A year and a day after catching his last NFL pass, Antonio Gates formally retired on Tuesday.
He spent the 16 seasons of his career with the Chargers, finishing with 116 touchdown receptions, the most by a tight end.
Selected eight times in the Pro Bowl, Gates also formed five All-Pro teams and is the leader of the Chargers franchise in catches (955) and receiving yards (11,841). He is eligible for the Pro Football Hall of Fame election in 2023.
“I find it difficult to officially publish this statement and withdraw from the soccer game,” Gates wrote on social media. “I never dreamed that I would play this soccer game for so long or how lucky I would be to play it with just one organization.”
In a press release issued by the team, Gates thanked everyone, from Chargers owner Dean Spanos, his own family, to fans of the team in San Diego and Los Angeles.
He also announced that he would join the Chargers in a community relations role.
“Antonio is not only one of the best Chargers he has ever played in the game, he is one of the best players in NFL history,” Spanos said in the press release. “His contributions to our organization over the course of an unprecedented 16-year career, both in the field and in the community, cannot be overstated.”
Gates, 39, appeared in his final game on January 13, 2019, the day the Chargers lost 41-28 in the icy New England in the divisional round of the AFC playoffs.
At the last minute, he caught an eight-yard scoring pass from Philip Rivers. The two connected for 89 touchdowns, the most for a tight endback quarterback duo.
In the team statement, Rivers praised Gates for his competitiveness and friendship, and expressed his love for his 15-year-old teammate.
He also referred to an unofficial guideline that existed among the quarterbacks of the Chargers.
“We talked about the readings and plays and they all had a” Rule of the gates, “Rivers explained. “It meant a lot, if he is one on one, throw him there.”
After the defeat of the playoffs against the Patriots, Gates stood in the visiting locker room at Gillette Stadium and talked about his desire to continue playing. The 2018 season ended with 28 receptions for 333 yards and two touchdowns.
The Chargers, however, chose not to sign it again, even after tight end Hunter Henry broke his left knee in the first game of the 2019 season and missed four games.
At that time, the team had gone from being one of its most popular players.
“Rewriting the record book is obviously part of it, but when you needed a large block, you needed to convert it first, you needed a firm voice in the group or leadership in the locker room, that was Antonio,” said general manager Tom Telesco. . “He not only did one thing well, he did everything right.”
Gates joined the Chargers as a free agent not recruited in 2003, a season before Rivers. Born in Detroit, Gates did not play football in college; instead, he was a prominent basketball player at Kent State.
He earned a place on the list as a rookie, making his first capture in Week 4 against Oakland, scoring his first touchdown in Week 10 against Minnesota and producing his first 100-yard receiving game in Week 15 against Green Bay.
A decade and a half later, Gates concluded his career with a postseason touchdown in his final reception.
“Antonio was a selfless player who had the ability to do almost everything you can imagine on a soccer field,” coach Anthony Lynn said. “Execute precise routes, take a block of keys, catch better than a receiver….
“But it wasn’t until I had the privilege to train him that I saw his most important skill: leadership. His teammates always looked for his guidance. They just wanted to be close to him. … Combine all these factors, he might well start equipping Antonio for a golden jacket right now. “