Every once in a while, you meet a fan so intensly in love with her team that she does something that many would say is the very definition of fanatical. While some may think of such devotions as excessive or irrational, many others see it as a demonstration of how important something is in their life.
Kelley Falcon is one of those fans.
So in love with the Atlanta Falcons she was, she decided to legally change her last name to "Falcon." But the reasoning behind her name change is significant, and it's fans like her that more NFL franchises want to have on their side.
Falcon was born in Atlanta, but grew up in Southern California as a football fan watching games with her stepfather. She returned to Atlanta when she was 18 and her love for the Falcons grew from there. She spent those years watching Steve Bartkowski quarterback the team and Mike Luckhurst serve as the team's kicker for seven seasons. She watched the Falcons through nine losing seasons in the decade of the 80's.
As a young woman in Atlanta, she had plenty of reasons to turn the team off, but she stuck with them through thick and thin. That continued well into her adult life when the Falcons franchise would go through some of their toughest times, on or off the field. Through it all, she continued to root for the team.
"I've loved them over all these years through the good, bad and ugly and never wavering," she said.
Some of the bad came on the heels of one of the greatest moments in franchise history, also one of Falcon's fondest memories as a fan. The 1998 Falcons went 14-2 and steamrolled through the playoffs and faced the imposing 15-1 Minnesota Vikings in the NFC title game. Despite the impressive season from Atlanta, not many gave the Falcons a chance against the Vikings.
Atlanta took the game into overtime and won with a 38-yard field goal to send the Falcons to the Super Bowl, every fan's dream.
"I think that we all as fans want our Falcons in the Super Bowl every year, but it was especially sweet to be the underdogs and shut them up," she said of Atlanta's lone trip to the Super Bowl.
The Falcons didn't fare well in their 34-19 Super Bowl loss to the Broncos, but again there was Falcon, sticking by her team.
She doesn't always get to many games any more, but her life is planned around Falcons football. If there's a game on a Thursday night, she will ensure there are no conflicts to watch it. Her Sundays are devoted to the Falcons, as well, like so many fans.
It's love like that that inspires some people to get a tattoo. Falcon said she wanted to get a Falcons tattoo to represent the team and it would be a unique way to show her support. Little did she know at the time, her ways to show support for the Falcons would become even more intense.
She says she's often asked about the tattoo. Falcons fans approach her asking if she's a season ticket holder or if the tattoo is actually real. The tattoo eventually became a great conversation starter and would lead to a new way to show other fans her loyalty.
In 2006, she decided to change her name. Her family knew she was serious about it as soon as she brought it up, and no one was surprised when she actually followed through with her plan to change her last name to "Falcon." There would be no talking her out of it, and the way she saw it, it was a harmless way to show her love for the Falcons.
The name change also represented a pivotal moment in her life. Shortly before that, she got divorced and was in the process of changing back to her maiden name. During that process in '06, she paused and decided to change it to "Falcon" instead.
"The name change meant a fresh start for me and represents a forever love this time around," she explained. "I will definitely keep this name forever."
The tattoo, she explains, always leads to the name change in most conversations. People are usually unbelieving at first, but she produces the proof and most fans congratulate her on her level of commitment.
"I think that people dont know what to think and are baffled," she said. "I often have to show my ID and then we all get a laugh."
In 2006, the Falcons hosted the Midtown Touchdown Festival at Piedmont Park in downtown Atlanta. The festival, a sports festival that mixed entertainment and sports for fans, marked the beginning of an even greater connection between the football franchise and the communities in and around Atlanta in which it resides. It was also one of Falcon's greatest moments as a fan.
"I had just changed my name and interviewed with V103 and 11Alive that night," she said. "I think a lot of people didn't know what to think or whether or not to believe me. I think (the festival) was a great way for all of Atlanta to rally around the team we love and get everyone pumped for the season."
There are still those fans that find Falcon's levels of fandom "crazy."
Kelley Falcon doesn't care.
As far as she is concerned, the Falcons are worth her craziness. Her commitment shows what happens when you follow a team for a lifetime. The players become like family, so closely related to them that you feel the same emotions of joy and devastation that they do on the football field each week in the fall and winter.
"I'm sure a lot of people think I'm crazy and I am about my Falcons," she said.
Her commitment to Falcons craziness is the very definition of a fan.