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BigRedChief
12-24-2007, 05:21 AM
http://www.kansascity.com/180/story/415487.html

Friendship with a child in need helped Gonzalez realize his own potential
By JOE POSNANSKI

The strange part is that when they met, the football player felt like a little kid. And the little kid felt like he was 100 years old. Maybe that’s why it worked.

•••

They sit on the couch now, four legs stretched out on an ottoman roughly the size of a two-car garage, and they simultaneously shout “Oooh!” just as LeBron James dribbles the ball behind his back and through his legs in one motion, then picks up his dribble on the other side of a baffled defender and reverse dunks.

“Did you see that?” Tony Gonzalez asks.

“Yeah,” Miles Postlethwait says.

“No,” Tony says. “I mean did you see that.”

“Yeah,” Miles says, and he rolls his eyes. “I saw it.”

It is another Wednesday night. They get together for dinner at Tony’s place every Wednesday night. The Plaza Christmas lights glow through the window. The smell of salmon fills the room. The television is on, but the volume is low.

“School good?” Tony asks.

“Yeah,” Miles says. “I already told you all this like last week.”

“I don’t remember. You told me?”

“Yeah. I told you.”

“Cut me some slack, man,” Gonzalez says. “We’re in the middle of a losing streak. I’ve got things on my mind.”

•••

They met at a heart camp a decade ago. The kid, Miles Postlethwait, was 10 years old, but only in years. He hardly said a word to anyone. He had already had 29 surgeries. He would have a dozen more. They weren’t all heart surgeries. No, Miles had been born with all sorts of things wrong; the doctors had worked on his intestines, his kidneys, his liver, his heart … Miles could not even keep up with what was failing. He was eligible for any number of camps. Heart camp would do.

The football player, Tony Gonzalez, was a rookie tight end in the NFL. He had this vague notion that as a professional football player he was supposed to do stuff like this. You know. Visit a few hospitals. Volunteer at youth centers. Show up at a heart camp. He did not exactly know what a heart camp was. He suspected that there were kids there with heart problems. He showed up, signed a few autographs, hugged a few kids.

They would both remember meeting, but neither would remember what was said. They’re both sure it wasn’t much.

“It makes you feel good to give,” Tony told a reporter, and not long after, he got in his car and went home. He did feel good having done something for those kids who were going through tough times. Gonzalez saw himself as a good guy. When he got home, he punched up his game system and played some video games. He was a professional football player. And that was real life.

•••

People don’t remember this, but there was a time when many thought Tony Gonzalez was a bust. He was the 13th pick in the 1997 draft — the Chiefs wanted him so badly they traded up to get him — and in his rookie year he only caught 33 passes, just six in his last four games. It got to the point where Marcus Allen, the team leader, called Tony at home and said: “Hey man, you have to pick it up. We need you.”

Tony’s second year wasn’t much better. He did catch a few more passes, but he dropped a bunch more — Gonzalez would remember dropping 17 passes that year, more than one per game. He was coasting, and he knew it. He had money. He had the Hollywood looks. He slept during days and squeezed everything he could out of Kansas City nights. When people asked him to do things in the community, he looked for excuses. He was young.

And here’s thing: Tony knew he could coast like this for a long time — catch 50 passes a year, drop a few, sneak into a Pro Bowl or two, make a lot of money, enjoy himself.

“The NFL can make you stupid,” Gonzalez would say.

After that dreadful second season, he went home to California and, for the first time in years, started writing. The pen felt strange in his hand — “Football players can go years without writing complete sentences,” he would say — but it felt good. He had liked writing when he was a kid — nothing long, not stories or letters or anything like that. No. Phrases. Ideas. Thoughts about life. Goals. Especially goals. Gonzalez started writing down his goals, things he wanted to accomplish, records he wanted to set, games he wanted to win. And he wrote down a question:

“What kind of person do you want to be?”

•••

Miles can’t keep the surgeries straight in his mind. He only remembers the feeling — that cold, black fear he felt sitting in hospitals, in different cities, waiting for whatever terrible news the doctor had for him. It wasn’t just the pain — he’d lived with pain all his life. It wasn’t just the shadow of death. The doctors had saved his life more times than he cared to remember.

No, the worst part was something else. He had good friends. He had a loving family. None of them could understand, though. Miles felt intensely alone.

“Nobody’s like me,” he told his mother one day. “I wish I had a friend like me.”

Those words cut through Marty Postlethwait so much so that she developed a whole new life. She started making these little dolls — she would call them Shadow Buddies — to give to children in hospitals, dolls that had the same conditions as the child. There would be a Burn Buddy and a Liver Transplant Buddy and a Seizure Buddy. She gave the first one to Miles, a Heart Buddy, and he held on tight to it. And while he was holding on to it, he started to get this odd idea in his mind, this notion about why he might be going through so much pain. It was a big idea for someone 14 of 15 years old, but then, like George Bailey, he was born older.

Maybe, Miles thought, he was supposed to know how it feels so he could help other people get over those same fears.

•••

Tony wanted a charity that fit him. That was part of being an NFL star, right? Chiefs director of community relations Brenda Sniezek said she had the perfect thing — it was called Shadow Buddies. Tony would go to hospitals and senior-citizen centers and hand out these little dolls that were meant to make people feel less alone.

He liked the idea. The visits made him feel good. He liked being around kids. He liked it when some of the older patients called him “son.” And, honestly, it was pretty easy, too. In and out. “I’m not going to lie to you,” Tony would say years later. “I really was not in a place in my life where I wanted to do much of anything. I was trying to make a name for myself as a football player. I wanted to have a good time, too.”

When he came to camp in 1999, everyone saw a different football player. He was tireless. He had started to read books about successful people — Michael Jordan, Abraham Lincoln, Vince Lombardi — and realized that what made them special was the extra work they put in. Tony started catching 100 extra balls after every practice. He worked out constantly. He watched more film than any tight end should watch. He caught 76 passes in 1999, 11 of them touchdown passes. He made the Pro Bowl for the first time.

The next year, he was even better — 93 catches, 1,203 yards, nine more touchdowns. Another Pro Bowl. Then another Pro Bowl. Another. Another. He was becoming that star. He was on magazine covers. He was invited to all the best parties. He was making more money than he could have imagined. He was in demand.

He started checking off his goals. Catch 100 passes. Check. Be a better blocker. Check. Make a difference. That was a harder one. He tried to get more involved. He tried to show up for all the charity appearances his teammates were making. He tried to raise money for good causes. But was that really making a difference?

Tony saw Miles sitting quietly at almost every Shadow Buddies event. The kid hardly ever said a word.

“Hey, man,” he said one day. “You can talk to me. It’s all right. I’m just Tony. Don’t treat me like I’m anything special. I’m just Tony.”

The kid smiled. Tony would remember that.

•••

The first time they talked, really talked, was in the car when Miles was 16. He was driving Tony to the airport. There was, at first, the usual silence between them. Miles didn’t want to talk more about doctors and surgeries and how he felt — man, everybody asked him about that. And Tony didn’t want to talk about football and being famous and rich — man, everybody asked him about that.

Then, they started talking about girls.

“Now, we’re in an area I know something about,” Tony said, at least that’s how they remembered it, and Miles suddenly started to open up. He started talking about his family, and his friends, and girls and sports how much he wanted to be just a regular kid. Tony understood. He talked about how his family, and his friends and girls and sports and how hard it was to trust people. They were at the airport before either one realized it.

Then, they started making plans to see each other. Miles flew out to California to hang out. Miles flew out to the Pro Bowl to hang out. They ate at each other’s homes. They played golf together, the one sport Miles could play without losing his breath. The celebration night before Tony and October’s wedding (it was officially called a “commitment ceremony,” but both now refer to it as their wedding), Miles was the designated driver. For months now Tony has been talking about setting up something special in Las Vegas for Miles’ 21st birthday next year.

Then Tony started to introduce Miles as his little brother.

“He’s constantly on me to improve myself,” Miles says. They get together for dinner every Wednesday, and Tony hammers Miles with advice. Concentrate on school. Read more books. Have a plan for your life. Make goals. Improve your diet.

“I’ve watched this guy grow up,” Tony says as he looks at Miles. “It took a long time, too.”

“Shut up,” Miles says.

•••

Tony Gonzalez cannot sit still. It isn’t his nature. At the Pro Bowl, Tony will never be found lounging by the pool. He has to go. He has to do. He has a restless soul.

Now, though, he’s happy with his life. He’s married — he and October are expecting their first child in May. He’s at the top of his game. He doesn’t play video games anymore or spend many nights out on the town. He’s on something like a Vegan diet. He tries to spend an hour every day reading and an hour every week doing something in the community — even during the season. He works on a project with Oprah, and he has his own charitable foundation, and he does some television and movie work.

Now, he’s the veteran telling drifting rookies how to act.

“You can’t just show up for practice,” he tells them. “Even if you practice as hard as you can — which you’re probably not doing — that’s not enough. Everybody out there — every player on every team — is practicing hard. You have to do more to be the best. You have to care.”

Some listen. Some don’t. This has been an awful season. Tony realizes that in the next two years, maybe three, his football career will end. He realizes that unless some things change drastically, he may never get his shot to play in a Super Bowl. This is the crazy thing about playing pro football — there’s only so much you can do.

“Does it bother me?” he asks. “Sure it does. I remember when Grunny (Tim Grunhard) retired, he was almost destroyed because he never got a chance to play in the Super Bowl. That won’t be me. If I don’t get the chance, I’ll be disappointed, but I won’t let that define me. I just won’t. I’ve worked as hard as I can, and I still do.”

Here he looks at Miles, who is having a second helping of potatoes.

“I wouldn’t trade anything for my time in Kansas City. I’ve gotten so much out of my time. I’ve grown up here. I’ve become a man here.”

•••

Tony, as usual, does most of the talking. It’s his personality. Miles jumps in now and again, usually with a wisecrack. Now Tony is quizzing him again about goals.

“I want to graduate from college,” Miles says helpfully.

“That’s it? That’s not specific enough. I can’t just say, ‘Our goal is to win.’ Win how? How are you going to win?”

“You’re not winning.”

“Yeah, that’s funny. You have to be specific in your goals. When do you want to graduate? How soon? What kind of grades do you want to make? What do you want to get out of your degree?”

Miles smiles. “You can see what I get out of this friendship.”

Then Tony asks him again: “What is your goal?” Miles thinks hard for a moment. And then he says something unexpected. He says that he wants to be there for kids who have gone through what he has gone through. He wants be less afraid.

“What do you mean?” Tony asks.

“Well, you know how when we visit hospitals? I want to build up the courage to go into the ICU unit. I can’t go in there now. It still scares me too much. I know what’s happening in there. I know what the feelings are like in there. It’s still too close for me. I can’t go in there. But I know I have to go if I’m going to help some kids. So that’s my goal, I guess. To be brave enough to start going into the ICU units and talking to those kids.”

Tony stays quiet for a few seconds. The television hums quietly in the background.

“Well,” Tony says. “Now you can see what I get out of this friendship.”

BigRedChief
12-24-2007, 05:39 AM
In the past I've heard stories about how Tony G is surly towards autograph seekers, not appreciative of his fans etc. Do you not expect these athletes to sometimes get tired of being bugged for autographs every time they go out in public? Yes, that’s the trade off. You don't like it retire from the public eye. But still it’s got to suck someone wanting something from you all the time.

I've seen the ugly part of autographs myself. A cute as a button little girls asked Tony G for an autograph. He signed it and personalized it to her. She goes running to dad and shows off her souvenir. She gets yelled at for not just getting the autograph and given another photo and told to go get another one. Tony G never saw this or knew about this particular autograph but I bet he's seen it happen before.

I've met Tony G four times, working with him at charity events. I've been to his apartment. He knows my name.

We are not friends but I've saw him interact with just about every type of Chiefs fan and non Chiefs fan for hours at a time. He has always been respectful to everyone around him and even when he turned down autographs it was because he was already late to be somewhere else.

I loved Derrick Thomas. I got to spend a 1/2 hour talking Chiefs football with him and Neal Smith. One of the great memories I'll ever have of Chiefs football. But the fact that he fathered children from many different women makes me rate him a little bit lower than Tony G. for his off the field charitable and personal activities.

Yep, When you combine the on the field plays with the off the field activities I think Tony G is the greatest Chief evah, since Lenny the Cool.

Demonpenz
12-24-2007, 08:13 AM
tony plays hard on the field and stays out of trouble off it. Autograph seekers can be a pathetic bunch.

Dayze
12-24-2007, 08:54 AM
MY wife and I met Ty Law last year at CVS Pharmacy the Friday before the Chiefs went to Indy int he playoffs; shooks his hand, introduced myself while standing in line; had a brief interaction with him; wished him good luck etc. I'd much rather have that experience than an autograph.

BTW - he was waaay bigger of a dude than I expected.

boogblaster
12-24-2007, 09:15 AM
TG=CLASS

Sfeihc
12-24-2007, 10:39 AM
next stop Canton

Sure-Oz
12-24-2007, 11:13 AM
Turk Mcbride is all class, he bought us a round of drinks and shots and signed a peice of paper for me and my gf, along with letting us sit at his table with his guests to talk.

KCChiefsFan88
12-24-2007, 11:59 AM
Turk Mcbride is all class, he bought us a round of drinks and shots and signed a peice of paper for me and my gf, along with letting us sit at his table with his guests to talk.

Turk along with Tank have been busts on the field this year.

crazycoffey
12-24-2007, 12:08 PM
Touching story about TG, class all the way....

88TG88
12-24-2007, 12:14 PM
Tony G: The best Chiefs player on and off the field since Lenny the Cool?
Yes, along with DT.

KcMizzou
12-24-2007, 12:42 PM
“I want to graduate from college,” Miles says helpfully.

“That’s it? That’s not specific enough. I can’t just say, ‘Our goal is to win.’ Win how? How are you going to win?”

“You’re not winning.”

“Yeah, that’s funny. LMAO Why you little...

Nice story. Nobody's better at this type of column than Posnanski.

Sure-Oz
12-24-2007, 12:54 PM
Turk along with Tank have been busts on the field this year.
Rookie DT's hardly make a huge impact their rookie seasons, unless you are a top 5 pick not named Ryan Sims. Great guy, regardless im rooting for him to get better, hopefully they can be servicable if anything down the road.

StcChief
12-24-2007, 03:00 PM
Tony is a class act.... since he appeared as rookie.

Getting to Canton by hard work on / off the field.

BigRedChief
12-26-2007, 05:35 AM
Tony is a class act.... since he appeared as rookie.

Getting to Canton by hard work on / off the field.
We could use a lot more Tony G's on our team.

a1na2
12-26-2007, 07:40 AM
MY wife and I met Ty Law last year at CVS Pharmacy the Friday before the Chiefs went to Indy int he playoffs; shooks his hand, introduced myself while standing in line; had a brief interaction with him; wished him good luck etc. I'd much rather have that experience than an autograph.

BTW - he was waaay bigger of a dude than I expected.
I have met a few Chiefs over the years and I've had the same experience. I do not want autographs, I'm more than having the opportunity to say "Thanks" for all of the entertainment and what they stand for.

My best experience was golfing with Art Still. He is a class act.

As for Tony G. His first year with the Chiefs he dropped too many balls to keep him happy. He worked very hard between his rookie year and the his third year on getting his hands on the ball.(not as eloquent as the main post, but the way I remember it) If ever there were a player that should have the ability to move into coaching after his career it should be TG. If could teach what he did to others we might have more great TE's in the NFL.

I do think that by the time TG retires he just might have every TE record in the NFL. When he gets into the HOF I'm going to do my best to be there.

Deberg_1990
12-26-2007, 07:51 AM
Probably one of the smartest, if not the smartest things Carl Peterson ever did in KC.

Traded up to grab Tony G.

BigRedChief
12-27-2007, 05:05 AM
Probably one of the smartest, if not the smartest things Carl Peterson ever did in KC.

Traded up to grab Tony G.
I thought it was Marty that wanted Tony G?

Delano
03-02-2008, 07:35 PM
...Now, though, he’s happy with his life. He’s married — he and October are expecting their first child in May. He’s at the top of his game. He doesn’t play video games anymore or spend many nights out on the town. He’s on something like a Vegan diet. He tries to spend an hour every day reading and an hour every week doing something in the community — even during the season. He works on a project with Oprah, and he has his own charitable foundation, and he does some television and movie work.

Tony is on ABC on "Oprah's Big Give" show right now 8:00 - 9:00 PM CST.

Looks like he is some kind of judge.

blueballs
03-02-2008, 08:27 PM
Jo-Po poops cottoncandy

chiefs1111
03-03-2008, 01:10 AM
The NFL could use alot more people like Tony,thats for damn sure.

StcChief
03-03-2008, 08:05 AM
TG=Class all the way.

gblowfish
03-03-2008, 08:13 AM
You can't overlook Will Shields. As far as community involvement, he won an NFL Man of the Year award. Spent his whole career with one team, sure Hall of Famer. He's the biggest class act we've produced as a Chiefs player, maybe ever. Major props to Will Shields.

StcChief
03-03-2008, 08:19 AM
You can't overlook Will Shields. As far as community involvement, he won an NFL Man of the Year award. Spent his whole career with one team, sure Hall of Famer. He's the biggest class act we've produced as a Chiefs player, maybe ever. Major props to Will Shields.agreed Will Shields at this point right there with Lenny.

BigRedChief
03-03-2008, 08:38 AM
You can't overlook Will Shields. As far as community involvement, he won an NFL Man of the Year award. Spent his whole career with one team, sure Hall of Famer. He's the biggest class act we've produced as a Chiefs player, maybe ever. Major props to Will Shields.
Agree. Total class act.

Sure-Oz
03-03-2008, 08:48 AM
Turk along with Tank have been busts on the field this year.

Agreed, but they are rookies, hopefully they can improve and be solid rotational players if anything. Turk also had the hots for my gf i think, probably why we got the drinks