Kansas City Chiefs Tight Ends Travis Kelce And Tony Gonzalez Share Tight Bond

Travis Kelce on pitch


Travis Kelce ranks fifth all time in NFL history in receiving yards among tight ends. At the No. 1 tight end perch is Tony Gonzalez, a fellow Kansas City Chiefs tight end, with 15,127 yards.  Asked about reaching that record one day, Kelce interjected.  “Still a loooong ways away,” he said.

Kelce now has 9,559 yards in 134 games. Gonzalez — who played in 270 career games, including with the Chiefs from 1997 to 2008 — is rooting for him.  “I’m so proud of him,” Gonzalez exclusively shared. “I want him to take this position as far as he can take it. I’m not one of those crotchety, old men who talk about records and all that stuff. Hey, you can go get ’em, Travis!”

Gonzalez got plenty of receptions and touchdowns during his 17-year career. His 1,325 receptions rank first among tight ends and third among all NFL players, and his 111 receiving touchdowns rank second among all tight ends in NFL history.

Gonzalez’s last year of that Hall of Fame career was in 2013, which coincided with Kelce’s rookie year.  Shortly into that Chiefs tenure — having heard from those in the Chiefs organization raving about Gonzalez’s work ethic — Kelce reached out to the veteran tight end for tips.

Gonzalez stressed the importance of hard work and making sure he caught extra balls before and after practice. He told him to focus on where his eyes and hands were for every catch.  “Everything he was saying was down to the tiny detail — whether it’s the technique or I’m watching film,” said Kelce, who spoke on behalf of a Tide campaign encouraging fans to wash their favorite jersey with Tide’s Hygienic Clean Heavy Duty 10X Power PODS. “He told me exactly what I needed to hear.”

Kelce texted back a picture of one of Gonzalez’s highlights, showing he was studying Gonzalez’s routes on film.  Now the tables have turned on their film review.  “I’ve been watching him like a hawk,” Gonzalez said.  The two tight ends also message each other, especially when Gonzalez is going to be in Kansas City.

When Gonzalez was last in town as part of his co-hosting duties on Amazon Prime Video’s Thursday Night Football, which featured the Chiefs hosting the Los Angeles Chargers as its inaugural game, Kelce invited him to the after-party he was throwing.

The 46-year-old Gonzalez, though, joked that he didn’t make it out because he was too old and needed his sleep.  “It’s like my uncle from growing up,” Kelce said. “It’s been very cool. We’ve kept in touch 100% throughout the years.”

One of their most meaningful interactions came during Super Bowl LIV. Before Gonzalez was with Amazon Prime Video, he worked for FOX, which broadcast the Chiefs’ win against the San Francisco 49ers. So Gonzalez was on the sideline for the waning seconds of Kansas City’s first Super Bowl victory in 50 years.  He embraced Kelce.  “I was so happy for him,” Gonzalez said.

During the lead-up to that Super Bowl, which matched Kelce against the 49ers and tight end George Kittle, Gonzalez compared Kittle to a HEMI, the engine for Chrysler muscle cars, and Kelce to a Mercedes.

The rugged, 6-5, 250-pound Kelce cackled upon hearing Gonzalez’s description before noting he’d be part of Mercedes’ four-wheel-drive line.  “If I’m a Mercedes, I’m like the G-wagon. You know what I mean?” Kelce said. “I’m like the military version.”

The Mercedes and Hemi raced down the field again last Sunday. The Chiefs won 44-23, and each had exactly 98 receiving yards on National Tight Ends Day.  More than the statistics, though, Gonzalez is impressed by Kelce’s approach to the game.  “The guy’s a mental assassin,” Gonzalez said. “That’s really what separates good players from great players.”

Asked about Kelce’s on-the-field abilities, Gonzalez then started to scat out a melody.  “His route running is — I would say — like smooth jazz,” Gonzalez said, “just so silky, silky smooth.”  But he’s also tough to bring down.

With 1:21 left in the first half of Sunday’s game against the 49ers, the Chiefs were backed up at their own eight-yard line. Kelce went in motion, caught a pass on the left side and then broke the tackle of linebacker Dre Greenlaw before weaving around cornerback Deommodore Lenoir. On the 22 yard-gain, 16 of the yards were after the catch.

Gonzalez said that yard-after-catch ability is better than any tight end he’s ever seen.  “I’ve always admired that part of his game,” Gonzalez said. “When he gets the ball in his hands, the way he can make people miss — he’s like Gumby. It’s weird the way he can contort his body.”

The Gumby-like Kelce can bend, but will he break Gonzalez’s tight end records of 1,325 receptions for 15,127 yards?  Gonzalez played until age 37, and Kelce, who has three years left on his Chiefs contract after this season, turned 33 earlier this month.

Kelce is on pace for 114 catches and 1,343 receiving yards this season. If those end up as his final numbers for 2022, he would need to average 126.75 receptions and 1,194.5 yards over the next four seasons or 101.4 receptions and 955.6 yards over the next five just to tie Gonzalez’s numbers.  “It’s all about (staying) healthy,” Gonzalez said. “He’s a got a shot to break it, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he does. I would not be surprised at all.”

Kelce downplayed his pursuit of Gonzalez’s statistics, noting he just takes pride in carrying on the legacy of great tight ends in Kansas City.  “I come into an organization that has the greatest tight end to ever play the game and I’ve got to fill that guy’s shoes,” Kelce said. “Not necessarily fill his shoes because I’m still another lifetime behind catching any of his career numbers, but it’s been cool to have success and kind of get the nod that I’ve been dominating games like 88 had done for so many, so many years.”


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