Tony Gonzalez was one of the greatest two-sport athletes to ever come through the University of California, Berkley. As a Golden Bear, he starred as a basketball player despite constantly playing against bigger players and became an All-American as a football player. Beyond Berkeley, he became one of the greatest tight ends in NFL history, becoming a dominant force with the Kansas City Chiefs and the Atlanta Falcons, but his story as a great player truly began to blossom as a Golden Bear. This is his story.
Anthony David “Tony” Gonzalez was born on February 27, 1976 in Torrance, California. Early on, he wasn’t too sure of his athletic ability against others. One day as a freshman, everything clicked in a drill on the practice field and he truly began to grow as a player. He realized that timidity could be fatal to an athletic career and that he couldn’t afford to back down from anyone. From that day on the practice field and for the rest of his life, Tony Gonzalez was determined to never back down from anyone and to pursue his dreams with gusto and vigilance.
He starred in basketball and football at Huntington High School. As a senior, he was named an All-American as both a tight end and a linebacker after recording 62 passes for 945 yards and 13 touchdowns. On the basketball court, Gonzalez was named both the Orange County and Sunset League MVP after averaging 26 points per game. Following his senior year, Gonzalez was shared the Orange County High School Athlete of the Year honors with Tiger Woods. Due to his many athletic exploits, Tony Gonzalez accepted a scholarship to Cal.
When Tony Gonzalez arrived in Berkeley in the fall of 1994, he immediately expected greatness from himself. Unfortunately for him, Cal’s offense at the time was not very reliant on the tight end position and as a freshman he didn’t see as much playing time as he would in subsequent years. He caught just eight passes for 62 yards and one touchdown that year as the Golden Bears went 4-7.
Things were a bit different in basketball. Given more of an opportunity to contribute as a forward, Gonzalez averaged 7.1 points and 3.9 rebounds per game. Unfortunately, these contributions did little to help the team win games as they finished 13-14 while finishing last in the Pac-10. However, better days were ahead for Tony Gonzalez and the California Golden Bears basketball and football programs.
The 1995 football season was statistically better for Tony Gonzalez as he caught 37 passes for 541 yards and two touchdowns. However, the players couldn’t adapt to coach Keith Gilbertson’s approach and finished the year 3-8. When the season was finished, Gilbertson was fired after four years at the helm.
The 1995-1996 basketball season was a turnaround year for the program as they finished the year with a 17-11 record, losing to Iowa State 74-64 in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. Gonzalez played slightly better than the year before but still struggled against bigger competition. He finished the year averaging 5.3 points and 4.6 rebounds per game.
Until his junior year, the Golden Bears had not featured a very good football team. When Steve Mariucci was hired as Cal’s new head coach in 1996, Tony Gonzalez’s football aspirations truly took off. He flourished in the newly installed West Coast offense, catching 44 passes for 699 yards and five touchdowns. As a result of his athletic feats, Tony Gonzalez was named first-team All-Pac-10 and was a consensus All-American. To make things even better, the team enjoyed a 6-6 finish, their first non-losing season since 1993.
Though they lost the Aloha Bowl to Navy 42-38, the future looked bright for the program as long as both Mariucci and Gonzalez stayed. However, frustrated with the size disadvantage in basketball for his height of 6’5”, Tony Gonzalez saw a brighter future in football and decided to turn pro. Mariucci was soon hired by the San Francisco 49ers and Cal’s program quickly reverted to its losing ways, winning just three games in 1997.
After such an accomplished junior year on the football team, the basketball season figured to be a letdown for Tony Gonzalez. He was training for the NFL Combine and had a bright future ahead of him on the gridiron and it would have been deemed admissible that he loaf through his final year on Cal’s basketball team. He didn’t see it that way, averaging 6.8 points and 4.6 rebounds on a team bound for the NCAA Tournament. The Golden Bears finished the year 23-9 and lost to North Carolina 63-57 in the Sweet Sixteen. Tony Gonzalez recorded four points and five rebounds in his final game as a Golden Bear.
When Tony Gonzalez’s time as a Golden Bear came to an end, he was drafted 13th overall in the 1997 NFL Draft by the Kansas City Chiefs. Throughout his 17 seasons in the NFL, Gonzalez constantly used his basketball skills to catch amazing passes over the outstretched arms of overmatched defenders. During his career, Tony Gonzalez collected 1,325 receptions for 15,127 yards and 111 touchdowns, all records for a tight end. He retired after the 2013 season and was inducted into the Pro Hall of Fame in 2019. He now serves as a commentator and television personality.