Monday night will be an emotional one for the San Francisco 49ers and their fans, as the team's matchup with the Atlanta Falcons will be the last regular-season game at Candlestick Park.
For Tony Gonzalez, who will be on hand with the visiting Atlanta Falcons, it will also mark his final visit to the site where he experienced what he calls the "strangest thing that ever happened to him."
On a conference call with Bay Area reporters, Gonzalez recalled how during a game between his then-team, the Kansas City Chiefs, and the 49ers at Candlestick Park he was pushed out of bounds and into a photographer. The photographer, Gonzalez says, was knocked unconscious and taken to the hospital. They ran some tests on the photographer and determined he was going to be OK.
Here's where the story gets interesting.
“Then, a couple days later -- three, four days later -- they come talk to me," Gonzalez said. "‘Hey, you know what happened to that guy? It turns out, they did a brain scan to make sure he was OK, and they found a tumor in his brain. They never would’ve found this tumor if you hadn't hit him.'
"It's just like a miracle that it turned out this way. If he hadn't known (about the tumor), that thing would've kept growing and some bad stuff would’ve happened down the line."
The photographer, Mickey Pfleger, wrote about the experience in a 2001 essay on Sportsshooter.com:
"I was supposed to be knocked out by Tony Gonzalez at the football game. I was supposed to go into a seizure while I was unconscious, so that Dr. Klint of the 49ers would tell the paramedics to tell the emergency room doctors to do a CT brain scan on me. I was supposed to be taken to San Francisco General Hospital and land in the hands of Dr. Martin Holland, an incredibly talented neurosurgeon.
"I was never supposed to get hurt from the "hit" by Tony Gonzalez. I couldn't find any bruises on my body the day after being hit full force by Tony, a 249-pound tight end in full football pads. I didn't even have a headache the next day, even though I suffered a concussion and seizure and was unconscious for two minutes."
Pfleger, a freelance photographer with Sports Illustrated and Time, underwent surgery to remove the tumor in May 2001. He lived nearly another decade after the collision and passed away in December 2010 at age 61.
"It's just strange how the universe works," Gonzalez said. "I believe in a higher power. Some people out there don’t. But I definitely think something was at work there -- a late hit, first of all, and then running into this guy and being able to find that tumor in him."
(H/T to For The Win)