By Simon Evans
ATLANTA, Jan 20 (Reuters) - Tony Gonzalez's dream of ending his career with a Super Bowl vanished as the tight end's Atlanta Falcons fell victim to a record comeback by the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship game on Sunday.
Gonzalez, a future Hall of Famer who has set many records at the tight end position during his 16-year NFL career, got his first career playoff win last week but the top-seeded Falcons were unable to give him one more.
"That's probably the last time I wear that uniform, or football pads and cleats. I didn't want to take the uniform off to tell you the truth," Gonzalez told reporters after the 49ers set an NFC title game record by rallying from a 17-point deficit for a 28-24 victory.
"All good things come to an end and like I said all season long, this is probably my last one. But what an unbelievable ride. ... I'm not 100 percent sure but I'm pretty much positive that this is probably it."
Gonzalez, a first-round draft pick by the Kansas City Chiefs in 1997, marked his likely final game with a 10-yard touchdown reception that gave Atlanta a 24-14 lead in the dying seconds of the opening half.
The Californian, who had eight catches for 78 yards in the loss, said he would not have any regrets about never reaching the ultimate game.
"I'm disappointed but you will not catch me complaining. It would be rude. I owe the game a lot. It's given me so much and I've had such a great ride," said Gonzalez.
"You can't keep chasing a Super Bowl but if I ever did decide to come back, obviously you know where I'll be - right here, an Atlanta Falcon."
Gonzalez, the NFL record holder for receiving yards (14,268) and touchdowns (103) for a tight end, said he was pleased he would be able to leave on his own terms and not as a result of an injury.
"I've been very blessed, that's why I said I cannot complain. I don't want anyone to feel sorry for me. I've had a great career," said Gonzalez. "I have no regrets, not one. I'm telling you that's not the case with me. I've enjoyed this and I wouldn't trade it for anything."
There was however some sadness from his team mates that they were not able to give him the dream ending to his NFL career.
"He is one of the leaders of this team and the greatest tight end of all time," said Falcons wide receiver Harry Douglas. "You always want a guy like that to end with a Cinderella story."
Falcons coach Mike Smith said Gonzalez had been a pleasure to have on his team.
"I can't say enough about him. I enjoyed working with him and being around him. He is a super person, a great football player and he has rubbed off on a lot of people," said Smith.
"I've learned a lot of things from Tony Gonzalez in the time he has been here in Atlanta." (Editing by Frank Pingue)