Gonzo Awards 1960-2017

Named after modern legend Tony Gonzalez, the Gonzo Award is given annually to the league’s top tight end. The position itself doesn’t go back as far as other fantasy positions, and I decided not to give any awards prior to 1960, when both the NFL and the AFL rostered a sufficient number of players fitting the position’s description to merit having the Gonzo Award. Today, the most important tight ends are receivers first, and blocking ability is just an added bonus. In the incipient stages of the position, professional football was much more focused on the running game, and the expectation of tight ends was to be blockers who could also catch when called upon. Because of the evolving requirements of the position, my criteria for awarding postseason honors had to match the preferences of the era. It can be difficult to be inundated with modern football and avoid applying 2018 perspectives to 1970s players. It’s sort of like trying to put the brilliance of Citizen Kane into proper context after growing up enjoying the cinematic landscape it helped create. I tried my best to judge the players by the standards of their respective eras and dole out awards accordingly.

Gonzo Award Winners

The table below lists every Gonzo winner from 1960 to 2017. Read it thus: In 1960, playing in the NFL, Jim Gibbons of the Detroit Lions won his first Gonzo Award.

1960NFLJim GibbonsDetroit Lions1
1960AFLJohn CarsonHouston Oilers1
1961NFLMike DitkaChicago Bears1
1961AFLDoug AsadOakland Raiders1
1962NFLMike DitkaChicago Bears2
1962AFLDave KocourekSan Diego Chargers1
1963NFLMike DitkaChicago Bears3
1963AFLBob McLeodHouston Oilers1
1964NFLMike DitkaChicago Bears4
1964AFLFred ArbanasKansas City Chiefs1
1965NFLPete RetzlaffPhiladelphia Eagles1
1965AFLWillie FrazierHouston Oilers1
1966NFLJohn MackeyBaltimore Colts1
1966AFLAl DensonDenver Broncos1
1967NFLJackie SmithSt. Louis Cardinals1
1967AFLWillie FrazierSan Diego Chargers2
1968NFLMilt MorinCleveland Browns1
1968AFLJim WhalenBoston Patriots1
1969NFLJerry SmithWashington1
1969AFLBob TrumpyCincinnati Bengals1
1970NFLJim MitchellAtlanta Falcons1
1971NFLBob TuckerNew York Giants1
1972NFLRich CasterNew York Jets1
1973NFLCharle YoungPhiladelphia Eagles1
1974NFLRich CasterNew York Jets2
1975NFLRich CasterNew York Jets3
1976NFLDave CasperOakland Raiders1
1977NFLWalter WhiteKansas City Chiefs1
1978NFLDave CasperOakland Raiders2
1979NFLOzzie NewsomeCleveland Browns1
1980NFLKellen WinslowSan Diego Chargers1
1981NFLKellen WinslowSan Diego Chargers2
1982NFLKellen WinslowSan Diego Chargers3
1983NFLTodd ChristensenLos Angeles Raiders1
1984NFLTodd ChristensenLos Angeles Raiders2
1985NFLTodd ChristensenLos Angeles Raiders3
1986NFLTodd ChristensenLos Angeles Raiders4
1987NFLMark BavaroNew York Giants1
1988NFLKeith JacksonPhiladelphia Eagles1
1989NFLRodney HolmanCincinnati Bengals1
1990NFLBrent JonesSan Francisco 49ers1
1991NFLMarv CookNew England Patriots1
1992NFLJay NovacekDallas Cowboys1
1993NFLShannon SharpeDenver Broncos1
1994NFLBen CoatesNew England Patriots1
1995NFLBen CoatesNew England Patriots2
1996NFLShannon SharpeDenver Broncos2
1997NFLShannon SharpeDenver Broncos3
1998NFLShannon SharpeDenver Broncos4
1999NFLTony GonzalezKansas City Chiefs1
2000NFLTony GonzalezKansas City Chiefs2
2001NFLTony GonzalezKansas City Chiefs3
2002NFLTodd HeapBaltimore Ravens1
2003NFLTony GonzalezKansas City Chiefs4
2004NFLTony GonzalezKansas City Chiefs5
2005NFLAntonio GatesSan Diego Chargers1
2006NFLAntonio GatesSan Diego Chargers2
2007NFLJason WittenDallas Cowboys1
2008NFLTony GonzalezKansas City Chiefs6
2009NFLAntonio GatesSan Diego Chargers3
2010NFLJason WittenDallas Cowboys2
2011NFLRob GronkowskiNew England Patriots1
2012NFLJason WittenDallas Cowboys3
2013NFLJimmy GrahamNew Orleans Saints1
2014NFLRob GronkowskiNew England Patriots2
2015NFLRob GronkowskiNew England Patriots3
2016NFLTravis KelceKansas City Chiefs1
2017NFLRob GronkowskiNew England Patriots4

A few thoughts.

Tony Gonzalez was good, and he may be better than you remember. By my reckoning, he was the best tight end in the NFL six times. No other player wore the crown more than four times. He put up incredible numbers, and his commitment to his health gave him longevity not common to the position.

Young fans may think of Mike Ditka as the coach of the 1985 Bears or as the cigar-smoking loudmouth on their televisions. In his playing days, he was the best tight end in the game. He was a crushing blocker, and his rookie year may be the best receiving season by any tight end in history.

Todd Christensen is not in the Hall of Fame, and people don’t talk much about him anymore. He wasn’t a great blocker, and he didn’t have a very long peak. But the peak he did have as a pass catcher was very high. From 1983 to 1986, he averaged 87 catches, 1099 yards, and 8.3 touchdowns and never missed a game.

Shannon Sharpe spent the early part of his career as the primary receiving threat for John Elway. He was one of the first to play at a high level for an extended period of time, and he retired as the position’s leading receiver.

Rob Gronkowski has picked up a Gonzo in half of his seasons as a pro. He is the most dangerous receiver the position has seen, and he is among the greatest blockers. I’ve seen every tight end since Gibbons, and Gronk is the best.

Rich Caster, Kellen Winslow, Antonio Gates, and Jason Witten are the only other tight ends with more than two Gonzo Awards, though guys like Dave Casper and Fred Arbanas were close enough in some seasons to pick up a few more if I felt a little differently when naming a winner.

John Mackey is one of the greatest ever to play the position, but he only has one Gonzo Award. Why? Well, despite having incredible years in 1963 and 1965-68, other players happened to do just a little better in four of those seasons. In 1963, Ditka was a superior blocker and had better receiving numbers despite not catching passes from Johnny Unitas. Then, in 1965, Pete Retzlaff had nearly 400 more yards and three more touchdowns. In 1967, Jackie Smith had over 500 more receiving yards. Finally, in 1968, Milt Morin had 148 more yards and averaged over four more yards per catch.