The Atlanta Falcons are soaring at new franchise heights. Unfortunately, the paucity of national media coverage has folks looking past them as if they were the third Olsen twin. Who could blame non-believers? After all, Joe Jackson has whipped up on more worthy opponents than the Dirty Birds have this season.
Watching the Falcons during the regular season is akin to riding in an SUV with Ice Cube towards the postseason. Are We There Yet?
Candid receiver Roddy White has gone so far as to dub his franchise ‘regular season warriors’ until they make playoff waves. White has earned his keep though.
In his eight seasons, the Falcons hype man has made as much noise off the field as he has on. Not since Neon Deion patrolled Falcons airspace has the new black entertainment capital been home to a loquacious playmaker with the production to match.
His chirping to the media has kept the Falcons in the national consciousness and amped up a previously apathetic pro football town. Unfortunately, his own play hasn’t received the same reverence.
Why else would the Falcons media lightning rod be denied his fifth straight trip to the Pro Bowl after recording his sixth consecutive 1,000 yard season? White has never led the league in receiving yardage, but since ’07, he has gained more yardage than any other wideout not named Calvin Johnson. Of course, if the next four weeks go according to plan, he’ll be too busy turning Super Bowl Media Day upside down anyways.
It’s been nearly eight years since White was plucked out of the University of Alabama-Birmingham in the second round of the 2005 NFL Draft. Drafted to purge Falcon fans memories of the failed Peerless Price experiment, he nearly became a footnote in Falcons history following listless rookie and sophomore campaigns. In a loss to the Saints late in his second season, White became a scapegoat for Michael Vick’s struggles, after dropping a high arching pass in open space that would have resulted in his first and only touchdown of the season.
Since then, White has become the Riggs to Matt Ryan’s Murtaugh while finishing first or second in targets between 2011 and 2009. White gradually transformed from Shoddy Roddy the future first round bust into a more disciplined, leaner, meaner Pro Bowl machine after recording his first 1,000 yard season in 2007 by dropping 15 pounds and abandoning the ATL club scene.
He signaled his arrival on Monday Night Football, hours after Michael Vick had been sentenced to 23 months in federal prison.
After taking off on a routine fly route against the New Orleans Saints, White hauled in a Joey Harrington pass and kept striding into the end zone. After touching down, White turned around, lifted his jersey and unveiled a black ‘Free Mick Vick’ T-shirt.
It was a silent gesture, but it was also signaled the birth of the mouth of the NFC South.
An example of his ability was on display this season in Week 4, as Ryan heaved a 59-yard pass into double coverage, which White corralled to set up a game-winning kick. That’s how he shows up on the field, but off the field he’s just as valuable to this quiet franchise. He’s no Jim Brown, but whether he’s making bold proclamations via his aptly named @RoddyWhiteTV Twitter pulpit, demanding respect from Stephen A. and Skip, lobbing verbal grenades by calling Victor Cruz a smurf in the slot, accusing NFL retirees of ruining the game with class-action lawsuits or sounding off on Commissioner Goodell’s contract, White is no holds barred.
White doesn’t just talk tough. Playing a position dominated by prima donna personas, the former two-time state wrestling champ is arguably the league’s best blocking wide receiver and despite his 6-foot frame and 4.4 speed, is proud of sacrificing his body across the middle. He’s also never missed a game in his NFL career.
However, White is also self-aware enough to avoid painting himself into an Ocho Cinco-like caricature.
Conventional wisdom suggested that Julio Jones’ maturation into a top-flight receiver, coupled with White’s league-leading 15 drops this season, foreshadows the 31 year old’s pro career fading to black. White was targeted this season for the fewest attempted passes since ’07, though he did finish 38 yards short of his career high en route to eclipsing the Falcons career receiving yardage record.
The regular season is a minnow. Playoff success is Roddy’s great white shark. The mouth of the NFC South has talked the talk, walked the walk, has run away with franchise records and is now ready to swoop in on a Lombardi Trophy. Catch him if you can.