“You destroyed a dream for a city,” White said. “It’s bigger than me. The city of Atlanta needed that championship and you had it. Arthur Blank needed that championship and he deserved to win that game, with everything he’s been through. It was finally our time to win and it just hurt me that we didn’t get it done.”
White's comments Tuesday came during the "We Never Played the Game" podcast with WSB TV's Zach Klein and me, which can be downloaded now on iTunes. It was an illuminating one-hour discussion, during which White revealed: How close he came to signing with the New England Patriots; how he rejected offers from other teams because they weren't contenders; his early career partying days with Michael Vick; how former assistant coach Paul Petrino (Bobby's brother) helped turn around his career; his ongoing frustrations with Shanahan; his exit from the Falcons and more.
But let’s start with this: White watched former teammate and close friend Jones make a miraculous sideline catch at the New England 22-yard-line, putting the Falcons in field goal range with a 28-20 lead and four minutes left.
“I was like, ‘That’s it. Game’s over. We’re going to have a parade. I’m going to fly back to Georgia. We’re going to have fun,’” White said.
Then a black hole sucked up the Falcons. On second-and-11, Shanahan sent in a pass play that resulted in a sack. White was asked what his reaction would’ve been to the play call if he was in the game.
“I told Julio I would’ve jumped offsides,” White said.
He was serious.
“At that point, it’s second-and-16, you know they’re going to run the ball,” White said. “Or they’ll throw quick game (quick pass off a three-step drop). It wouldn’t be anything you can take a sack on.”
Instead, Matt Ryan was sacked. Jake Matthews was called for holding. The Falcons were pushed out of likely game-clinching field goal range. The team and a fan base eventually melted to mush.
“To not finish — and that’s what you preach,” White said. “You have a kicker in a dome and he don’t miss.”
White singled out Shanahan for most blame, but he also said it was difficult for him to blame one person for the loss.
“As a coaching staff, you’re on the headset,” he said. “Nobody said, ‘Were going to run the ball three times.’”
White is a Falcons’ season-ticket holder and attended most of the games. He is certain to at least be added to the team’s “Ring of Honor” in the new stadium and, as the team’s all-time leading receiver, is worthy of having his jersey number retired. He said he was not upset when the offense and the team had success without him following his release after the 2015 season.
He stopped working out in mid-October when it was clear he would not sign with a contender. He said he had extensive discussions with New England, including phone conversations with Bill Belichick, shortly after the Falcons released him in March. But the Pats opted to sign Nate Washington (who later was released).
“My agent was like, ‘You know it’s cold there.’ But I told him, to win, I’ll play in the cold. … I was kind of (angry they signed Washington).”
White previously said he would only sign with a title contender. Minnesota contacted him during its 5-0 start but White said by the time the team was ready to move on a deal, it had started to fade. So he said no. He also rejected overtures from Tennessee (former Falcons’ assistants Terry Robiskie and Mike Mularkey) and Tampa Bay (Dirk Koetter and Mike Smith), either because he didn’t view them as contenders or his expected role.
He would have liked another year with the Falcons but it was clear to him even in 2015 that Shanahan did not want him in the offense. White said he was fine with a reduced role. But when Leonard Hankerson washed out, he found himself playing 60 snaps, but was seldom the primary or secondary receiver.
“We went to San Francisco and we threw under to (Justin) Hardy and we got stopped at the 1-yard line and we ended up losing the game,” White said. “I was like, ‘Where am I in the progression?’ What about people who’ve been in this situation and have won games. … It was frustrating. I let it get to me a lot more outside the walls.”
White went to Shanahan at one point to clear the air: “I’m asking Kyle, ‘What do you think I can do?’ He said, ‘Well, you can run slants, you can run under, you can run slow-go’s.’ I was like, ‘Why are you not calling those plays for me?’ He just didn’t want me in the offense. If you don’t want me, just tell me. I can handle that.”
That said, White believes the Falcons would have a better chance to get back to the Super Bowl if Shanahan hadn’t left for a head coaching job with San Francisco, believing there will be a transition period with new offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian.
“If Kyle was still there and parts were intact, I would give them a better chance,” he said, adding that even with the Falcons running the same offense, “It’s a new voice.”
White is done playing but he hasn’t lost his voice or his opinions and he’s still reliving the Super Bowl, like the rest of Atlanta.