The phrase GOAT gets thrown around a lot these days.
But when it comes to Antonio Gates, you are legitimately talking about the literal Greatest of All Time.
"He's the GOAT," Melvin Gordon said, repeating himself for emphasis. "He is the GOAT! That man is worldwide! I tell him that all the time. His name carries weight around the whole world. Everybody knows who Antonio Gates is. Not everybody knows Melvin Gordon. Not everybody knows who Melvin Ingram or Keenan Allen are. But Antonio Gates; man, I knew about him when I was little and didn't even know football that well. You just know Antonio Gates. He's someone who (transcends) the game. That's Antonio Gates. Chargers. Tight End. Baller. Legend."
Gates understands the status he's achieved after tying Tony Gonzalez's record for most career touchdown catches by a tight end in NFL history with 111. His first TD catch of 2017 will set uncharted territory, which is why he is the legitimate greatest of all time at his position.
Still, it's a concept the legend has trouble fully grasping.
"I haven't quite wrapped my head around it all to be quite honest with you," he said in a humble whisper. "I look at everything I've done and where I'm at; it's hard to put into words. One thing I can say when it comes to these types of accomplishments is most importantly, my teammates trusted and believed in me. A lot of individuals' accomplishments come from the team trusting you. Guys making sacrifices for you to be able to do certain things. I think that's overlooked."
The number of teammates Gates has shared a locker room with since entering the NFL is well into the hundreds. In fact, it's probably closer to 1,000. These days, he's surrounded by players who grew up idolizing number 85.
"I've been playing since some of these dudes were in elementary school," he laughed, acknowledging the younger players get wide-eyed when they see him in the locker room. "I think it's funny. (It) lets me know I'm getting older. It's funny, because it's so many guys that are 22, 23."
Still, it's impossible to deny the stature Gates has earned over 14 years of dominance. Mention his name in the locker room and the reactions are all the same.
"He is the real greatest of all time," said Tyrell Williams, who is 11 years younger than Gates. "He really is. Shoot, it's just awesome to say I've played with him. One of the biggest (thrills) of my career was being on the field with him last year when he tied the record. It was sick. Hopefully I'll be on the field this year when he breaks it. That would be awesome. I mean, Antonio Gates was always on my dad's fantasy football team. He had to have him. He was one of my dad's favorite players, so I watched him a lot. It's awesome."
"He's been in this league since I was probably 12 years old," noted Jahleel Addae, who has matched up with the tight end every day in practice for the last five years. "Being form Florida, I knew about LaDainian Tomlinson, Philip Rivers and Antonio Gates. Those three are truly the greats. Every day, I get to perfect my craft against him. Every day, I get to watch him go about his business as a real professional no matter what it is. The way he takes care of his body. The way he is with film work. The great person he is and what kind of teammate he is. How he carries himself. He's the GOAT for so many reasons. He has nothing else to prove, but he still comes into work and goes about his business the right way with the right reasons. It's a blessing. I'm fortunate to be around someone like him."
Perhaps the best perspective comes from the man lucky enough to follow in Gates' footsteps. Hunter Henry is entering his second year in the NFL fully appreciative of the chance to be around greatness up close.
After all, he watched Gates closely from afar since he was in the second grade.
"This is just freaking awesome," he said, looking at Gates across the room with a smile. "Look at him. That's Antonio Gates. It's cool just being in the locker room with him. He's going to be a Hall of Famer, no doubt. And he's just a special, special person. It's just cool. I was in second grade when he started, so it's crazy to think I was that young and he was doing what he was doing in this league. It's just crazy. He's the GOAT!"
The Los Angeles Chargers take the field to kick off mini camp.