The phone call came from Roy Williams, basketball coach at Kansas, during the middle of last week. The Jayhawks had a game on Thursday night in Lawrence against Ohio State. Tony Gonzalez had put in a request for tickets, and the request had been filled. But Williams had also left a message for the Kansas City Chiefs' tight end. A personal message.
"What's it say?" Gonzalez asked in the Chiefs' locker room at Arrowhead Stadium.
"You'll have to hear it for yourself," replied a teammate who had heard the message. "It's for you. It's really good."
"Does he want me to play?" Gonzalez asked. "Is that it? Does Roy Williams need a guy? Because here I am. I think I have a year of eligibility left. I could get out there right now. I could get him some points."
As easily as that, the idea took hold. At forward, 6'4", 250 pounds, from Huntington Beach, California, TONY Gon-ZA-lez. He lifted a hand and took an imaginary jumper. The imaginary ball went through an imaginary basket. He could do that. Yes, he could. Straight off the street he could put on a Kansas uniform and drop 15 points, grab seven or eight boards on those sad visitors from Columbus. Columbus? He could do it against the visitors from Boston or Milwaukee, L.A. or New York. The NBA. He could do it in the NBA.
"I played against a lot of those guys," Gonzalez says. "Stephon Marbury. Jerry Stackhouse. I don't know if they remember me, but I played against them in the summer camps. Always came out in the top 15. Same as them. I played with four guys at Berkeley who have been in the NBA. Shareef Abdur-Rahim. Ed Gray. Guys like that. I played ahead of guys at Cal who are in the NBA. Why couldn't I do it?"
The NBA. The NFL. Why not take on the AFL, the CIO, the UN, too? Why not MSNBC, the FBI, TGIF? The horizon was flat and all engines were purring. Possibility was no harder to find than water or air. The Chiefs, the latest hot team of this strange NFL season, were preparing for Saturday's game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, whom they would defeat 35-19 to go 9-5 and set up a meeting against the Seattle Seahawks this Sunday with first place in the AFC West on the line. Gonzalez would have his best day as a pro, catching six passes for 93 yards and two touchdowns. Bring 'em on. Bring on anybody or anything.
"I've read that [Minnesota Vikings wide receiver] Randy Moss wants to play in the NBA, two sports," Gonzalez says. "Maybe I wouldn't mind that either. Maybe I wouldn't mind playing Randy Moss."
Confidence is a wonderful thing. When it finally arrives.
"The third year is when everything finally clicks in for me," Gonzalez says. "I'm not sure why that is. High school? I was nothing until my junior year. College? The same thing. I was an All-America as a junior. The NFL? Here it is all over again."