All Falcons fans know about the key players from the 2008 season and how the franchise went from selecting at No. 3 in the NFL Draft to the playoffs in one season, but some of the lesser-known players that helped in that initial run are names many have forgotten.
One such player is safety Antoine Harris, one of the veterans that survived a roster overhaul when coach Mike Smith and general manager Thomas Dimitroff took over in '08. Signed in 2007, Harris played in 13 games for the Falcons, mostly as a core special teams player, and recorded 10 tackles and one pass defensed. Harris in '08 was once again a key contributor on special teams during the 11-5 rebirth of the Falcons and had three tackles in 12 games before an injury ended his season late that year.
Harris returned to the Falcons in 2009, appearing in 10 games before an injury ended his season and his time with the Falcons. The five-foot-10 defensive back, who entered the league as an undrafted free agent in 2005, joined the Eagles for one season in 2010 before his career was cut short with a foot injury.
After the 2010 season, Harris rehabbed his injury and began to take stock of what to do next.
"I had a whole season to work on my injury and figure out what I was going to do next: play football or stop and do something else," Harris said recently at the Falcons' Career Symposium. "I have two little ones with my wife and that gave me a little more motivation that it was time to do something (else)."
Harris, now a resident of Atlanta, got involved in real estate and his wife began pursuing a career in yoga instruction. He has also recently been involved in a website geared toward high school athletes to help them showcase their skills and assist them in finding a college to continue playing sports.
He misses the sport that he dedicated much of his life to and the bond of the football team locker room is what he misses most, but he's thankful for the time he did have in the league.
"I got six years in and a lot of guys can't even say that," Harris said. "More than anything, I miss that camaraderie, being around the guys and being in the locker room."
Although he was let go by the Falcons, Harris has no hard feelings toward the organization that gave him the most playing time and opportunities in his career. Still living in Atlanta, he can't escape the Falcons mania that has taken over the city in recent years and yes he was tuned in this year as the Falcons made a run toward the Super Bowl.
"I know a lot of guys get bitter and they tend to not watch the game or talk to anyone," he said. "I still communicate with a lot of guys and I still have a lot of friends on the team. I love the team and I just wish they could have gone to the Super Bowl and won it."
Harris was one of the holdovers from the dismal '07 season and thoroughly enjoyed his time as a Falcon in general, but even more so under Smith and the regime that took over the following season. He could tell early on that what was being laid in Atlanta was the foundation for success and Atlanta's five-year run of winning seasons hasn't come as a shock to him and he's as excited as anyone to watch more successful years of Falcons football.
"I'm not surprised at all," he said. "Smitty and all those guys, when they came in, they had a great plan and they've stuck to it. It's really working out for them. I just want them to get over that hump. They got over one hump this year by winning the playoff game,"
Now a member of the Falcons fan nation, Harris is all-in with his support of the Falcons franchise and thinks the sky is the limit for his old teammates and his hometown team.
"I can't be mad with their success," he said. "It's a great franchise and Coach Smith is a great coach and the Falcons will be good for a long time."