Programming note: Watch Thursday’s 49ers press conference with Jim Harbaugh, Andy Lee and NaVorro Bowman streaming live at 11:55 a.m. right here
Tony Gonzalez’s lasting memory of Candlestick Park just happens to be the most bizarre thing that ever occurred during his 17-year NFL career.
Gonzalez, one of the top tight ends in NFL history, will be on the field Monday night for the Atlanta Falcons against the 49ers in the final regular-season game at Candlestick.
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The memorable play -- and aftermath -- occurred in November of 2000 against the 49ers, while Gonzalez was playing for the Kansas City Chiefs. He caught a pass near the sideline and 49ers linebacker Winfred Tubbs gave him a shove.
We’ll let Gonzalez tell the rest of the story, as he recounted what happened next on a conference call Thursday with Bay Area reporters:
“The strangest thing that ever happened to me in football happened to me at Candlestick. We were out there, and I caught the ball . . . a guy pushed me out of bounds after the play was over – a total late hit – and I went flying and I ran into this guy on the sideline taking picture.”
“He hits the ground and I look down at him. His eyes were in the back of his head. He was knocked out, unconscious. I tried to help him up, but people were, like, ‘Hey, get back in the huddle.’
“So I go back to playing the game. And a couple minutes later, I see the ambulance show up. And they take him away. Then, I hear after the game that he’s going to be OK. He’s in the hospital. They’re just running some tests on him. He’ll be OK. So I was happy about that.
“Then, a couple days later – three, four days later – they come talk to me. ‘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.
“I got to meet him a couple times. His name is Mickey Pfleger. It’s just strange how the universe works. 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. That’s something that stands out as the strangest thing that ever happened to me in football. It’s a great story.”
Gonzalez said he kept in touch with Pfleger throughout the remainder of his life, Gonzalez said. Pfleger, a free-lance photographer with Sports Illustrated and Time, underwent surgery to remove the tumor in May 2001. He lived another 10 years after the collision with Gonzalez. Pfleger passed away in December 2010. He was 61.