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Great Lunch With Legends recap by Daniel Cox


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Falcon Nation Charity Organization hosts three Atlanta Falcons legends in fundraiser May 13, 11:33 PMgreydot.gifAtlanta Falcons Examinergreydot.gifDaniel Cox ShareThisjt(1).jpg

Jessie Tuggle speaks at Tuesday's Lunch with Legends event. (Photo courtesy of FNCO)On Tuesday around 90 Atlanta Falcons fans were provided a rare treat: an opportunity to listen to three former Falcons greats share stories and candidly answer their questions.

The first annual Falcon Nation Charity Organization (FNCO) Lunch with Legends event featured former Falcons Jessie Tuggle, Jeff Van Note, and Buddy Curry and proceeds from the $40 ticket went to Curry's non-profit organization, Kids & Pros.

Curry's organization to date has touched the lives of over 4,500 kids, holding football camps run by former NFL players to teach 7- to 13-year-old children football skills and character lessons.

Curry, the 1980 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year, runs the camps with another former Falcon, Bobby Butler, and they believe they're providing the pre-high school-age children the same lessons given to them on their way to the NFL.

"We want to coach kids the correct fundamentals of the game, but also teach them life lessons," said Curry on Tuesday. "Each of us will say any time that what makes us successful today and who we are are the things we learned from playing football. A lot of that comes from coaches growing up to our actual football experience."

Kids & Pros scholarships about 40% of the kids each year that attend their camp and proceeds from the Lunch with Legends event will help meet that goal. In 2009 the camp conducted seven clinics with over 1,000 kids. In 2010 they hope to achieve that same percentage while coaching 2,000 kids at 10 camps in five states.

Fans in attendance witnessed Curry, a two-time All Pro, Tuggle, a five-time Pro Bowl linebacker and member of the Falcons Ring of Honor, and Van Note, a five-time All Pro and Falcon Ring of Honor member share stories of their playing days and speak about the franchise's current success.

For Curry, it was a unique opportunity to witness three generations of Falcons players sharing their love of football and the Falcons franchise with the team's current fans.

"The neat thing about Falcons fans, many of them have researched the past," said Curry following the event. "The past is a part of the future. Being able to connect with that, I think that's what happened today. It also happened for a great cause. When you have NFL players who are passionate about helping kids and giving back to their communities and you have fans that are willing to support those charities as well as cheer for their current team, I think it's a win-win."

The three former Falcons had the opportunity to entertain questions from the fans on a wide-range of topics from the evolution of the game to their funniest moments as a player.

In many of their comments they reminded fans of one key component of football that has always been the same. "The eye in the sky," as Tuggle deemed game film, doesn't miss anything and it never lies.

It caught Van Note's most embarrassing moment.

As a young player, the center was assigned to cover kicks on special teams. During his era cut blocks and dirty play was much more common and on one occasion Van Note's efforts to avoid a cut block as he ran up the field on his assignment resulted in a moment he'd never forget.

"I was leaping in the air from a cut block and a defender grabbed the back of my pants and pulled them down," explained Van Note. "We didn't wear many pads back then. So they came down below my cheeks for just a brief moment. As I fell to the ground I scrambled to pull my pants up, but the film caught it. When they ran the film back in special teams meetings they had a field day with it."

For Tuggle, game film often served to remind him of how great some of his competitors were.

Tuggle, whose No. 58 is retired by the franchise, believes he had the opportunity during his career to face the best running back ever to play football. Facing Barry Sanders always made him look foolish when the film was rewound.

"To this day we think the guy was double-jointed in his ankles," said Tuggle. "He made moves that I've never seen anybody in the country make. You hear about guys that are almost like Barry Sanders. There's nobody like Barry Sanders."

The three not only shared stories of their personal playing days, but also took moments to use the other as the punch line of one of their tales.

Van Note, the elder statesman of the group, reminded Curry of his first Falcons practice.

Given the task of blocking the rookie, the owner of the second-most starts in franchise history aggressively went after the young linebacker. As Van Note blocked Curry, he yelled for the center to stop holding him.

Once the play was over, Van Note held Curry's facemask to his and reminded him of where he was.

"Welcome to the NFL," Van Note said.

Tuesday's event at the Cheyenne Grill was also about reflection, reliving moments that the players will never forget, moments that are enshrined in the memories of Falcons fans as well.

Few in the room were surprised when Tuggle shared that his most memorable moment as a football player was in the minutes before Super Bowl XXXIII began in Miami, Florida.

From the miraculousness of the 1998 season for the Falcons to standing beside Cher before she sang the National Anthem, the Super Bowl served to culminate a career for Tuggle that started as an undrafted college free agent.

"The jets go by [overhead] and when they went by the hair on the back of my neck stood up," Tuggle described to a hushed audience. "It seemed like everything was flashing in front of me. I just couldn't believe I was right there on the sideline about to play in the Super Bowl. As a kid you dream about that moment and it was actually happening."

Tuggle, Van Note, and Curry also made it a point to share their appreciation and respect for the fans of their beloved franchise. Despite an up-and-down run since 1968, they believed Atlanta's fans are some of the most loyal.

Curry shared a story from his rookie season in 1980 during a return home from a game on the West Coast.

"We had a nine game winning streak," he said. "I remember the Falcons fans coming after the games. We'd come in from California and it would be two o'clock in the morning and there would be 100 Falcons fans at the airport. It was wonderful."

Attendees at Lunch with Legends also got a glimpse of the power of Van Note's 18-year career as well as the effect the game had on him physically.

Asked about the dirtiest player he ever faced, Van Note's eyes squinted a little and he began pointing as he spoke.

"Ernie Holmes, [Dwight] Mad Dog White, L.C. Greenwood, Mean Joe Green," Van Note said, speaking the names of the great 70s-era defensive line of the Pittsburgh Steelers.

As he spoke he pointed, his fingers crooked from years of punching linemen like those four as he blocked for Atlanta, as if he were pointing them out in front of the line for his fellow linemen.

He spoke with a reverence for them, but shared that Holmes, he of the poking-and-gouging-in-a-pile dirtiness, was his least favorite.

"He was just a really obnoxious individual," said No. 57

Their past aside, all three gentlemen took an opportunity to deal the long-suffering Falcons fans a brighter side, their personal opinions of the team as it stands today.

Asked what player they would take on the current roster, Van Note and Curry went with the team's young quarterback, Matt Ryan. Tuggle, a blue-collar player if there ever was one, took a different route.

"I'm taking Smitty, the head coach," Tuggle said. "First of all, I think he's very personable. He's a blue-collar head coach. He's not a celebrity head coach. He knows his Xs and Os and he knows how to put a good quality team on the field. ...I would take the head coach and we'll build from there."

Retired for 22 years, Curry spoke to the fans as a fan himself of the Atlanta Falcons, sharing that the 2009 season was as excited as he's been about Falcons football since he played for the franchise.

"It's because of the energy of the players and the aura that comes out and the energy that comes out from the whole organization," said Curry. "[Team owner] Arthur [blank] has done a great job marketing this as Atlanta's team. We've got guys here right now that love to play the game of the football and love to be Atlanta Falcons."

Lunch with Legends, as Curry said, was a day to celebrate a lot of greats:

A great group of players that laid everything out for the Atlanta Falcons franchise.

A great group of fans that have stood by their team through thick and thin.

A great organization in Kids & Pros that allows former NFL players to give back many of the lessons they took on their way to the top.

A fan-run and fan-supported alliance in Falcon Nation Charity Organization, striving to bring the fans and their team together through charitable efforts.

All four converged on Tuesday to raise over $3,000 to help young, aspiring football players reach their dreams ...and maybe someday become legends in their own right.

For more information on Kids & Pros, visit their website.

For more information on FNCO, visit their website.

FNCO Facebook Fan Page

Follow FNCO on Twitter

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The place was packed. What was amazing to watch were people's faces while the speakers were answering questions. I don't think anyone blinked for the first half hour!

It was an epic day, and the good news is we will be doing it again! Stay tuned! :)

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