ANTONIO GATES WOULD like to take a moment to honor his left big toe. If he hadn't injured it three seasons ago, his career might have been lost.
You see, when the tight end first entered the NFL, in 2003, he was a physical marvel. Gates used his 6'4", 260-pound frame to bully defensive backs, while the athleticism that once made him a college hoops standout allowed him to leap over, run past and dart around linebackers. He racked up four straight 900-yard seasons from 2004 to 2007 and reached 500 catches in the third-fewest games of any tight end in history.
Then Gates dislocated that big toe during the 2008 playoffs. Despite off-season surgery to
repair the damage, he still felt hobbled in the fall. All of a sudden the game wasn't so easy anymore, and he compiled just 704 yards that year, his fewest since he was a rookie."I used to be able to jump over people," Gates says."But once I couldn't do that, I was lost. I hadn't really
understood what defenses were doing."
From that realization, a film-room junkie was born.