There’s no denying that
Now, he is on the precipice of setting a monumental one as his next touchdown catch, the 81st of his career, will tie him with Lance Alworth for the most in Chargers history. Not too bad for a former college basketball star who signed with the Chargers as an undrafted free agent in 2003.
“Since the day I stepped foot in the league, I always wanted to epitomize what it was to be a professional athlete and what it was to be a National Football League tight end,” said Gates. “And that’s hard work, dedication and sacrifice. Things of that nature. And any time I think about any milestone, that’s the first thing that comes to mind. The first time I stepped foot into this Chargers organization, and what it meant to wear the San Diego Chargers on the back and front of my shirt.”
The hope was that Gates would set the mark early in the 2012 campaign, but his season got off to a shaky start as he battled the effects of a rib injury suffered in Week 1. But as of late, Gates has arguably been the hottest player on the team. The All-Pro tight end has scored four touchdowns over the last four games while catching 15 balls for 195 yards, averaging 48.75 yards-per-game. Gates credits not only his recent success to the play of his teammates, but also credits them for helping him reach this noteworthy milestone.
“I’ve thought about all the sacrifices my teammates made to put me in this position,” he said. “I can’t say enough of those guys who have always put me in position to help win football games. And even though this is something individual, it speaks a lot about my teammates and the teammates that I had in the past up until this point that always believed in me and gave me the opportunity to be in the position to pass this milestone.”
During his nine years with the Chargers, Alworth recorded 493 receptions for 9,584 yards in addition to his 81 touchdown catches. The first AFL player ever to be voted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, in 2005 he became the second Charger ever to have his number retired by the team.
Alworth’s record has stood since 1970, and now, 42 years later, Gates appears set to match and eventually break it. Still, the tight end knows that he won’t truly appreciate the accomplishment until after he retires.
“My journey is not done,” said Gates. “So I don’t really dwell on this milestone. To me, it’s a phenomenal milestone, but at the same time I understand the purpose for this year is to try and go win a championship…I think I’ll really appreciate when I’m done playing. I’ll be able to look back on it and say, ‘Wow, they talked about it but I didn’t really understand it.’ Sometimes you’re too close to the forest to see the trees. I actually feel that way now.”
Becoming the all-time touchdown receptions leader for the franchise is a huge milestone. But, Gates’ number one priority is getting a win this Sunday to help the team reach the postseason. It’s reasonable to assume he could achieve both this week, especially since the last time Gates faced the Broncos, he found the end zone twice.