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Roddy White


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Roddy White was asleep in his Atlanta-area home on a hot afternoon last July. As he was catching a nap after a daylong charity golf tournament, his younger brother, Tyrone, startled him by opening the door to his room.

“Hey, your coach is here,” Tyrone said.

“What coach?” the Atlanta Falcons’ fourth-year wideout asked. “There can’t be a coach here.”

“There’s a guy here who says he’s your coach. And he’s in the kitchen talking to Mama.”

A few seconds later, Roddy walked in on a scene that ranked with his biggest nightmares: There was the Falcons’ first-year receivers coach, Terry Robiskie, breaking bread with White’s mother, Joenethia, and his grandmother and great-grandmother. Only one person in the room wasn’t smiling.

“Who told you where I live?” White demanded of Robiskie, “and what are you doing in my house?”

Now that White is on his way to his first Pro Bowl selection – he leads the NFC with 1,085 receiving yards, a key reason the Falcons (8-4) are the league’s most surprising playoff contender heading into Sunday’s game at New Orleans – he can look back and laugh at the incident. At the time, however, there was nothing funny about the sight of his hard-nosed position coach holding court with the trio of concerned women in his kitchen.

The background: During his first two NFL seasons, White had developed a deserved reputation for paying too much attention to partying and not enough to football. He was on the verge of washing out before a breakout ‘07 campaign (83 catches, 1,202 yards, six TDs). Still, Robiskie, upon his arrival last February, felt the young receiver wasn’t exhibiting enough focus.

The issue came to a head during offseason workouts, at which point Robiskie asked White to give him his mother’s phone number. “No way,” White told him.

So Robiskie, a few weeks later, found White’s address and showed up unannounced.

Recalls White of Robiskie’s visit: “He said to my mom, ‘Give me your number, so when he’s in the clubs I can call you – and you can call him and tell him to go home.’ And she gave him her number! Ridiculous.”

Robiskie’s version? “Me and Roddy had a falling-out, so I went to his house. I talked to his mama, and she gave me permission to keep my foot up his ***.”

Just as there is nothing subtle about Robiskie’s coaching style, White’s maturation into an elite receiver has been abrupt and emphatic.

“His route running has improved a lot, and [rookie quarterback] Matt Ryan is doing a good job getting him the football,” Saints cornerback Jason David says of White, who last year put together Atlanta’s first 1,000-yard receiving season since 1999. “He is a good wide receiver with a lot of speed, and when you match that with good route running it makes for a dangerous receiver.”

Two years ago, White was a receiver dangerously close to blowing his opportunity. Drafted in the first round (27th overall) out of Alabama-Birmingham in April of ‘05, White caught just 29 passes as a rookie and lost his starting job early in his second season, which ended with 30 receptions and zero touchdowns.

White hit bottom on Nov. 26, 2006, when he suffered a nationally televised embarrassment that seemed to underscore his status as a conspicuous flop. With the Falcons still fighting for the NFC South title and trailing by eight points in the fourth quarter of a prime-time showdown with the Saints at the Georgia Dome, White flashed open on the left sideline and prepared to catch a long pass from Michael Vick at the New Orleans 5-yard line.

“I made a move down the left sideline, and the defender fell down,” White recalled last Saturday night while sitting at a table just off the expansive lobby of the Manchester Grand Hyatt in San Diego (the Falcons defeated the Chargers, 22-16, the following afternoon). “It was one of the easiest catches I could ever make, and it went right through my hands.

“It was definitely the lowest moment of my life. I just dropped to my knees and thought, ‘Why does this have to happen to me?’ ”

Shortly thereafter, Falcons owner Arthur Blank was interviewed on the sideline. Blank took a shot at his team’s underachieving wideouts, with White obviously one of the prime offenders. Then-coach Jim Mora summoned the receiver to his office and told him that he was disappointed in his lack of dedication, that he felt White was letting his teammates down.

“At that point,” White says, “I thought my days in the NFL were over.”

Looking back, White realizes his immaturity was to blame. He came into the NFL believing his considerable athletic ability – his combination of deceptive speed, strength and body control makes him a deep threat/possession hybrid reminiscent of Terrell Owens – would allow him to thrive, no matter how little work he put into perfecting his craft.

“My approach coming in was wrong,” White says. “I was an athletic guy who could run and jump, and I thought that’s all you needed to be good in the NFL. I saw Randy Moss and Terrell Owens go up and make plays, and I figured I could just do that, too, without working at it.”

Once White’s alleged workday ended, he was all about two things: socializing and eating.

“My first year, I watched no film, other than what I had to watch at the facility,” White recalls. “I was just content to be in the NFL – and I was partying it up, living the kind of lifestyle off the field that I should’ve been living on the field.

“There were times I’d be in the club all night, then go straight from the club to the facility. That was kind of like my lifestyle. We’d have a morning meeting, and I couldn’t even stay awake.”

White’s diet, he says, “was terrible. I gained a bunch of weight. I would go to McDonald’s, and I could eat four double cheeseburgers.”

Sometimes, while sitting at a restaurant, White would hear snippets of conversation from adjacent tables that he knew were directed at him. “All of a sudden,” White says, “you’d hear someone say, ‘Dropping a ball’ or ‘He ain’t no good … we need to trade him.’ I knew what they were talking about, and I knew which way things were headed. I wondered, are [the Falcons] ever gonna give me another chance?”

White got one from what now seems an unlikely source: Bobby Petrino, who replaced the fired Mora as coach but lasted just 13 games before bolting for Arkansas. Petrino’s abrupt and seemingly disingenuous exit still enrages his former players – when Falcons players learn of a Razorbacks defeat, White says, “We all cheer and say, ‘Yeah!’ ” – but he did express faith in White early on and ultimately reinstalled him as a starter.

Another key was the team’s acquisition of veteran wideout Joe Horn, who lasted just one season in Atlanta but managed to help effect an attitude adjustment. “He was a great teammate,” White says of Horn, “and he instilled a lot of lessons in me, including the idea that I could be a leader. He told me, ‘You’re talented. You’ve got everything you need to be a star in this league. But you can’t just come to work every day – you’ve got to come to work and work every day.”

The lesson was hammered home by the demise of Vick, White’s close friend, whose stunning fall from grace culminated in a 23-month federal prison sentence for his role in a dogfighting conspiracy. Last December, White was fined $10,000 by the NFL after flashing a “Free Mike Vick” T-shirt under his uniform following a touchdown catch on Monday Night Football. He says he has had several telephone conversations with Vick – White says the imprisoned passer speaks frequently with the team’s senior director of player development, Kevin Winston, who then passes the phone to others at the team’s facility.

“We talked about a month ago,” White says. “He was like, ‘Man, you’re ballin’. Keep doing what you’re doing.’ I think he’s learned his lesson. He can’t wait to get out of there, and he can’t wait till somebody gives him an opportunity to play again. People make bad decisions in life, but I know the real Mike Vick and in my heart he’s always going to be a good guy.”

With all of that said, White has no complaints about Ryan, the brilliant rookie who quickly locked in on him as his No. 1 target. “He’s a hard worker,” Ryan says of White, “and he’s made some huge plays for us.”

Says Ryan’s backup, Chris Redman, who started the final four games of last season: “Roddy’s a stud. He’s become a real leader in the huddle. He doesn’t just want to catch the ball – he wants to catch it and score. The guy’s a beast.”

White has been proving it on a weekly basis, but he swears he isn’t satisfied. The kid who grew up watching films of Jerry Rice continues to push himself; he was particularly upset after a potential touchdown pass bounced off his hands late in the Falcons’ 24-20 defeat to Denver last month, though it certainly wasn’t an egregious drop.

“Everybody in the NFL gets [his] chance to live in that moment where you win or lose the game,” White says. “The elite guys are the ones who make the plays like that so their team can win, and I want to be one of those guys.”

If he ever starts to waver, he knows at least two people who will let him know about it: Robiskie and his new-found confidante.

“His mama and I have an understanding,” Robiskie says. “He has some bad habits he’s got to get rid of, but we’re working on it.”

Joenethia White, says Roddy, “is my master motivator. Believe me, she’s like Joe Horn: She’ll tell me straight up how she feels. If I have a terrible game, she makes it no better – I’ll call and she’ll say, ‘You should’ve caught that ball. You need to make that play.’ Even this year, when things are going well, we’ll talk afterward and she’ll say, ‘We can do better.’ ”

And if she feels her son isn’t getting the message?

There’s a position coach who’ll be happy to deliver it – and he knows where White lives.

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That goes to show you what dedication that this coaching staff has. If Mora had done that instead of trying to be everybodys buddy, they could have gone far.

Exactly. Mora should have been busting down the door at Vicks dog fighting house and put a foot up his rear. Should have done the same with Hall and Coleman.

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So we've got Robiskie kicking ***** on one side of the ball and Van Gorder kicking ***** on the other side. No wonder these guys show up on off days now. They're more scared of their coaches and Momma than they are the other dudes lined up across from them.

LOL....dont mess with Momma. We should all get T-shirts that reads, "Momma says win Falcons"

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Petrino’s abrupt and seemingly disingenuous exit still enrages his former players – when Falcons players learn of a Razorbacks defeat, White says, “We all cheer and say, ‘Yeah!’ ” – but he did express faith in White early on and ultimately reinstalled him as a starter.


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That article was awesome.

I knew Robiske was the man, but I didn't know he was that hardcore.

You got to be a special kind of hard azz to play the "Momma" card.

He was just what the doctor ordered for Roddy.

If Roddy goes on to be the greatest WR we have ever had, and gets into the HOF, I can see this being in his acceptance speech.

"I would like to thank Terry for asking my Momma if he could keep his shoe in my azz."

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