Gonzalez to Play for First Time as NFL Player in Cleveland Browns Stadium
INDIANAPOLIS – He hasn't had much time to consider it.
Anthony Gonzalez, after all, is in his second NFL season, his second season playing wide receiver for the Colts. He said that means no matter how much Cleveland, Ohio meant to his past, the thoughts, actions and loyalties of his present are very much in Indianapolis.
Still, he also is very much heading home this weekend to play his first NFL game in a stadium where he watched games while in high school against the team his family followed growing up.
So, yeah, Gonzalez said, it matters.
Just not as much as people might think.
"Honestly, I've been so caught up in what we're doing here," Gonzalez said this week as the Colts (7-4) prepared to play the Cleveland Browns (4-7) at Cleveland Browns Stadium Sunday at 1 p.m. "This is the team I play for, so this is where my focus is.
"But that being said, I don't know anybody who doesn't like going home."
Gonzalez, the Colts' first-round selection in the 2007 NFL Draft, is heading home during a season in which he has steadily improved, and in which he recently has continued to emerge as a crucial component in an improving offense.
While playing extensively as a rookie – often as an outside receiver in the wake of an injury to Marvin Harrison – Gonzalez caught 37 passes for 576 yards and three touchdowns.
Gonzalez, who this season has caught 46 passes for 568 yards and three touchdowns, last week caught six passes for 95 yards in a 23-20 victory over the San Diego Chargers, his most receptions in a game since he caught nine for 137 yards in a Week 2 victory over Minnesota.
All six of his receptions last week gave the Colts first downs, with four coming on third downs. One of the third-down plays was a 13-yard touchdown reception that gave Indianapolis a tying touchdown just before halftime.
This week, Gonzalez said his weekend could feature a bit more than just the game.
On Saturday, after the Colts' arrive, he said he'll have a chance to see family and his hope is that at least some of Thursday's Thanksgiving meal is still around.
"I' m hoping they'll save a leg of turkey or something," he said, smiling. "We'll see if they do. They probably won't."
That night, his high school – St. Ignatius – will play in the state championship game, which Gonzalez said he would like to attend, but won't because of Colts team meetings.
"I'll be watching on TV," he said.
Gonzalez, a loyal Cleveland sfan – his favorite team in a non-football sport is the Cavaliers of the NBA – attended four or five Browns game a year while in high school. He said this week some of his earliest childhood memories involve the team, including when – in January of 1988 – then-running back Earnest Byner fumbled at the Denver Broncos 3-yard line in the AFC Championship Game, preventing the Browns from forcing overtime and ending their Super Bowl hopes.
It also created a somewhat traumatic experience for the three-year old Gonzalez.
"I was at my grandfather's house, playing with his dog," Gonzalez said, laughing. "I was so young. Everybody went crazy and the dog started barking. That scared me a little bit."
As for his Browns loyalty, he said that ended during college.
"Playing here (in Indianapolis), as far as football goes this is where my focus goes," Gonzalez said. "Once I felt like I had a shot of playing in the NFL I told myself, 'I can't root for anybody anymore, because chances are I won't play for whatever team that is.' I sort of tried to bury my feelings a little bit."
Not that his friends from those days have done the same. He said he warned family members to hide whatever Colts gear they might wear Sunday, but he also said friends of his not only won't be wearing Colts gear, they won't secretly be cheering for him either.
"I just know from my experience how the Dawg Pound is," he said, laughing and referring to an end-zone area at Cleveland Browns Stadium with a reputation for some of the league's rowdiest fans. "I've warned my family to just kind of keep the Colts blue underneath their jacket. You don't want any issues in that regard.
He added, "I've already had friends tell me they're going to throw something at me from the Dawg Pound."