Inspiration for Falcons Comes in Three

Inspiration for Falcons Comes in Three

Jay Adams

Published January 7, 2013 at 10:47 AM

Tony Gonzalez stood in front of his locker last Thursday, smiling at the media as he prepared to speak for his regularly-scheduled interview session when he was asked a question about whether or not he’s hoping his teammates have adopted a win-one-for-Tony attitude.

“I hope they do,” he said with a laugh. “I hope they want to do it for me because I want to do it for them. I’ll tell you that right now.”

Just then, wide receiver Roddy White pushed his way through the crowd of media members surrounding Gonzalez’s locker and finished the question for him.

“Yeah, we wanna win one for Tony,” White said in his playful manner, garnering a laugh from the contingent. “That’s what y’all wanna know. We wanna win one for Tony.”

“… And that type of attitude is what I like right there,” Gonzalez said, as White faded into the background. “Honestly, that’s the attitude I have for them.”

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The Falcons, especially those who have been with the team since 2008 or even 2010, definitely have that attitude. They’ve all bled together, worked together and fell short together during those years, so with another chance at getting to where they want to go, they want to win it for each other.

But there are three people in particular who the Falcons draw inspiration from — the team’s natural leaders: Gonzalez, center Todd McClure and linebacker Mike Peterson.

All three near the end of their respective careers, they’re approaching these playoffs like it’s the final run — because it very well could be. Gonzalez has said repeatedly that he’s 95 percent sure he’ll retire at the end of this season. McClure was re-signed in the offseason but the longest-tenured Falcon is in his 14th season. Peterson, who was added after the Falcons released middle linebacker Lofa Tatupu before training camp, is also in his 14th year.

All three have their minds focused on going through the experience for what could be that one last time.

“I’ve gotta think about it. Me thinking about failure keeps me driving. If I didn’t think about not being successful, I’d be cutting myself short, not putting my all in,” Peterson said. “I think about, if I don’t make it, I don’t ever want to have that thought in the offseason: ‘I was so close.’ So I’m going to do everything I can now. Young guys, I’m going to tell them everything. This is it. This is my final swing, so to speak. I don’t want to say this is my last go-around, but that’s the way you’ve got to treat it when you’ve been in the league 14 years.”

The younger Falcons are taking note. They don’t even have to give it much thought. Win one for Tony, Mike and Todd is just a natural reaction to the importance those three have had on this team.

Of course, the players want to win it for themselves, too, but that extra motivation provided by those three has carried the Falcons through the calm-before-the-storm that is the bye week.

“(Peterson is) one of those guys that’s been around a long time and for me, it was real big, him coming back this season in terms of helping me out and getting to learn the middle linebacker position a whole lot more,” Akeem Dent said. “For me, I know Spoon, Nic, Rob James and the rest of the guys around here, if this happens to be his last year, we want to send him out the right way.”

As a whole, the three haven’t seen much playoff success in their 34 combined years in the NFL. Peterson and McClure have won playoff games during their career, but Gonzalez — who most assuredly is headed for the Pro Football Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility — has never tasted playoff success.

Combined, Gonzalez, McClure and Peterson have a 3-17 record in the postseason.

“This is why you play the game and you always think about what you’ve gone through in the past and the tough, heart-breaking losses that I’ve had in the playoffs,” Gonzalez said. “You hope it is for a reason. I’ll tell you what, my rookie year we went 13-3 in Kansas City and guys like Marcus Allen and Derrick Thomas were saying we were going to win a Super Bowl. If I had won it back then, it wouldn’t have been as sweet as if I win it this year. I know what it takes and I know going through an entire career of 16 years and to not even have a playoff win, let alone a Super Bowl, that it’s tough.”

Tough as it may be, those 20 playoff appearances between the three elder statesmen create experience — something that can’t be taught or coached. As they head into this all-important week, that experience is something they’re going to continue to impart into a team that wants to win one for them so badly.

As Gonzalez, McClure and Peterson continue to hear it from the younger players that want to do it for them, the three will continue to make sure the magnitude and importance of the next six days is not lost on those whose NFL journeys are just getting started.

“I think they can draw on their experiences. Those guys are very experienced, not only in the regular season but the postseason,” head coach Mike Smith said. “As I’ve said many times, the older guys on our football team are mentors and they’re mentors to these young guys. I believe we will draw on their experiences because they are an important part of the makeup of our football team.”

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