Tony Gonzalez on Travis Kelce: "He could go down as one of the best"

The NFL’s all-time leader among TEs in yards, receptions and touchdowns praises the Chiefs young playmaker

From the moment he started making plays in a Kansas City Chiefs uniform, it was inevitable. Third-year tight end Travis Kelce was going to hear a lot about Tony Gonzalez.

That's just the nature of the position he plays and the town he plays for.

Gonzalez spent the first 12 years (1997-2008) of his career with the Chiefs and is widely considered the best to ever play the position.

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He was the franchise's first-round pick back in 1997 (No. 13 overall) and holds the NFL's all-time record for most receptions (1,325), yards (15,127) and touchdowns (111) by a tight end, among numerous other records.

In other words, he's the GOAT.

And luckily for Kelce, the Chiefs and everyone involved, he's become a mentor of sorts for the Chiefs current star.

"I think they have a good relationship," Chiefs coach Andy Reid said on Monday of Kelce and Gonzalez. "Tony is a smart guy and he looks at the big picture with things, both on and off the field."

In an attempt to improve his craft this offseason, Kelce said he watched film of the guy who will always be associated with the number 88 to those around Kansas City.  

"He did text me when he was looking at the film," Gonzalez said on Saturday, the day before he stepped on the field once again at Arrowhead Stadium as the pregame drum honoree before the Chiefs 23-13 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers.

"He was like, 'I'm going to check you out today, old man.'"

Old man?

The exchange explains a lot about their relationship, which is built upon a mutual respect and a love for the game of football, not to mention a similarity in personalities and ability to joke with one another.

Kelce has a big personality, derived from a passion for the game that Gonzalez can relate to and associate with in how he played throughout his soon-to-be Hall of Fame career.

He sees something in Kelce.

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"If he keeps his head on straight, he could go down as one of the best," Gonzalez said of Kelce. "He really can; I believe it."

When Kelce threw on the film of Gonzalez, there were a few things that stood out to him that he's tried to incorporate into how he approaches his game.

"Just by watching how he plays and talking to him, you can just tell without even being in the locker room with him that he was a guy who was in the weight room all of the time; he was out there on the field working techniques, working hand movements, working catches on the jugs all the time."

"It's really the off-the-field stuff that made [Gonzalez] so great. What he did on the field was just a reflection of the work he put in."

Kelce finished Sunday's win over the Steelers with a team-high 5 catches for 73 yards, including a key 26-yard reception in the fourth quarter on third down that set up the game-clinching touchdown.

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"Obviously he's got to stay healthy and be in some good systems, but he has that talent on and off the field to be a great one," Gonzalez said.

Kelce has appreciated the ability to pick the brain and be mentored by a guy who quite literally was a driving force in changing how the position was viewed and has developed in the NFL over the past two decades.

"It's been cool," Kelce said. "He's come off as a friendly guy. You see this superstar that's played so many years in the league without having any devastating injuries; he's like Iron Man out there.

"You just see this persona when you meet him. He's a humble guy, which makes you feel comfortable when you talk to him."

When Gonzalez turns on the tape of Kelce, many things stand out.

"You look at his size at 6 feet 5, 260 pounds and can run like the wind—he's a mismatch nightmare, but I think what really stands out with him and what I like the most about his game is his run after the catch. I think it's the best in the league.

"He's one of those guys, and this is something I could never do, he'll catch the ball at 5 or 6 yards, then turn it up and go 25, 30 yards running through people or just making guys miss. That's really what stands out to me."

Over the past two season, Kelce's 772 yards after the catch ranks No. 1 in the NFL among tight ends.

View the top photos of TE Travis Kelce

To make things even better, he's just 26 years old.

Last year, his first season playing after missing his rookie year with a knee injury, Kelce finished with a team-high 67 receptions for 862 yards and 5 touchdowns.

It wasn't until Gonzalez's fourth year in the league that he had at least 862 yards receiving in a season, and that was back in 2000 when he had 1,203.

"The sky's the limit on how good he could be," Gonzalez said. "He's still young, still in his third year, and he's only going to get better."

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These two aren't just connected by the position they played and the community they have and will continue to represent. They also share a connection through an organization Gonzalez helped Kelce get started with just a few months ago in the Kansas City area called Shadow Buddies.

Since 1995, the Shadow Buddies Foundation has been providing emotional support to medically challenged children and their parents with condition-specific dolls that are designed to be a friend, "just like me."

It's a program with special meaning to Gonzalez and one that he got started with early in his Chiefs career. Since then, he's helped spread it to multiple cities around the country through his actions and those of his former teammates who have gone on to play in other places.  

The torch has been passed in a few ways, you could say, as Kelce is now the current spokesman for the Chiefs with the Shadow Buddies program.

It's another area that there's a mentor-mentee relationship between the two.

On Tuesday, Kelce will be visiting the pediatric unit at Kansas University Hospital and delivering his very own Shadow Buddy, dressed in Chiefs shorts and a special t-shirt with No. 87 and his signature on the back.

It's another way Kelce is following in the footsteps of not only one of the greatest Chiefs players of all-time, but also someone who connected with the community in a way that went way beyond football.

To this day, Gonzalez continues to make a difference in the Kansas City Community—something he knows Kelce is aspiring to do as well.  

"His personality, I think, is perfect for the level of success that he can achieve," Gonzalez said. "He's humble, he's engaging and he wants to give back to the community. He has that desire—which I think is really important.

"He has the opportunity to change people's lives on and off the field and I think he recognizes that."

Whether it's help with his technique through watching old film, his offseason workouts or something with Shadow Buddies and helping in the community, Kelce knows that one of the greatest of all time, both on and off the field, is there for him.

"Whatever he wants, I'll be there," Gonzalez said.

For Kelce, that's a pretty good guy to have in your corner.

Congratulations on a great career with the Kansas City Chiefs and Atlanta Falcons

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