Arriving to the Falcons' facilities, cancer patients from Wellstar Kennestone Hospital and Hunter Calvert from the Make-A-Wish Foundation knew they were going to have a special day. Special, however, didn't even begin to describe it.
The guests from Wellstar, who visited practice Wednesday, were a group of six patients accompanied by families and friends. Although each one is fighting an incredibly tough illness, they all carried a smile that seemed to stay put all day.
"This is what their family members have when they are gone," said Sharon Woods, PR strategist for Wellstar. "They look at them and they talk about it and they are so appreciative and grateful of the opportunity of getting away from everything. Today they just get to be normal and to go enjoy football."
The patients were greeted by the Atlanta Falcons Cheerleaders and got a tour of the team's facilities in Flowery Branch, and general manager Thomas Dimitroff then spent time chatting with them. After practice, the patients were hoping some players would sign a football for them. What they got was hounded by players eager to talk with them and wanting to sign anything.
"I don't know if the Falcons realize how huge this is," said Rindy Benson, who has volunteered at Wellstar for 11 years. "Sometimes for some patients, this is the last thing that they may get to do. This is massively huge."
On Thursday, Hunter Calvert from the Make-A-Wish Foundation got his chance to spend a day with his favorite team. The 13-year-old, who is fighting encephalomalacia, got to be a VIP guest on his special day at Flowery Branch.
This included being joined by a Falcons Cheerleader and getting his own press conference, where he said that head coach Mike Smith held a special place in his heart because of how he coaches — and because he believes he'll take the team to the Super Bowl this season.
He then got to practice on the field with the players, which included kicker Matt Bryant giving him tips, playing catch with Matt Ryan and Tony Gonzalez and joking around with Asante Samuel, who eventually gave Calvert his own nickname.
After practice, Calvert got to be a part of the team huddle and was the center of a team picture. The 13-year-old, who was accompanied by his parents, his older brother and his grandmother, impressed the players with his quick wit and his vast knowledge about football and the team.
For Calvert and the cancer patients, the sense of normalcy that the Falcons provided them with this experience was something that they'll carry forever.
"It's life-changing," said Benson. "This is a random act of kindness that the Falcons have extended. I can't tell you how much that means. They are like angles of mercy to all of them."