He’s 38 years old and didn’t sign with the team until a week before the start of the regular season.
Now he’s heading back to the playoffs.
Antonio Gates sat in the locker room long after everyone had showered and gone, a smile plastered on his face. The future Hall of Famer has accomplished so much over his legendary career, but above all else, he’s wanted another chance to chase a ring.
He’s getting it after the Chargers pulled out a thrilling 29-28 win over the Kansas City Chiefs on Thursday Night Football.
“Very emotional,” he said, his first two words after the game summing up his entire sentiment. “I think what happens is that you think about all the hard times and the things you had to go through to get to this point. I think that’s what sticks out the most. Any time you’re able to put yourself in a position where you can accomplish certain goals, I think the first thing that comes to mind is the people that did it with you. (The people who) went through the trials and tribulations with you, and just all the sacrifices you’ve put in, and for me, just putting into this organization.”
Even better, Antonio Gates played an instrumental role in the big win.
Number 85 caught four passes for 54 yards on the night, climbing up the record books in the process, passing Hall of Fame WR Andre Reed for the 17th most catches in NFL history.
Most importantly, his catches came in clutch situations.
Down 14 midway through the fourth quarter, Gates hauled in a 14-yard reception on 3rd-and-2 to move the chains into Kansas City territory. He had another 10-yard grab on that drive, which eventually ended in a Justin Jackson TD to cut it to one score. That score was made possible by a holding call he drew in the end zone on fourth down, which came one play before the touchdown.
“How about 38-year-old Antonio Gates making some big plays for us down the stretch?!” a euphoric Philip Rivers said on national television following the big win. “The old Antonio came out! He was like, ‘Hey now! Come on!’ And I was like, ‘Shoot, (let’s do this!)’”
Gates has been a part of 16 different Chargers teams, yet he knows this one is special. Not only that, he’s impressed by how unsatisfied the Bolts remain despite making the playoffs, explaining how the division title is on their mind.
“I can’t say enough about this team, man,” he said, shaking his head. “Look how we just continue to fight. I think we still can reach our short-term goals, which is to win the division, so that’s always exciting. I think for the most part, a lot of guys don’t understand how difficult it is to win a division in this league. I remember us having a stretch of us winning and then we had a stretch of not winning, so to be in a position with two games, three games left and we’re obviously sitting at 11 wins, says a lot about our hard work and preparation as a team.”