(KGTV) — Chargers great Antonio Gates is calling it a career after 16 seasons with the team, culminating one of the greatest careers ever by an NFL tight end.
Gates, 39, announced his retirement Tuesday in a letter to fans. He plans to join the Chargers' front office as the team's legends ambassador.
“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. “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."
Gates is the NFL's all-time leader in touchdowns by a tight-end, with 116 touchdown receptions. He ranks first in NFL history with 21 career multi-touchdown games, and has racked up 21 100-yard receiving games. Gates' touchdown receptions on third down are the most in the league by a tight end, cementing his clutch-time performances that fans have come to love.
Alongside quarterback Philip Rivers, the Gates-Rivers pair has combined for the most touchdowns of any QB-TE combo in the league and are second among any QB-WR combo.
Gates becomes eligible for the NFL Hall of Fame in 2023, likely a shoe-in in the eyes of many fans and officials.
“Antonio was an unselfish player who had the ability to do just about everything you can think of on a football field,” said coach Anthony Lynn. “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.”
Gates signed with the Chargers as an undrafted rookie in 2003, after having not played football since his senior year of high school. He soon became a pillar for the team, ending his career as the Chargers all-time leader in career receptions, receiving yards, and touchdown catches. He's also ranked second among all Bolts in career regular-season games played.
He's seen league-wide honors several times over his career as well; Being named a Pro-Bowl selection eight times, five Associated Press All-Pro teams designations, three Sporting News First Team All-Pro selections, an NFL All Decade Team member from 2000-09, and named to the Chargers' 50th Anniversary All-Time Team.
“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," Gates said. “Thank you to everyone who has been part of this remarkable journey with me. I can’t wait to see what’s next.”