Antonio Gates has held countless press conferences during his surefire Hall of Fame career, but none were quite like this one.
After all, he thought he’d never have the chance to address the media again as a Charger.
Thus, as he strode to the podium, Gates soaked in the moment as he passed by Philip Rivers. He flashed his trademark grin, and quickly explained to everyone how meaningful it is to be back in the building.
While it was a difficult offseason for him, there is no place in the world he’d rather be.
“I wanted to be a part of this family,” he said. “This will always be family to me, so it’s like forgiving your family member and then moving forward. … The process was what it was and like I said, I wanted to be here, they knew I wanted to be here and our goals are the same. I think ultimately, that’s what it came down to. We have (the) opportunity of doing something special and I wanted to be a part of that and they wanted me here.”
Gates had several options on the table over the past few months, but the Chargers were always his number one choice.
It wasn’t even close.
“I had a share of people that called and were interested,” he said. “But at the same time, I was kind of going day-by-day. I had nobody interest me more than the Chargers, obviously, because I’m here. I just tried to wait and see how everything would play out.”
That doesn’t mean Gates thought it would necessarily come to fruition.
In fact, the tight end didn’t mince words when he was asked point blank if he ever thought he’d see his old locker again with his number 85 jersey hanging up.
“No, not really,” he responded. “Due to the fact of how it all ended, I didn’t. No expectations (were had) for me to be back here. I figured they moved on. I gave them the best 15 years that I could possibly give them. So, with that being said, I didn’t. As time went by, things were happening that (were) uncontrollable. It kind of became more realistic that I would have opportunity to come back.”
Thus, Gates has approached every second of the past 48 hours with a brand-new appreciation.
Still, there was one thing he missed most of all.
“The appreciation comes from just being in the locker room with the guys. Once you’re done and you move on, (you think it’s over). I have so many friends here that I’ve been playing with for a while now. I think that’s what I missed the most. The laughter, being in the locker room, the preparation part of it and going out and playing with your brothers trying to win a game. So, when you don’t have it, you really start to embrace it even more. When it’s not in your face, you’re living out in the world, you’re just a guy doing everyday things that a normal person would do.”
At the end of the day, when you take the emotions out of it, Gates is back to do what he does best – play football. His goal remains the same it’s been since his first day as an undrafted rookie. To help the Chargers win a championship.
Despite coming in only a few days before the season opener and being one of the older players in the league, Gates’ expectations for what he can do on the field hasn’t wavered one bit.
“I think that part never changes for you as a person,” he said. “I think my competitive edge, who I am mentally, was always to go out and try (to) help us win football games. That was always my approach. That will continue to be my approach, and I think that’s the reason why I’m still here. To try to help win football games. It’s been the same. It’s always been the same - to go out and be the best I can be, and try to help win football games.”
Chargers players and coaches greet Antonio Gates upon his return to Hoag Performance Center on Monday.