SANTA CLARA -- None of Tony Gonzalez's 110 touchdown catches -- the most ever by a NFL tight end -- have come at Candlestick Park, but he returns there Monday night with the special memory of a life-altering play.

On Nov. 12, 2000, Gonzalez was hit out of bounds and into photographer Mickey Pfleger.

"Three days later, they said to me, 'You know what happened to that guy? They did a brain scan and found a tumor in his brain and they never would have found the tumor if you hadn't hit him,' " Gonzalez recalled Thursday on a conference call with Bay Area media. "It was a miracle it turned out this way."

Pfleger lived another 10 years before passing away at age 61 on Dec. 17, 2010. In that decade, Gonzalez kept in touch on the phone and would "give him a hug" every time their paths crossed.

"It's a great story," Gonzalez said.

Gonzalez is steadfast that he'll retire after this season, which the Atlanta Falcons (4-10) will finish with games Monday night against the 49ers in Candlestick's finale and Dec. 29 against the Carolina Panthers.

That's not to say the Cal product doesn't think he could return for an 18th season.

"I absolutely could," Gonzalez said. "But it's the end of the road for me. I put everything out there and I'm completely satisfied.

"I don't have any regrets and I look forward to what's next."

Gonzalez headed for retirement after last season's loss to the 49ers in the NFC Championship Game, then reversed course and made this season's encore effort for the Falcons.


Advertisement

Atop Gonzalez's to-do list — aside from a potential career in broadcasting and/or the health industry — is to spend more time with his 12-year-old son Nikko, who recently won a Pop Warner championship in his first season playing tackle football.

"They won the whole thing in LA and I missed it," Gonzalez said. "I'm not going to let that happen again. I'm going to be there for him.

"If there was a football team in LA, maybe I'd consider coming back. I can't take any more time away from him."

This season, Gonzalez has 71 receptions for 740 yards, giving him 15,008 career yards that rank fifth all-time in NFL history. His 110 receiving touchdowns are the most of any active player and rank sixth behind Jerry Rice, Randy Moss, Terrell Owens, Cris Carter and Marvin Harrison.

"That's never been my focus -- numbers, milestones, records," Gonzalez said. "My focus has been to be consistent and stick to a routine. The numbers and accomplishments of my career are just a byproduct."

A career that included a life-altering hit on a Bay Area photographer.

Pfleger recounted the tale in a 2001 blog post, of which he wrote: "When I arrived home the following day, there was a large pot of flowers from Tony Gonzalez at my home with a wonderful note from Tony apologizing for the "hit" and wishing me a speedy recovery. Two days later, a football arrived from Tony with another note of concern written on the ball."

Falcons coach Mike Smith said Gonzalez remains a "consummate professional" with a great attitude not only about football but life.

"He's just like all of us, very disappointed in the number of wins we've had this season," Smith said. "But he's been a great teammate and continues to be a great mentor."

For more on the 49ers, see Cam Inman's Hot Read blog at blogs.mercurynews.com/49ers. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/CamInman.