Football: For Tony Gonzalez, it all started at Cal

For Tony Gonzalez, being a two-sport athlete at Cal wasn’t enough.

The Golden Bears were preparing to play in the 1996 Aloha Bowl when a couple of linebackers were hurt in a car accident. Gonzalez, the team’s junior tight end, had a solution.

“He came up to me and said, ‘Coach, let me play both ways,’ ” recalled then-Cal coach Steve Mariucci. “That’s the kind of kid he was. He’d do anything to help the team win. If you had a handful of Tony Gonzalezes, you’d never lose.”

Jump forward to 2013, and Gonzalez is doing plenty of winning with the Atlanta Falcons. He’s one of the key components standing in the way of the 49ers’ Super Bowl quest. The teams tangle for the NFC championship Sunday in Atlanta.

Atlanta Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez celebrates as he leaves the field after the Falcons defeated the Seattle Seahawks in their NFL NFC Divisional playoff football game in Atlanta, Georgia January 13, 2013. REUTERS/Tami Chappell


Now 36, Gonzalez has said he is 95 percent certain this will be his final season. His eye-popping accomplishments in his 16 NFL seasons include — as a tight end — ranking as the No. 2 pass-catcher in NFL history behind only Jerry Rice. He was named All-Pro for the sixth time and won his first NFL playoff game last weekend.

His Hall of Fame future got a great liftoff at Cal, where he was a scholarship football player who could not resist the lure of the basketball court.

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     Highlights of Tony Gonzalez’s two-sport, three-year career at Cal:

— Earned first-team All-Pac-10 football honors after catching 44 passes for 699 yards and five touchdowns as a junior in 1996.

— Named the All-America tight end by The Sporting News and Football News in 1996.

— Caught career-best 10 passes for 150 yards and a touchdown in 1995 Big Game vs. Stanford.

— Scored 29 points in basketball season finale vs. Washington State as freshman in 1994-95.

— Had 21 double-digit scoring games in Cal basketball career.

— Averaged 14.8 points over final six games of 1996-97, including 23 vs. Villanova in NCAA tournament second-round win.

Jeff Faraudo