One of the greatest Chargers of all-time, and a player who revolutionized his position, is officially filing his retirement paperwork.
Tight end Antonio Gates announced Tuesday he's officially hanging up his cleats.
"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 in a statement.
"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 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."
Famously a college basketball player who never played football at the college level, Gates caught the eye of the Chargers in a workout and signed as an undrafted free agent in 2003. The rest is history.
The tight end became one of the most prolific pass-catchers in NFL history. Gates finishes his career with 116 touchdowns, most from a tight end in league history. He ranks seventh all-time in TDs. Philip Rivers' long-time security blanket, Gates was a matchup nightmare in the red zone, where he could simultaneously box out defenders and sky high for passes.
Gates helped revolutionize the tight end position. Among TEs, he ranks first in NFL history with 21 career multi-touchdown games and fourth with 21 100-yard receiving performances. Gates and Rivers combined for 89 career touchdowns, most of any QB-TE combo, and second-most among any duo.
Owning the athleticism to burn slower linebackers and the build to bully defensive backs, Gates was a mismatch all over the field. The 39-year-old will become eligible for the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2023 after not playing in 2019.
"Antonio was an unselfish player who had the ability to do just about everything you can think of on a football field," Chargers coach Anthony Lynn said. "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."
Now all he needs to do is get fitted for that gold jacket that is sure to come down the road.