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Moments to Cherish for Falcons


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Moment to cherish for Falcons

By Jeff Schultz | Sunday, December 21, 2008, 10:06 PM

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Minneapolis — As coaches hugged and players celebrated and the owner’s son jumped into the arms of his father, John Abraham was blindsided by a different kind of emotion, one that nobody could have seen coming amid the hopeless projections of summer.

“I teared up,” he said. “It all hit me. To have a year like this, to fight like this, after what everybody was saying about us — I actually teared up. Never happened before.”

These are the moments that an athlete cherishes, the moments that can make sports so special. These are the moments that make you say “huh?” and “wow” simultaneously.

The Falcons are in the playoffs. Huh? Wow.

Dallas collapses at home on Saturday. Tampa Bay collapses at home on Sunday. All around the Falcons, the dominoes fell.

The only team that didn’t act like it wasn’t supposed to be here was the team that wasn’t supposed to be here.

“It’s the week of miracles,” owner Arthur Blank said. “The first night of Hanukkah is tonight. Christmas is this week. And now this.”

It wasn’t the perfect performance. It didn’t need to be. The Minnesota Vikings had seven fumbles and lost four. It was like watching a team chain-smoke sticks of dynamite. But what does it say that the Falcons have spent a good part of this season watching their opponents self-destruct?

“Resiliency,” coach Mike Smith said when asked what surprised him most about this team. “We haven’t lost consecutive games all season. That says a lot about these men and their ability to bounce back.”

They are 10-5. At this point a year ago, they had dropped six in a row on the way to a 4-12 face plant. It was the third straight year out of the playoffs, far from the high of 2004, when the four corners of this franchise — owner, general manager, coach, quarterback — looked so stable and promising. Spectacular disaster followed. A franchise so accustomed to the bottom seemed to have found a new low.

Now, the Falcons are something else. Tough. Confident. Remarkably grown up. They walked into one of the NFL’s loudest buildings and played a Vikings team that had won eight of its last 10. They drove 74 yards for a touchdown on the opening possession.

While the Vikings’ showed their thumbs, the Falcons showed their resolve and their maturity. They built a 24-7 lead and only teased their opponent in the end.

Long after it was over, general manager Thomas Dimitroff stood against a wall in the bowels of the Metrodome, still in a daze. He could hear the college-like shouts of his players from the other side of the locker room door.

“I’m so proud of this group, the way everybody bought into this rebuilding idea, the way they bought into coach Smith, the way they formed a team,” he said. “Any time there’s been a mishap this season, there’s been somebody there to pick a teammate up. It’s been an amazing thing to watch.”

The shouts of Lawyer Milloy, the team’s acknowledged leader, could be heard through the walls.

“We’re not done!” he told teammates.

Later, Milloy smiled even as he went though the pain of putting on his socks (“I need a new back.”).

“I told these guys, you only get these chances every so often in a lifetime,” he said. “In training camp, you had people predicting us to win one game. Me being as old as I am, I told everybody, ‘Don’t let this be just a rebuilding year. I can’t go through that.’ “

He hasn’t had to. Milloy watched from the sideline as Abraham delivered the knockout punch — a sack of Tarvaris Jackson in the final minute, causing an eruption on the sideline.

“I know he was upset this week about not going to the Pro Bowl,” Milloy said of Abraham. “But I told him, ‘When you’re holding up that trophy at the end of the year, you won’t be thinking about the Pro Bowl.’ Hey, why not us? We feel like we can match up with anybody in the NFC. We’ve got a shot.”

There was a time you would’ve laughed at that statement. Not now. Because by now, it has hit everybody.


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