This wasn’t how Antonio Gates wanted to get the record, coming in the midst of a tough loss at the buzzer.
Still, while dismayed over the team falling 19-17 to the Miami Dolphins, an emotional Gates tried his best not to let it take away from the magnitude of the event.
What he accomplished in the north end zone of StubHub Center midway through the third quarter is the stuff dreams are made of.
Using every bit of his 6-4, 255-pound frame, Gates hauled in the 112th touchdown of his career. It’s a mark no other tight end in NFL history ever attained.
“It’s finally come to an end,” he said after the game. “Six weeks hearing about when I’m going to break the record. Still, being able to give our team a chance to win, it was a bittersweet moment. Obviously, we scored and we were able to move forward in the game, but you still want to get a win (with) the whole accomplishment. At the end of the day, my teammates embraced me. I just haven’t quite wrapped my head around it all; it happened so fast.”
It definitely was a surreal scene, as the entire offense jumped on Gates as he lay on the turf, his hands extended in the air. Not only that, but some of his defensive teammates ran out to celebrate with one of the most popular figures in the locker room.
Not only did Gates set the tight end record, but his 901st catch was the 85th time Philip Rivers found number 85 in the end zone. It tied them with Steve Young and Jerry Rice for the second most touchdowns by a QB/WR-TE duo in NFL history.
Rivers and Gates share a special connection, which is why the quarterback was the only person Gates tried to distance himself from during the on-field celebration.
“I specifically told Philip to stay away from me,” he said. “Because Philip is the guy that I’ve been through the battles with for years and years. I know that he can bring the emotions out of me. He was the only one I was like, ‘Look – you get away from me! Everybody else come on and congratulate me. But Phil, you stay over there!’ So it was fun. We moved forward. We made a play. We practiced it with repetition. But at the end of the day, we still wanted to get the win.”
Shortly after the touchdown catch, a special message played on BoltVision from Tony Gonzalez, whose record was just surpassed. Gates was moved by what he heard.
“Some very generous words from a guy I obviously competed against. It’s like steel sharpening steel. He’s always brought the best out in me, and I’ve always tried to do the same. He’s a guy who set the standard. A guy who put in place certain things at the tight end position. Fortunately, I was able to surpass that today.”
Gates’ record breaking accomplishment was top of mind in the locker room even with the tough loss. Here is what some of his teammates had to say:
QB Philip Rivers – “It was awesome. Too bad it didn’t happen in a win, but it was awesome. It’s a lot of touchdowns, a lot of years, a lot of tight ends that have played in this league. Certainly a special accomplishment for him. I’m just thankful that I could be a part of a lot of them—not all of them, but a lot of them. He’s been awesome, awesome for so long.”
Head Coach Anthony Lynn – “I think he’s one of the best of all time. I think he proved that over his career. He came into the league as an undrafted free agent and has accomplished the things that he’s accomplished. To me, he’s a first-ballot Hall of Famer. I think he is the best. I was happy for him today, but I wish we could have done it on a win.”
RB Melvin Gordon – “It was amazing. It’s phenomenal that I got to be a part of it. I’m happy for him. I know it’s bittersweet right now for him, but it is still a great accomplishment and he should definitely go home and be happy about it at the end of the day. He’s been doing this for a while so hats off to him and I’m just really happy for him.”
TE Hunter Henry – “He’s the greatest of all time. He just broke a record that not many could break. It’s unbelievable to be around a guy like that, it kind of got lost in the mix, but he just got his 112th touchdown. It’s a cool record and its cool to be on the field and be able to witness that.”
G Matt Slauson – “That was huge, that's a moment of football history. To get to be on the field with him, blocking for that, it means a lot."