It all began 10 years ago in Week 1 of the 2006 season.
Making the first start of his NFL career, Philip Rivers fired only 11 passes as the San Diego Chargers beat the Oakland Raiders 27-0. One of those was a touchdown strike to Antonio Gates, sending the quarterback into a frenzy.
"He and I laugh about our first touchdown," Rivers reminisced. "I only threw 11 passes. He may have only had one or two catches, and one of them was a touchdown. We were on the three-yard line and it was one of those little goal line passes. I was obviously super excited. It wasn't my first touchdown because I had thrown one to Malcom (Floyd) two years before, but it was my first touchdown to Gates and as a starter. It was Monday Night Football, and I was obviously super excited. So I was fired up and ran up to him and said, 'Hey, that's the first of many' and he was like, 'Man, get out here!' We laugh about that now because it was the first of many, so we look back at how far we've come."
The pair has gone on to connect for 77 touchdowns to become the most prolific QB-TE combo in NFL history. They now get the chance to extend their record as Gates agreed to a two-year contract that will allow him to end his career with the Chargers.
"I hate to lose any free agent, but losing Gates would have been rough," Rivers said. "I'm thankful that he'll get to finish it here, and I get to be a part of it. It's exciting to have him back. I didn't see any way we were going to not bring him back, but it is good to see it become a reality."
Number 85 has achieved numerous milestones over his already legendary career. The franchise leader in career receptions (844), receiving yards (10,644) and touchdown catches (104), Gates ranks seventh all-time in TD receptions and third among all tight ends in total receptions and receiving yards.
However, his biggest milestone is perhaps yet to come.
Gates is only seven scores shy of tying Tony Gonzalez' record for most touchdowns by a tight end in NFL history. The significance of that milestone is not lost on Rivers.
"That milestone would be unreal. You think about where he came from. Obviously he had the talent, but he comes in having not played college football as a free agent, and now has the chance 14 years in with the same team to catch more touchdowns than anybody in the history of the position. I don't want to put the cart before the horse, because it's going to take some work to do to get it done, but it's unreal. It's a compliment to him and the work he's put in."
While Rivers and Gates have forged one of the most successful working relationships in NFL history, number 17 cherishes their personal relationship even more. Their lockers have been side by side for over a decade, and they've shared some of life's major milestones alongside one another.
"We've been in the same spot for 13 years, and it's crazy. We come from two different parts of the country and have different backgrounds in the sense that he played college basketball and so on. Like all of us in this locker room we have different stories, but yet we have such similar traits in our competitiveness, our love of the game and our love of people. He's just a genuine guy. His friendship probably means more than all we've accomplished playing together, but it is a combination of both that makes it as special as it is."
Antonio Gates has had 104 touchdowns during his career with the Chargers. Take a look at top photos of some of those 104 TD's.