaston or Jonathan Baldwin. However, as I mentioned before, the need for each position would still exist even with Tony G. in the lineup. My belief is that those most affected in terms of production would be the third, fourth and fifth wide receivers and the third tight end position. Dexter McCluster would have a reduced role, primarily used in the running game. In terms of current personnel, we may not have seen the arrival of Kevin Boss. Otherwise, I believe that the Chiefs would look very similar on offense.
For Gonzalez, his production on the field has been slightly lower with the Falcons than it was with the Chiefs. Over the past three years, he has averaged 77 receptions, 799 yards and six touchdowns per season. His yards per reception have also been slightly lower than during his heyday with the Chiefs. Now, there are a few potential reasons for the decline in production. First, it could be an issue of Gonzo’s age. However, remember that he went to his 12th Pro Bowl last year. Yahoo Sports proclaimed that even with his age that Gonzalez is still a top five tight end. The Bleacher Report claims that Tony G. is one of the four players that the Falcons cannot lose to injury this year and the Atlanta Journal Constitution says that Gonzo shows no signs of slowing down.
Secondly, and most likely, Gonzalez’s reduced statistical production is due to the many weapons available in Atlanta. The Falcons have Michael Turner in the backfield along with Julio Jones and Roddy White in their receiving corps. Even the young Harry Douglas had significant production last year. On the other side of the coin, you could argue that the Chiefs have had similar weapons available.
So what difference, if any, would Tony G have made with the Chiefs over the past few years? He would have definitely been a welcome help during the AFC Championship season two years ago, being the difference in close games. I can’t say that the win total would have increased dramatically. However, games such as the overtime loss in Oakland or the overtime thriller against the Bills are times when Tony could have definitely made things easier for the Chiefs. I doubt the playoff picture would have changed much and even Gonzalez couldn’t have helped us beat the Ravens that day.
Last season could have been a different story. The Chiefs were literally two field goals away from the playoffs, even with the injuries. However, overcoming the start led by Todd Haley’s choices would have taken a superman-like effort. There was a three point loss to the Chargers, with the now infamous screen pass. I’m not sure if even Tony G. would have been able to help the team overcome the lethargic first half or the miscues that ultimately gave the game to the Chargers. The same can be said for the loss at home against the Broncos where the Chiefs were literally dominated during the first half of football. The Steelers game would be another tough bet as the quarterback play ultimately killed the team. The only loss that may have been averted was the overtime loss to the Raiders. The Chiefs would still have been one game short of the playoffs.
Now a colleague of mine raised an interesting point. Would the play-calling been different if Gonzales was in the lineup to where Moeaki, Charles and Berry wouldn’t have been in the situations that caused their injuries? It is quite possible. However, the coaching staff did not have the Chiefs ready to play football those first three games. Tony G. couldn’t have made that much of a difference and may have been in harm’s way, just like Moeaki was. Even the man who treats his body like a temple could have still suffered the same fate.
Overall, it would be amazing to have Tony Gonzales still in the Red and Gold. His presence alone could help the team succeed, especially this season, as it may be Gonzo’s last. The extra motivation to get Gonzalez to his only Super Bowl in his final season would be a great story for the Chiefs. Alas, we may never see Tony in a Chiefs uniform again. I’m sure he will be inducted into the Chiefs Hall of Fame. When he makes it up the hallowed steps in Canton, he will be there as a Chief. Maybe we can talk Scott Pioli and the coaching staff into signing Gonzales for one game next year. Bring him in for a few plays in the red zone and try to get that one last slam dunk over the goal posts. That would be a fitting end to the career of Tony Gonzalez.
What do you think Addicts? Has there been a loss of another player that affected you like the loss of DT and Gonzalez? Would the presence of Tony G. been enough to get the Chiefs to the playoffs last year? Would Tony make enough difference in his last season that he could get the boys in Red and Gold to the Super Bowl?