Gates, Chargers finally starting right

I sent out a tweet on my way to interview Antonio Gates last week and asked if anyone had a question they wanted me to ask the Chargers’ perennial Pro Bowl tight end. Every single response focused on the same theme … fantasy football.

That didn’t really surprise Gates when I told him, since he said that’s all anyone wants to talk to him about. So instead, as we settled into the enormous tire we would conduct our interview in, I asked this fantasy darling about cold, hard reality.

I asked him how much money he would have if he charged a dollar every time someone asked him about the Chargers’ notoriously slow starts to the season?"

Antonio is a pretty quiet and unassuming guy when you talk to him, but as he paused for a second to consider, a wide, sheepish smile covered his face like a defensive back. Shaking his head, he laughed, "That would be an awful lot of money."

Yes, it’s pretty well documented. Under Norv Turner, saying the Chargers start slowly is like saying Usain Bolt runs fast. It’s a given.

At the halfway point of the past four seasons the Chargers were 15-17 (coincidentally, getting stuck at 2-3 each year), before eventually finding their groove and finishing the second half with a gaudy 26-6 record.

But you already knew that. The media talks about it, the fans talk about it and yes, even the San Diego Chargers talk about it. But according to Gates, what’s different this year, is when the Chargers talked about it.

"To come up with a solution, you have to identify there’s a problem," Gates said. "We said ‘let’s not wait until Week 7 to have the conversation, let’s do it now. Let’s give the speech Week 1, not Week 7.’"

In spite of their slow starts, the Chargers have always been the hands-down favorite to win the division each year, but a not-so-funny thing happened on the way to last year’s crown. Despite winning seven of their final nine games, the Kansas City Chiefs had the last laugh, winning the AFC West with a 10-6 record.

And that may have been the best thing that ever happened to the Chargers.

"Everyone had put us on a pedestal that we hadn’t earned,’’ Gates said. "For the last four or five years everyone had given us that throne because we had the most talent, but what purpose did that serve us? All the talent in the world and it hasn’t gotten us to where we want to be. We came in this year blue-collared, not entitled. There isn’t a single prima donna in that locker room. Everyone is on pace to do what it takes to win one game every single week.’’

And it seems to have paid off right out of the gate, with San Diego defeating Minnesota 24-17 in Week 1.

To most teams that may not be a huge deal, but for Antonio Gates, it may finally be the difference for his team … you know, the one that actually plays on Sundays. Now that’s a fantasy he’d love to talk about.

By the way, fantasy owners: At 31 years old most players are entering the twilight of their careers, but make sure to listen to my "enTIRE" interview with Antonio on why he thinks the next three to four years may be his best ones yet.