Tight End (TE) Antonio Gates, one of the most prolific players to ever compete in the National Football League, announced his retirement today.
Gates' journey from college basketball standout at Kent State University – never playing a down of collegiate football – to redefining the TE position and breaking NFL records is one of the great stories in Chargers and NFL history.
"After 16 seasons in the NFL, 16 seasons as a Charger, eight Pro Bowl appearances and many records broken, I find it hard to officially put this statement out and retire from the game of football," said Gates, the NFL record holder for career receiving touchdowns by a tight end.
"I never dreamed that I would play this game of football so long or how fortunate I would be to play it with just one organization. I want to thank the Chargers organization, Dean Spanos and the Spanos family, and the National Football League for the opportunity to live out a dream and play the game I love. And to the fans in San Diego, Los Angeles, across the country and around the world, thank you for your unwavering support all these years. There would be no NFL without you.
"While today I am officially retiring as a Charger, I am grateful that I will still be lending my services to the Chargers organization – just now in a completely different capacity through the team's community engagement initiatives and public facing events.
"Thank you to everyone who has been part of this remarkable journey with me. I can’t wait to see what’s next.” Antonio Gates
"Thank you to everyone that helped me create memories that will last a lifetime, both on and off the field. Thank you to my agent, Tom Condon, and management team, Denise White and EAG, for helping me navigate this sport over the last 16 years. Thank you to my family for your love and support through the years, and a special thank you to my kids – I am hopeful to have left a legacy that you can be proud of, not just as a football player but also as a father.
"I'm looking forward to beginning the next chapter of my career and am grateful for the opportunity to be back around the team and our fans.
"Thank you to everyone who has been part of this remarkable journey with me. I can't wait to see what's next."
Gates steps away from the field with 116 touchdown receptions – the most by a TE in NFL history. At the TE position, he also ranks first in league history with 21 career multi-touchdown games and fourth in league annals with 21 100-yard receiving performances. One of the most clutch receivers to ever play the game, Gates' 39 touchdown receptions on third down are the most in league history at TE and tied with Hall of Fame WR Cris Carter for No. 3 overall. Over the course of his career, Gates registered eight seasons with eight-plus receiving touchdowns, the most ever by a TE and tied for No. 5 all-time. On the receiving end of 89 career touchdowns from quarterback Philip Rivers, the Gates-Rivers tandem has combined for the most touchdowns of any QB-TE combo in league history and ranks No. 2 among any QB-WR combination in NFL annals.
Gates will become eligible for the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2023.
"Antonio is not only one of the greatest Chargers to ever play the game, he's one of the greatest players in NFL history," said Controlling Owner and Chairman of the Board Dean Spanos. "His contributions to our organization over the course of an unprecedented 16-year career, both on the field and in the community, cannot be overstated. What he's meant to our family, to his teammates and to Chargers fans everywhere over the years – there are no words. He's the best to ever do it at his position, and all that's really left is to start planning his Hall of Fame induction celebration in Canton. But for right now I simply want to say thank you, Antonio, and congratulations on a career for the ages."
“Antonio is not only one of the greatest Chargers to ever play the game, he’s one of the greatest players in NFL history.” Controlling Owner and Chairman of the Board Dean Spanos
Gates was a pillar for the Chargers during his 16 seasons (2003-18). He is the franchise's all-time leader in career receptions (955), receiving yards (11,841) and touchdown catches (116), and ranks No. 2 in team annals with 220 career regular-season games played.
An eight-time Pro Bowl selection, Gates is a member of five Associated Press All-Pro teams, owns three Sporting News First Team All-Pro selections and is a member of the NFL's All Decade Team (2000-09) as well as the Chargers' 50th Anniversary All-Time Team.
"Antonio was an unselfish player who had the ability to do just about everything you can think of on a football field," said Head Coach Anthony Lynn. "Run precise routes. Pick up a key block. Catch better than a receiver. You always had to account for #85's whereabouts and still, knowing all this, he managed to catch more touchdowns than any tight end to ever play the game. But it wasn't until I had the privilege of coaching him that I saw his most important skill: leadership. His teammates always were seeking his guidance. They just wanted to be around him. And, to a man, no questions asked, they would follow him. Combine all these factors; may as well start fitting Antonio for a gold jacket right now."
Gates signed with the Chargers as an undrafted rookie in 2003 and had to earn a spot on the team after having not played football since his senior season at Detroit's Central High School. It did not take long for Gates to impress and show flashes of what was yet to come. He recorded his first 100-yard receiving game against Minnesota, the first by a Chargers rookie since wide receiver Wayne Walker in 1989.