ATLANTA When it comes to goodbye tours, future Hall-of-Fame tight end Tony Gonzalez never will be confused with future Hall-of-Fame linebacker Ray Lewis.
While Lewis NFL farewell is a serial sob story, Gonzalezs has been preparing for his all-but-official retirement in a key of low. But when the Falcons kicked a late field goal Sunday to avoid another ignominious playoff exit, Gonzalez fell to the turf and cried, as he put it, like a little baby.
Ive never done that, Gonzalez said. At least, Ive never done that after winning.
The Falcons 30-28 victory over the Seattle Seahawks was partly a football game and partly a ride at Six Flags Over Georgia. When Gonzalez watched the Seahawks take a 28-27 lead with 31 seconds remaining, he thought of the 20-point halftime advantage his team had squandered and asked himself:
This is how Im going to go out?
Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan began the day without a playoff victory in three tries, but Gonzalez was even hungrier. The 16-year veteran from the University of California had never participated on a team that advanced in the postseason.
It was a dubious legacy that Gonzalez helped put to rest with his own hands. Literally. The big guy hes 6-feet-5, 247 pounds used impressive dexterity while hauling in six passes for 51 yards and a touchdown.
While he was serving as Ryans most reliable target, the Seahawks defense had to wonder why Gonzalez was not mulling a contract extension instead of retirement.
He dont need to, said Seattle linebacker Leroy Hill. Not playing the way hes playing. He looks like hes got 10 more years.
Gonzalez, at the very least, has one more Sunday, which is more than it looked like he had late in the fourth quarter.
I promise you, said Gonzalez, I thought, well, here we go again. I guess it wasnt meant for us to get a playoff victory. Especially for me individually, I guess it was never going to happen. But the guys stuck in there.
As did Gonzalez, whose 19-yard catch on the Falcons final offensive play was the turning point. It set up Matt Bryants winning 49-yard field goal.
I cant tell you how happy I am for Tony Gonzalez personally, said Falcons coach Mike Smith. He just did what hes done his entire career: He went out and played the game the way its supposed to be played and the way its supposed to be practiced.
Watching him practice rubs off on everyone on our football team not just the wide receivers, tight ends and offensive players. He affects everybody. Hes a special football player and a hes a special human being.
Inside a surprisingly subdued Falcons locker room the prevailing mood was more relief than joy Gonzalez explained that he was spent, and then added: Emotionally, that was just up and down. But thats football. Thats why its the best sport out there.