Hall of Famer Tony Gonzalez Is the Hardest Working Man in Podcasting

A candid conversation with the Ironman tight end about life, fatherhood and interview prep

June 16, 2020 5:01 am
Ex-NFL player Tony Gonzalez attends the premiere of "xXx: Return of Xander Cage" in 2017. (Jason LaVeris/FilmMagic)
Ex-NFL player Tony Gonzalez attends the premiere of "xXx: Return of Xander Cage" in 2017. (Jason LaVeris/FilmMagic)

This is Life After Football, a new series that examines how current and former NFL players, coaches and executives are building a legacy beyond the gridiron.

Before George Kittle, Travis Kelce or Rob Gronkowski ever stepped on an NFL playing field, Tony Gonzalez set the standard for playing tight end in professional football.

Gonzalez, who was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2019, finished his playing career with more than 1,300 receptions, 15,000 receiving yards and 111 touchdown catches, numbers that earned him 14 Pro Bowl appearances in his 17 NFL seasons.

While those numbers are impressive, perhaps the statistic that stands out most on Gonzalez’s NFL resumé is the number of games he missed: two. Somehow, in a sport where a single game contains multiple collisions that have a similar force to that of a car crash, Gonzalez suited up for 270 out of a possible 272. So, how’d he do it?

“A little bit of luck goes a long way,” Gonzalez tells InsideHook. “I tore my MCL pretty badly in the last game of the year once. If that had happened in the first game, I would’ve missed the whole season. So, that’s a little bit of luck right there. But also, I think it’s really just learning how to play the game. I used a lot of visualization. Picturing myself in the game all the time and how to take a hit and how to get out of the way and how to persevere. But then also you play through pain. You’ve got to know when to push the gas to accelerate and when to curl up and say, ‘Okay, well we’ve got to live to fight another day.’ And that just comes with experience. You got to know when to hold them and know when to walk away, like that Kenny Rogers song. Then you find that good balance and stay healthy and productive.”

Since Gonzalez cashed in his chips and pushed away from the table after finishing the 2013 season with the Atlanta Falcons, the 44-year-old has found success in a number of other ventures, including investing, acting and sports broadcasting at Fox. While those are all still pursuits Gonzalez is involved in, the latest project that has drawn his attention is his podcast, Wide Open with Tony Gonzalez.

Tony Gonzalez walks off the field after a game against the Broncos in 2003 at Arrowhead Stadium. (Sporting News via Getty)
Sporting News via Getty Images

Launched in the fall of 2019, Gonzalez has hosted a wide variety of guests — Snoop Dogg, Mike Tyson, Tony Hawk, David Spade, Jessica Alba, Neil deGrasse Tyson — since Wide Open hit airwaves.

“I’d been thinking about doing something like this for a long time,” he says. “People always ask me questions about my career like, ‘How’d you do that? What’d you do?’ I decided I’d love to talk about my personal experiences, but then bring people on who have achieved great things. The majority of the people that follow me come from the football crowd, and I wanted to bring these messages to them. Let’s read between the lines of these people that have done great things. They didn’t just get there. It didn’t just happen. Let’s hear what they’ve gone through and then try to inspire each other to get better. It’s fun, it’s entertaining and it helps people be the best versions of themselves, which helps everybody. To me, it’s an obligation to get better. Why not learn from the greats?”

Since Gonzalez, who has Oprah Winfrey, Barack Obama, Tom Hanks and Mick Jagger on his list of dream guests, started the podcast, he’s been honing his chops as an interviewer the same way he used to sharpen his skills as one of the NFL’s premier pass-catchers.

“One thing I recognized from doing television is you can’t try to be like somebody else,” he says. “Just like when I played football, you’ve got to copy genius and see what makes them great, but then put your own spin on it and make sure it’s authentic to you. That’s what I try to do. I try to really be in the moment. I have questions in front of me I know I’m going to ask, but I try not to look at them that much. You need to be in the moment, just like on the football field or when I’m on Fox on live television. You don’t have time. You got to just stay with them. And then if you hear something interesting, go even further into that. I try to ask personal questions but form them in a way that doesn’t seem too invasive. Then hopefully they’ll answer and be completely honest — they’ll be wide open. Tell us something we don’t know. Let’s talk about why. And that’s what I keep asking. I want to get to the why behind everything.”

Gonzalez, who credits books about achieving excellence with helping his career get back on track after he led the NFL in dropped passes during his second season, says How to Stop Acting by acting coach Harold Guskin and other written works on the subject have been a big help in his post-football career.

“It takes energy for me to get out of my shell and acting books have really helped me,” he says. “That’s the thing: don’t act, just go be yourself. Be that authentic person in that role. And that’s what it is when you’re in front of the camera or doing an interview. Don’t act. The magic is in the ad-lib. The great ones that I’ve read about like Jack Nicholson, they’re unpredictable because they’re in the moment. They don’t even know what they’re going to do. I’m reading this great book called Ignore Everybody: And 39 Other Keys to Creativity. That’s where you want to be. You want to be in that mindset. That’s why I always say everybody should take an acting class, everybody. just because of what it forces you to do. It’s extremely uncomfortable.”

Tony Gonzalez of the Falcons makes a catch against the Jets at the Georgia Dome in 2013. (Scott Cunningham/Getty)
Getty Images

While getting comfortable in front of the camera and behind the microphone has been a challenge for Gonzalez, but it hasn’t been as tough as being a father of four.

“It’s the greatest joy, but one of the toughest things you’ll have to do. That and marriage,” Gonzalez, who was recognized as a Father of the Year in 2019, says. “When you combine marriage and kids, I always say that’s a tough combo. That’s something you have to work at. You can’t just think it’s just going to work itself out. You can’t just wing it. That never worked for anything. You’ve got to educate yourself on being the best parent that you can be. Get some books and read about people that have gone through it before and then take those experiences and try to be the best parent you can be. Then, you’re going to lead a happy life, and you’re going to put out some good human beings. I’ve taken a lot of pride in that.”

Gonzalez also takes great pride in being recognized for his achievements as a dad.

“My kids were like, ‘Who the hell gave you that? I didn’t vote.’ Smart-ass kids. I love them,” he says. “It’s cliché, but to me being a parent is the most important thing you’ll ever do. It’s the most important thing because you are affecting so many people by putting out a good, responsible human being. I want confident, fearless human beings that are giving back, doing things that are helping the relationships in their lives, helping the community and helping the world. It was an honor to know I could get recognized as a great father. It’s right up there with all the other accolades I’ve ever had. It really means a lot to me. I take a lot of pride in trying to be the best father I can be.”

Part of being a father is giving advice. So, since Gonzalez switched teams and conferences late in his career by going from the Chiefs to the Falcons after becoming a legend in Kansas City, InsideHook was curious to hear if he had any advice for someone who is doing something similar this season: Tom Brady.

“I think Tom is the last person to ever need advice because he’s such a Jedi. Really, he’s like Obi-Wan Kenobi the way he handles things,” Gonzalez says. “He’s just so in control of his emotions. I have no doubt he will have outstanding success. He’s smart. It’s not like he went to a team that didn’t have talent around. He went to a great place where he’s surrounded by weapons. He is going to light it up. This might be the most yards he’s ever had in a season because he’s with Bruce Arians now. Arians isn’t like Bill Belichick where each week the gameplan could be different. Arians is going to throw the ball and light up that scoreboard as much as he can, and Tom is going to be at the center of that. Out of everybody out there right now, Tom is my leading candidate for MVP this year. I know he’s going to go out there with guns blazing because he wants to prove to everybody he can do it without Belichick. I think [Belichick in] New England and [Brady in] Tampa Bay are going to be really successful this year because they both want to do it apart from each other. They both want to say, ‘Hey, we. were magic together, but we can also be magic apart.’ I think they’re both going to have unbelievable seasons.”

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