NFL’s All-Time Leader in Touchdowns by a Tight End will join Chargers’ Front Office as Legends Ambassador

San Diego Chargers tight end Antonio Gates celebrates a touchdown after a 1-yard pass in the first half of an NFL football game against the Cleveland Browns, Saturday, Dec. 24, 2016, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Ron Schwane)

Tight End (TE) Antonio Gates, one of the most prolific players to ever compete in the National Football League, announced his retirement today.

Gates’ journey from college basketball standout at Kent State University – never playing a down of collegiate football – to redefining the TE position and breaking NFL records is one of the great stories in Chargers and NFL history.

“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, the NFL record holder for career receiving touchdowns by a tight end.

“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.

“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.

“Thank you to everyone that helped me create memories that will last a lifetime, both on and off the field. Thank you to my agent, Tom Condon, and management team, Denise White and EAG, for helping me navigate this sport over the last 16 years. Thank you to my family for your love and support through the years, and a special thank you to my kids – I am hopeful to have left a legacy that you can be proud of, not just as a football player but also as a father.

“I’m looking forward to beginning the next chapter of my career and am grateful for the opportunity to be back around the team and our fans.

“Thank you to everyone who has been part of this remarkable journey with me. I can’t wait to see what’s next.”

Gates steps away from the field with 116 touchdown receptions – the most by a TE in NFL history. At the TE position, he also ranks first in league history with 21 career multi-touchdown games and fourth in league annals with 21 100-yard receiving performances. One of the most clutch receivers to ever play the game, Gates’ 39 touchdown receptions on third down are the most in league history at TE and tied with Hall of Fame WR Cris Carter for No. 3 overall. Over the course of his career, Gates registered eight seasons with eight-plus receiving touchdowns, the most ever by a TE and tied for No. 5 all-time. On the receiving end of 89 career touchdowns from quarterback Philip Rivers, the Gates-Rivers tandem has combined for the most touchdowns of any QB-TE combo in league history and ranks No. 2 among any QB-WR combination in NFL annals.


Gates will become eligible for the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2023.

“Antonio is not only one of the greatest Chargers to ever play the game, he’s one of the greatest players in NFL history,” said Controlling Owner and Chairman of the Board Dean Spanos. “His contributions to our organization over the course of an unprecedented 16-year career, both on the field and in the community, cannot be overstated. What he’s meant to our family, to his teammates and to Chargers fans everywhere over the years – there are no words. He’s the best to ever do it at his position, and all that’s really left is to start planning his Hall of Fame induction celebration in Canton. But for right now I simply want to say thank you, Antonio, and congratulations on a career for the ages.”

Gates was a pillar for the Chargers during his 16 seasons (2003-18). He is the franchise’s all-time leader in career receptions (955), receiving yards (11,841) and touchdown catches (116), and ranks No. 2 in team annals with 220 career regular-season games played.

An eight-time Pro Bowl selection, Gates is a member of five Associated Press All-Pro teams, owns three Sporting News First Team All-Pro selections and is a member of the NFL’s All Decade Team (2000-09) as well as the Chargers’ 50th Anniversary All-Time Team.

“Antonio was an unselfish player who had the ability to do just about everything you can think of on a football field,” said Head 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 and had to earn a spot on the team after having not played football since his senior season at Detroit’s Central High School. It did not take long for Gates to impress and show flashes of what was yet to come. He recorded his first 100-yard receiving game against Minnesota, the first by a Chargers rookie since wide received Wayne Walker in 1989.

In 2004, Gates helped carry the Chargers to their first AFC West title in 10 years as he led the NFL with 13 touchdowns, a then-record for TEs. Voted to his first Pro Bowl at season’s end, he became the first Chargers receiver with three touchdown catches in a game since Tony Martin in 1997 and the first Bolts TE to have a three-touchdown game since Kellen Winslow in 1983.


Gates registered 89 receptions for 1,101 yards and 10 TDs for his first 1,000-yard season in 2005. His 89 catches tied Hall of Fame TE Kellen Winslow (1980) for the most in Chargers history by a TE. He also became just the second TE in NFL history (Todd Christiansen, 1983) to have a season with 1,100-plus yards and at least 10 TDs. His 23 TD catches from 2004-05 were the most-ever by an NFL TE in a two-year span.

Gates played a vital role in helping the Chargers win four AFC West titles from 2006-09, setting several more milestones along the way. In 2006, he was selected to his third Pro Bowl and named first-team All-Pro by The Associated Press and Sporting News. He was recognized as All-NFL and All-AFC by the Professional Football Writers of America. Gates posted four games with 100-plus receiving yards and one game with double-digit receptions in 2007. In 2008, he registered 704 receiving yards and eight TDs on 60 receptions as well as set postseason career highs with 13 receptions for 146 yards. In 2009, he finished with a career-high 1,157 receiving yards and eight TDs on 79 catches, marking his second career 1,000-yard season. At the time, the receiving yardage was the 10th-highest output by a TE in a single season in NFL history. The 14.6 yards-per-reception average led all NFL TEs.

Gates enjoyed one of his best statistical seasons in 2014, but it came on the heels of a personal tragedy with his younger sister, Pamela, passing away after a three-year battle with Lupus. Gates missed the entire offseason program to remain close to his family in Detroit. He returned for Training Camp and, playing the season in her memory, posted a record-breaking year. With nine touchdown receptions in the team’s first eight games, Gates tied the team record for touchdowns in the first half of a season. Concluding the year with 12 TD catches, he tied for the league lead amongst TEs. Gates finished the season with more than 10,000 career receiving yards, surpassing Hall of Fame WR Lance Alworth as the team’s all-time leader in receiving yards while becoming just the fourth TE in league annals to eclipse that mark.

“I’ve had the opportunity to be around some special players in my career – Hall of Fame players – and nobody did it better at his position than Antonio,” said General Manager Tom Telesco.  “Antonio redefined what the tight end position looks like and is responsible for how we evaluate and view the position in today’s NFL. Rewriting the record book is obviously part of it, but when you needed a big block, needed to convert that first down, needed a steadying voice in the huddle or leadership in the locker room, that was Antonio. He didn’t just do one thing well, he did everything well. And that’s what makes him a first ballot Hall of Famer in my book.”

Gates’ final seasons with the Chargers saw him achieve even more milestones. He concluded the 2015 seasons with 101 career TD catches, passing Hall of Fame WRs Don Hutson (99), Tim Brown (100) and Steve Largent (100) for sole possession of No. 7 on the all-time TD receptions list. He also moved passed Hall of Fame TE Shannon Sharpe (10,060) for third all-time in receiving yards among TEs, finishing the year with 10,644 career receiving yards. In 2016, more records fell as Gates registered 548 receiving yards and seven TDs on 53 catches (10.3 avg.). He posted three-straight games with a TD in the middle of the season and closed out the year with back-to-back games with a TD catch, ending the season tied with TE Tony Gonzalez for the most career TD catches by a TE in NFL history (111).


Gates opened his 15th NFL season in 2017 by hauling in a pass from QB Philip Rivers during the home opener against Miami to take sole possession of first place among on the all-time TD list among TE. It marked 85 TD receptions from Rivers, the most by a QB-TE duo in NFL history and tied Hall of Famers Steve Young and Jerry Rice for No. 2 among any QB-WR combination in league annals. The tie did not last long as his 86th TD catch from Rivers in the team’s second matchup against Kansas City claimed sole possession of No. 2 for any QB-WR combination in league history, trailing only Peyton Manning and Marvin Harrison (112 TDs). Gates caught TD No. 87 from Rivers and the 114th of his career at the Jets on Christmas Eve.

In his final NFL season, Gates caught 28 passes for 333 yards (11.9 avg.) and two TDs. The scores marked 115 and 116 for his career and the 88th and 89th from QB Philip Rivers. His first TD catch of the season made him the oldest TE, at 38 years, 104 days, in NFL history to haul in a TD reception. At season’s end, he had passed Hall of Fame WR Don Maynard (11,834) and WR Calvin Johnson (11,619) for No. 28 on the all-time receiving yards list with 11,841 for his career. He moved up the all-time receptions list, passing Hall of Fame WR Andre Reed (951), WR Derrick Mason (943) and Hall of Fame WR Art Monk (940) for sole possession of 17th with 955 career catches. Gates also saw action in both Chargers postseason games, posting a playoff team-high nine receptions for 76 yards (8.4 avg.) and a TD. The TD catch made him the oldest TE in NFL history with a postseason receiving TD at 38 years, 209 days, with only Hall of Fame WR Jerry Rice (three occasions) having postseason TD catches at an older age. Gates became the team’s all-time postseason leader in receiving yards, moving to 540 in his career to pass Hall of Fame WR Charlie Joiner (539) while also moving up the all-time postseason ranks among TEs in receiving yards to 10th and catches (51) to seventh.


Gates’ work off the field, and the impact he has made in the community and among its youth, is indelible. He’s an ardent supporter of the Lupus Foundation of America – to honor the memory of his sister, Pamela – as well as a supporter of the Huntington’s Disease Society of America, serving several years as the honorary chairman for the Shoot to Cure HD. Appearing in a public service announcement campaign, No More, in 2014 to help stop domestic violence, Gates also has played host to the annual Shop with a Charger event that benefits homeless, neglected and/or abused children and has  worked closely with Promises2Kids to support foster youth.

Born in Detroit, Mich., Gates was first-team All-State in football and basketball as a senior at Detroit (Mich.) Central High. Following a decorated prep career, he spent time at Michigan State, Eastern Michigan and College of the Sequoias (Visalia, Calif.) before finishing his collegiate career playing two seasons of basketball at Kent State (2001-02, ’02-03).