Reporters’ notebook: Despite lack of success, red helmets still popular

Atlanta Falcons defensive tackle Calais Campbell (93) celebrates his 100th career quarterback sack against the Washington Commanders during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Oct. 15, 2023, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

Atlanta Falcons defensive tackle Calais Campbell (93) celebrates his 100th career quarterback sack against the Washington Commanders during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Oct. 15, 2023, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

The following, a weekly feature of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, allows our reporters to open their notebooks and provide even more information from our local teams that we cover daily. We think you’ll find it informative, insightful and fun.

Red helmets wildly popular, despite team’s history of losing

Given the Falcons’ lack of historical success in their red helmets – like not have having back-to-back winning seasons until 2008 and 2009 after starting play in 1966 – it’s odd that they would wear their throwback uniforms at all.

But that’s the plan for the game against the Saints at 1 p.m. Sunday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

Some ignore the fact that the Falcons regularly lost in those uniforms. So far, they are 1-1 this season, with a win over Green Bay and a loss to Washington.

“I love them,” Falcons guard Chris Lindstrom said. “I know there are mixed reviews. I love them. I think the throwback uniforms are awesome.”

All wasn’t bad in Falcons’ lore, even though it took them until 1978 to make the playoffs.

“It’s always kind of cool, the different themes they have in the stadium,” Lindstrom said. “I think it’s cool just to honor the different generations of Falcons, too. I think that is cool thing what the league is doing along the way.”

Onyemata facing the Saints: ‘It’s another Sunday, basically’

Falcons defensive tackle David Onyemata, who was taken by the Saints in the fourth round in the 2016 NFL draft, is trying to block out the fact that he’s about to face his former team.

Onyemata played seven seasons for the Saints before signing a three-year, $35 million deal with the Falcons in free agency this past offseason.

“I’m really trying not to think too much about it,” Onyemata said. “I’ve always had the same mindset. Just going into the games with the same mentality, the same mindset. Regardless of the opponent, it’s another Sunday, basically.”

Onyemata has convinced himself that business is business.

“You have to be able to flip that switch, go out there and do what’s expected of you every given Sunday,” Onyemata said.

Poking fun at Falcons

Know your audience, they say in the entertainment business.

Give credit to the a cappella group Straight No Chaser during a recent concert at the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Center on Nov. 18 for doing just that.

As one member of the nine-person ensemble addressed the crowd, he gave a shoutout to Georgia, which had soundly beaten Tennessee earlier in the day. Those in attendance cheered and barked, as one might expect.

He then turned his attention to the Falcons.

“We hired Kyle Pitts and Bijan Robinson to one-day contacts,” he said. “In honor of Arthur Smith, we aren’t going to use them tonight.”

Talk about striking a chord.

Bearcats bully Yellow Jackets

Georgia Tech was knocked around Wednesday in Cincinnati, losing 89-54 at Fifth Third Arena.

The defeat was the Yellow Jackets’ worst since losing 110-57 at Duke on Jan. 4, 2017.

“I’ve been here before as a player. I think whether you lose by one or you lose by 40, it’s one loss, so we gotta take it as that,” Tech coach Damon Stoudamire said after his fourth career game at the helm of the program. “But you gotta get better. It just starts with more of a sense of urgency. A collective sense of urgency. That’s what we’ll get to.”

Tech (2-2) had 19 turnovers to only eight assists, shot only 34.7% from the field and led for only 43 seconds.

“Truth is we could just never get going offensively, never found a flow,” Stoudamire said. “We were able to keep the game in striking distance (in the first half), but the second half came, and give Cincy credit, they put a lot of pressure on us defensively, and offensively, we just couldn’t get any offense.

“We gotta go back, and we gotta get better. That’s the biggest thing for me. In games like this we gotta get better.”

Historic soccer season for Georgia

Georgia’s soccer’s most historic season came to an end last week, and it could not have finished in more dramatic fashion.

In their second season under coach Keidane McAlpine ((kuh-DAWN-ee mik-AL-pine), the Bulldogs (13-4-6, 4-3-3) played top-seeded Clemson to a 1-1 tie on the road in the Sweet Sixteen round of the NCAA women’s soccer championship Sunday. The Tigers advanced on penalty kicks, 5-3, before 1,471 at Clemson’s Historic Riggs Field.

“First of all, Clemson is a fantastic team, and we wish them all the luck in the world moving forward,” McAlpine said. “Had you told me two years ago we’d be in this position and have two, three, four chances on the doorstep to put the game away, I would’ve taken it.”

The crushing part of the loss for the Bulldogs is they had taken a 1-0 lead in the 84th minute on a goal from midfielder Croix Bethune. But the Tigers (17-3-4) answered only four minutes later to force extra time.

Georgia had two opportunities to settle the match in the extra period. Forward Hannah White had a shot with Clemson keeper Halle Mackiewicz far out from the goal only to see Mackiewicz recover to make the save. In the 105th minute, White delivered a through-ball to a wide-open Bethune, only to see her shot also end in a save by Mackiewicz to preserve the tie.

In penalties, redshirt freshman goalkeeper Kenzie Solomon took over in goal for the Bulldogs and nearly saved the fourth Clemson attempt. Senior midfielder Nicole Vernis, redshirt freshman midfielder Summer Denigan, and Hardin each converted their penalty attempts before Bethune’s miss and the clinching Clemson kick in round five.

“It’s always tough to lose on penalties,” said McAlpine, a Huntsville, Alabama, native who came to Georgia after leading the Southern Cal soccer program. We didn’t do enough in those minutes to finish the game, and this is the way the game treats you sometimes. But I’m super proud of these women. They did everything they were supposed to, and we just came up a little short.”

Georgia won its first SEC Tournament in school history earlier in the season.

Wedding bells

Giorgos Giakoumakis will spent part of his offseason doing something important: he and his fiancee will get married.

The Atlanta United striker said the ceremony will take place in Crete, where he was born.

More than 1,300 people have been invited.

Giakoumakis said they capped the guest list at that number, causing a few in the room to open their eyes wide in amazement.

Braves’ dramatic drop in strikeouts

What aspect of the Braves’ historic 2023 offense made hitting coach Kevin Seitzer most proud? The drastic drop in strikeouts. One year after accumulating the second-highest strikeout total in MLB (1,498), the Braves had the sixth-fewest strikeouts in 2023 (1,289).

“It was amazing,” Seitzer told the AJC. “I’ve always hated strikeouts, but it is part of it, and when you’ve got damage that’s unfolding and you’re scoring runs, you can live with it. But that was incredible to cut down that drastically. I love the home runs, don’t get me wrong. I love homers. Love scoring runs. That’s what the name of the game is, scoring runs, and we did an amazing job at that, too. One through nine, the season that they all put together, just take your cap off to these boys.”

Overtime Elite readies for another season

Overtime Elite begins its season Dec. 1. The eight-team basketball league prepares young players for their potential professional futures. Perhaps you’ve seen the massive facility in Atlantic Station. The league hopes more people are noticing and it leads to further growth.

“Our league is just competitive,” general manager Damien Wilkins told the AJC. “I don’t know if there’s a better high school league than this. I don’t think there is. Just our hub alone in Atlanta, there’s no place for any high school athlete to go that you’re going to get the training, development, customize everything. Academics, nutrition, content, branding, social, all those things. You don’t get that at any other institution. So what if we can do this at eight different places? We have an eight-team league, so what if all eight teams had every single resource we have? They have most of it. They don’t have it all. That’s the growth. We could do that and get to that place one day. Will we ever get there? I don’t know. Like, I don’t know even if that’s the plan. But I know that if we ever got there, why as a person in high school if you love the game of basketball, would you decide to go play anywhere else in any other league?”

OTE had two top-five draft picks in the 2023 class: Amen Thompson and Ausar Thompson, who went to the Rockets and Pistons, respectively. The latter especially has thrived with Detroit. He’s averaged around two blocks and 10 rebounds as a small forward, showing massive potential as a defensive disrupter.

“I know them personally very well,” 15-year-old OTE guard Jayden Wilkins said. “I’ve gone to them about defense. They’re known to play defense very well. I talk with them about scoring angles and everything.”

Breaking into song

Hawks general manager Landry Fields showed he is a man of many talents.

When the team unveiled its latest jersey patch during a ceremony at the Carver Family YMCA on Monday, a mini-concert broke out.

During a Q&A session with Fields and Hawks guards Trae Young and Kobe Bufkin, the general manager faced a question about his time on a competition singing show in 2014. TNT’s Inside the NBA panelist, Ernie Johnson moderated the Q&A and prompted Fields to give a taste of his performance on the show called “Sing Your Face Off.”

Fields then joked that his performance on the show had remained buried until Johnson resurfaced it Monday.

“That literally has been under wraps for years, and you just blew it up in front of everybody,” Fields said.

Johnson pressed on, asking Fields to choose between impersonating MC Hammer, Lionel Richie or Pitbull.

Despite hesitating, Fields obliged and took a moment to get into character before breaking out a rendition of Richie’s “Dancing on the Ceiling.” His performance lasted roughly 20 seconds despite warning the crowd he would give only 1.5 seconds.

If readers are so inclined, Fields’ performance on the show easily can be found with a quick internet search.

-Staff writers D. Orlando Ledbetter, Chad Bishop, Chip Towers, Doug Roberson, Gabriel Burns, Chris Vivlamore and Lauren Williams contributed to this report.

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