Entering his 15th season, Gates is one touchdown catch away from breaking a tie with Tony Gonzalez for most touchdown receptions by a tight end in NFL history. While the rest of the world frets over his soon-to-be 112th career touchdown snatch, the 37-year-old Gates says it's not his focus heading into 2017.
"I mean, do I know it's there? Yeah," Gates told Ricky Henne of the team's official website. "It's like I'm at the dance, I might as well go to the party because it's within reach. But that isn't my focus at all. It really isn't on my mind. I don't think that way. I guess maybe it's because I haven't wrapped my head around it all yet. I know it's happening, and I know it's a big deal, but it's not like I'm sitting here every day saying, 'I need one. I need one.' But one isn't the destination for me. The destination is to surpass just one. I have 16 weeks. The destination for me is whenever I'm done playing, then tally them all up and see where I'm at. So that's what I'm thinking. Now, when the game comes, then yeah probably I'll think about it a little more. But it really isn't anything I'm thinking of. I'm not going out there thinking I need to do something extra in the red zone. I'm still myself."
Since famously being converted from a college basketball player to tight end, Gates has been a consistent, dangerous weapon. He's averaged nearly eight touchdowns a season for his career, including four years of double-digit scores. He has 897 career receptions and 11,192 yards for his career.
Gates is fully aware of the magnitude of the record he's poised to break.
"That's history. And that's crazy when you put it like that," he said. "But the reality is, it's funny because I still have a chip on my shoulder of things I wasn't able to accomplish. It's one of those things where I didn't grow up with the dream of playing football. Basketball was my true love, but football was always easy. I had to work hard for basketball, and I think part of me has always taken it out on football. It might be hard to understand.
"I was just telling Philip [Rivers] that I still have to show them that I am special. People would say, 'How'd you make the catch?' But for me it was always like, I've always been making catches like that. Why wouldn't I? So for me it's like, great, I made that catch, but now we have to go back out there and score again because we have to get the win. That's my mindset. Because in the end, it's a Super Bowl title that will mean more than anything."
A shoo-in future Hall of Famer, Gates should have the TE TD record soon. We expect Rivers to look to his veteran tight end in the end zone early this season to ensure the deal gets done. Every player, employee and fan of the Chargers wants Gates to own that record. He's earned it.