On August 31, 1997, rookie tight end Tony Gonzalez made his NFL debut with the Kansas City Chiefs in a 19-3 loss to the Denver Broncos.
At the time, Mychal Kendricks was a 6-year-old growing up in Fresno, Calif.
This Sunday, Gonzalez, who is the most prolific tight end to ever play the game, will line up for with his current team, the Atlanta Falcons, against Kendricks, who is now a rookie starting strongside linebacker for the Eagles.
"I'm excited. This game's fun to me and it's a game," Kendricks said. "He's one of the best tight ends to ever do it. It's going to be an honor to play and I'm going to treat it just like that."
Gonzalez is a 12-time Pro Bowl and five-time All-Pro selection who has not showed any signs of slowing down despite being 36 years old. He is sixth in the league and first among all tight ends with 43 catches. He is second in the league among tight ends with 430 receiving yards, just 4 yards behind New England's Rob Gronkowski.
The 6-5, 247-pound Gonzalez is tied for 11th in the league overall and tied for fourth among tight ends with four receiving touchdowns. Last season, Gonzalez hurt the Eagles in their Week 2 matchup with seven catches for 83 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
The Eagles drafted Kendricks in the second round of the 2012 NFL Draft because of his explosive athleticism and playmaking ability. The Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year in 2011 is fourth on the team in tackles with 32 and has five pass knockdowns. Kendricks has been great in coverage just allowing 11 receptions this season for a mere 82 yards and no touchdowns, according to Stats Inc.
Even though Gonzalez and Kendricks are on opposite ends of the career spectrum, they share a common bond. Before Kendricks was a star at California, Gonzalez was an All-America selection there in 1996 while also being a significant contributor to the Golden Bears' hoops team. Prior to Kendricks' senior season, Gonzalez went back to the Berkeley campus to speak to the football team preaching about the importance of putting in the extra work.
"Putting in the extra work is definitely a big part of being in the league and staying in the league," Kendricks said. "Some guys get complacent. Some guys keep working."
Kendricks has had a lot thrust upon his plate as a rookie. He was immediately inserted into the starting lineup and has played in 93 percent of the team's defensive snaps in 2012. It's forced Kendricks to mature as a player and as a person very quickly.
"This whole NFL thing, it takes a lot out of you. Horseplay and all that little kid stuff, that's all out the window," Kendricks said. "The whole rookie thing, that's out the window too. You know what I mean? We have 10 games left and it's time to get down to business. I'm fully accountable for everything, so in that sense, I've had to grow up a lot."
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