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July 27, 2013

Gonzalez takes a new approach to his final camp

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. — Tony Gonzalez had to wait until his final season to strike a perfect training camp balance for both him and the Atlanta Falcons.

NFL players routinely are excused from practice to address serious personal matters, but it’s very rare for them to get big blocks of time away from the team for non-emergencies.

Gonzalez, though, had plenty of leverage with the Falcons after helping them advance to the NFC title game last season and earning his 13th Pro Bowl invitation.

So the two sides struck an accord to suit them both.

Gonzalez, 37, agreed in March to put off his retirement to return for a fifth year in Atlanta and 17th overall. In turn, the team agreed to let him miss parts of training camp so could spend extra time with family and watch his 12-year-old son Nikko practice football in California.

“Right now, I’m here, but there were some obligations I made to my family, more specifically to my son last year around this time, because I was going to retire,” he said. “I wasn’t joking about that last season.”

On the first day of training camp last year, Gonzalez told reporters that he was 95 percent that 2012 would be his last season.

But after Atlanta fell 10 yards shy of winning the NFC title, Gonzalez told himself the Falcons were too talented — and that he was still playing at such an elite level — that he might regret not trying one last time to reach the Super Bowl.

After all, it took 16 years for him to finally win a playoff game. Now he has a chance to help Atlanta, which earned a No. 1 playoff seed in 2010 and ’12, win the Lombardi Trophy.

“This is my last season, and I’m looking forward to it,” he said. “This is going to be fun — just being with the guys that are on this team and with the fan support — the sky’s the limit on what we can do, but we have to work hard. We know we’re a long way away from where we were last year, and it starts with that first game in New Orleans.”

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