When Patrick Kerney was drafted by the Falcons in 1999, he thought he was one of the luckiest guys in the draft. Selected 30th overall in the first round out of the University of Virginia, Kerney was coming to a team that had a lot of talent and was coming off a trip to the Super Bowl.
To make things even more interesting, the next year's Super Bowl was in Atlanta. Kerney thought he had it made, but the up-and-down history of the Falcons continued and during the 1999 season, Kerney's rookie year, they went 5-11, but it never changed his outlook on his new team and the city of Atlanta.
"That didn't work out the way I envisioned it," Kerney said recently by phone from his home in Connecticut, but he still went out and gave an effort to Falcons fans that is among the best in franchise history.
Once Kerney became a full-time starter in 2000, he never missed a game for the Falcons until an injury ended his season in 2006 in Week 9. Kerney's streak of 105 straight games as a starter ended there.
Kerney was a bit of an iron man for the Falcons, holding down the edge of the defensive line through stints in a 3-4 and a 4-3 defense during his time in Atlanta before he moved on to Seattle in 2007 for the final three years of his career. His longevity at such a tough position like defensive end is one of the things that endeared him to Falcons fans and it was a point of personal pride for Kerney to be on the field for the Falcons.
"You take pride in being out there any time you can be and you want to perform well in that competition," Kerney said. "If I could be out there, I would be. Part of it comes from taking care of your training and taking your preparation seriously, but it does still come down to luck — not having someone fall on your league in a pile and not getting hit in the head with a knee."
Kerney went to the Pro Bowl in 2004 after a 13-sack season. It was one of two Pro Bowls he would attend in his career and the sack total was the highest in his career in Atlanta. In 2001, he totaled 12 sacks and 10.5 in 2002.
These days, Kerney is still close to the NFL, but in a different capacity. After retiring following the 2009 season, he got married and started a family. He has a 21-month-old daughter named Ashley and another daughter on the way in August.
Kerney got his MBA from Colombia recently and he's been doing consulting work with the NFL in recent years. He helps devise concepts for players to help them protect their wealth. He describes it as a financial self-defense curriculum.
"We help athletes that are generally preyed upon in the financial industry," Kerney said. "We help them gain clarity on where their finances are going and help them develop a philosophy about protecting their wealth."
Kerney looks back on his time in Atlanta and sees a group of guys that were dominant when they were on. He was part of a group on the defensive line that he described as extremely tight, coached by Bill Johnson, Atlanta's defensive line coach from 2001-06, someone Kerney credits as having a huge impact on his life. Ashley's middle name is Johnson in honor of coach Johnson and the influence he had on Kerney's life.
And now, even from his home in the north, he still "definitely" follows the Falcons.
"I take a lot of pride in their success," he said. "It's fun to see them as a perennial contender now. With the stadium coming, they're getting better and better. They have as much talent as anyone in the league and they're fun to watch."
Although he spent the majority of his career in Atlanta, his three years in Seattle were important to his career, as well. His second Pro Bowl bid came in '07 with the Seahawks and the allegiances to both teams presented some problems this past season in the playoffs when the Falcons met the Seahawks in the playoffs, but it was all in good fun and his loyalty to Atlanta and the Falcons remains as strong as ever.
"It was very difficult for me when the Falcons were playing the Seahawks last year in the playoffs," Kerney said. "Everybody and their brother was texting and asking me who I was cheering for and all I ever said was 'Go Birds.' "