Special diet fuels Falcons' Gonzalez

BY foxsports • September 23, 2010

ALL ACCESS: A lot of networks do TV interviews, but have you ever wanted to know the juicy details that never make air? You can tell a lot about who people really are when the cameras aren’t rolling. Here’s a behind-the-scenes look of how the interview of the Falcons’ Tony Gonzalez went for Pam Oliver’s weekly segment for the FOX NFL Sunday pregame show.

Tony Gonzalez is a speed talker. It’s like his brain is so eager to express his thoughts, his words compete to match its rapidity. It’s like his brain is high on ... rutabagas.

When I was assigned a feature on the most prolific NFL tight end to play the game, I frankly suffered from sluggish enthusiasm. Hasn’t he become less and less relevant? His latest record (1,000 catches, most ever by a tight end) is cool and all but he has only four catches for 54 yards heading into Week 3. What on earth is left to be said about this 14-year vet who owns every major record for his position?

But that’s the beauty of my job — there’s always more to the player than his newspaper clips and it comes out organically, which is the way Gonzalez famously likes his grub. I knew that part; I had about 15 pages of research to confirm Gonzalez has an obsession with clean eating, which means nothing processed to you and me, but it’s a huge part of his life. A spinach smoothie with blueberries is his idea of a slamming good time.

Falcons coach Mike Smith, who said he has spread the word about Gonzalez’s health book to folks around the league, admitted to me that the particular blend of vegetable and fruit is rough going down. Few would agree such a disturbing blend is as luscious as the banana-papaya-mango-strawberry-hidden-sugar number labeled as a health drink in some circles.

“Tony’s very picky about what he eats as we all know, ‘’ Smith said. "We’ve had to do some things in terms of our catering people to make sure that we’ve got some of things that Tony likes to eat.”

Gonzalez came to our after-practice interview clutching a Styrofoam container that contained a tofu wheat tortilla wrap or something. Our cameras shot that sucker from a few different angles as if a variety of views would somehow make it delicious. I came away with a few new tidbits on Gonzalez, too. I learned that he’s got a miniobsession with sleep.

“Rest is best” he spouts, saying “you’ve heard that, right?” I had not, but I think I nodded in agreement anyway.

It’s just one of the nuggets of wisdom Gonzalez tries to impart on the young.

“In all honesty though, he has taught me that there’s got to be times that you’ve got to pull back and rest and get yourself mentally recharged," said quarterback Matt Ryan. "I think that’s helped out."

And I learned that there’s “Tony Time.”

“He likes to schedule his workouts on his time frame," Smith said. "And we give our guys some flexibility in terms of working (on) their athletic performance.”

Another thing I learn about Gonzalez after the cameras stopped, the charismatic and photogenic 10-time Pro-Bowl player is not stuck on a television career like most recent retirees who either need a job or must stay close to the game. You’d think that particular career track for a NFL superstar with sure Hall of Fame credentials would be a no-brainer and could spark a network bidding war.

Instead Gonzalez wants to use his brain cells to expand his quest to get people on board with health and fitness as a profession, and spend time with his wife and his three kids.

But just in case, he asks me what my work week is like and what kinds of things I do to get myself ready to go on television. Preparation, mediation and visualization, I say. We’ve read some of the same self-help books as it happens.

After sitting down with Smith and Matt Ryan to talk about Gonzalez, I’m glad we’ve focused on him. He makes for a good story because he’s a winner despite having never won a playoff game in his 12 years as a Kansas City Chief. Or last season, his first with the Falcons, a team that missed the playoffs with 11 players listed on IR. He’s also an inspiration for anyone who puts health, family and team ahead of just being a player who wants to get his grubby paws on any record in sight.

He will retire as a Chief, someday. But to hear gushing coaches and teammates talk about the daily example Gonzalez sets with pre- and post-practice extra work, going fishing now would be ridiculous idea for this 34-year-old positive thinker. The fish would have to be farm-raised and mercury-free — or something like that anyway.

“Now that I’m realizing it’s going to come to end sooner or later, I kind of just want to look around sometime and just soak it up. It’s become a lot more special to me,” Gonzalez says of another priority in his old age. He wants to live in the moment instead of counting his milestones.

Of course a Super Bowl ring would be icing (preferably dairy free) on the cake (gluten free in a perfect world) for this consummate professional and player still worthy of a double team or two.

That’s one more compliment for Gonzalez, who’s constantly pushing his fast-thinking mind and the notion of the fountain of youth.

For Pam’s complete interview with Tony Gonzalez, watch the NFL on FOX Sunday, America’s No. 1 pregame show, at noon ET/9 a.m. PT