“You saw Falcons signs in the regular season, but now you’re seeing more of that in my neighborhood. … I think everybody is starting to become Falcons fans now.”
The pursuit of this joy is part of why defensive end Dwight Freeney pushed off retirement several months ago, and joined the Falcons for a 15th NFL season. He went to two Super Bowls with the Colts, winning one, and last year reached the NFC Championship game with the Arizona Cardinals.
“Being in this type of moment, it is real special. It is some of the reason why I keep coming back, keep coming back,” Freeney explained. “You can’t replicate this anywhere, the emotions and feelings you have doing what you are doing with your teammates … all the grind and what got you here.”
Fullback Patrick DiMarco doesn’t have to defend Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers, but he’s happy to play the Packers.
“They are playing really good football, too, right now. They are hot; we are hot,” he said. “It’s going to be fun on Sunday. I’m excited.”
For a few moments, 15-year veteran kicker Matt Bryant went with off-speed stuff.
“It’s just the next step to where we ultimately want to be,” he said before warming up.
“You can kind of feel it,” he said of Atlanta’s vibe. “People look at us, we’re one game away from being in the Super Bowl.”
Bryant’s family and friends in Orange, Texas, are jacked.
“On my Facebook, the majority of it is people from back home. They’re either Cowboys fans or Texans fans,” he said. “So when the Texans lost (Saturday to the Patriots) and the Cowboys lost (Sunday to the Packers), all of a sudden a whole area of southeast Texas became Falcons fans quick.
“It’s fun. (Jonathan) Babineaux is from the same area, about 15 or 20 minutes from me. (Sean) Weatherspoon is about 40-45 minutes north of us. Some of my buddies I guess are getting some shirts made up.”
Bryant busted out a photo of the shirt. Black with a Falcons logo on the front, the back features Bryant’s No. 3, and the name reading, “Auto Matt ic.”
Having grown up in Conyers, defensive tackle Grady Jarrett has local ties.
“The NFC championship … would be special no matter where it was at, but it is an extra-special chance for us and me as far as being an Atlanta guy,” he said.
Being local comes with traps, like ticket requests. Each player receives two, and a chance to buy more.
“People coming out of the woodwork, but you know that ain’t where my mind’s at,” Jarrett said. “There’s going to be a lot of hurt feelings, but at the same time I’ve got a mission to do with this team, and that’s what my focus is now.”
Defensive tackle Ra’Shede Hageman is from Minneapolis.
“I’m getting a lot of random numbers hitting me up,” he said. “It’s real difficult because you’ve got to be blunt. There’s no way around telling someone that you don’t have tickets for them, but the amount of people reaching out to me is crazy.”
Safety Ricardo Allen has a solution. “I’m not answering the phone,” he said. “I don’t answer the phone during the season much, really, but I will say if you weren’t on my regular-season list, I’m definitely not answering now.”
Left tackle Jake Matthews has been hearing from his kin, of course. The Packers have this guy named Clay Matthews.
“I’m playing against my cousin, so all the family is excited.”
So is Hageman. “For the simple fact that we get to have a game at home, and it being the last in the Georgia Dome, I think that’s pretty cool,” he said. “It’s almost speechless.”
Allen is all business.
This doesn’t feel surreal to him.
“Nah. We always knew we were going to be here,” the third-year veteran explained. “I’m not trying to be arrogant or anything. We knew we were going to be here, man. We never doubted ourselves.”
As defensive lineman Courtney Upshaw said, “We worked hard to get to this point, and to say we’re one of the four teams still alive fighting for that Super Bowl berth, what other place would you want to be?”