Thomas DeCoud feverishly cleared tables and refilled water glasses. Mike Smith weaved through a crowded dining room with four plates of salad balanced on his forearms. And at the end of the evening, Matt Ryan had a face full of pie.
The second annual Huddle Up For Miracles, hosted by Smith, calls upon players, coaches, and executives from the Falcons franchise to serve as wait staff at The Capital Grille restaurant, with their evening's "tips" donated to the Children's Miracle Network-Atlanta. Falcons' partner Children's Healthcare of Atlanta is the local benefactor of the event's efforts, which provide children in Georgia access to quality medical care.
In its first two years, the popular annual event has raised over $360,000 for the cause.
While the atmosphere at The Capital Grille was light-hearted, make no mistake: Falcons players and coaches arrived with their game faces on.
"I think it's a fun time for everybody," said Smith. "The guys are so competitive. Our football team and everybody in the organization is so competitive, and they're competing to win the event tonight - to raise the most money in tips."
Unlike on the gridiron, rigid rules don't restrict how a player can go about earning tips. At one point last year, several enterprising players actually "stole" table silverware, only to sell it back to diners for tip money.
Former UGA quarterback D.J. Shockley defended his top waiter crown Monday night, but wide receiver Roddy White made a bold claim and followed up on his bravado.
"I am definitely going to win," White boasted Monday night. "Last year I came in third. This year I'm coming in first."
Indeed, the Pro Bowl receiver earned the coveted "Most Valuable Waiter" award this year, personally hauling in over $8,000 in tips. The ebullient Thomas DeCoud sang, danced and charmed his way to the "Most Entertaining Waiter" prize. And for reasons that clearly don't mimic his play on the field, second-year quarterback John Parker Wilson was branded with the "Most Fumbles" moniker.
While White's windfall of two AirTran round trip airline tickets had celebrity waiters hustling all night, the specter of finishing last provided equal motivation.
"I just don't want to be the last one on the board, because you're going to hear about that for a long time," said tight end Justin Peelle.
Ryan, who celebrated his 25th birthday on the same day, was at the epicenter of one of the night's memorable highlights. With the entire restaurant called to attention, teammate Brian Finneran marched a birthday candle adorned cupcake out to the Falcons young field general. But alas, Finneran's offering was only a diversion, creating cover for fellow quarterbacks D.J. Shockley and Chris Redman, who snuck up behind Ryan and plastered his face with whipped cream pies.
Recently acquired cornerback Dunta Robinson said events like these are not only for a good cause, but also build a locker room solidarity that will serve them well in the season.
"These are the situations that bring us together as a team," Robinson said. "We do a lot of good things on the field, but what you do off the field, that's where that fun comes from. That's where guys learn to trust each other. This is where friendships are built."
Building strong bonds among the player ranks and giving to a good cause is what Huddle Up For Miracles is all about for Smith. Children's Healthcare of Atlanta, one of the largest child clinical care providers in the country, has a special relationship with the Falcons and the team was more than happy to do some offseason work of a different kind Monday night.
"We're a group of guys that not only work hard together, but we like to try to get together and have some fun and do some really beneficial things," Smith said. "Raising money tonight for the Children's Miracle Network is something that is dear to the Falcons and dear to my heart."