This Throwback Thursday, we're taking at look some of the Falcons greats as we continue to celebrate 50 seasons, presented by Equifax.
Shortly before Atlanta's 2009 home finale, a Falcons staffer approached Quinn Ojinnaka and asked how he'd like to be introduced during their pregame ceremony. The offensive lineman, seldom a recipient of such attention, said to call him Moose.
Michael Vick came up with the nickname in 2006 because, according to the QB, Ojinnaka looked like someone who used to go by Moose. Ojinnaka hated it. But teammates got a kick out of the moniker, so, in defiance of protests, they made sure it stuck. It became his identity.
When Ojinnaka ran through the Georgia Dome tunnel that afternoon, Mooooose chants rained down from the seats. Today he considers it his best NFL moment. And as it happened, as he got caught up in the grandeur of smoke, fire, music and a raucous crowd, Ojinnaka realized he could build a successful life after football.
Offensive lineman, by nature, veer towards the quiet side—perhaps because they're rarely afforded the same spotlight as their skill position counterparts. Folks don't exactly spar for a good run blocker's jersey in stadium shops. So most of these behemoths, though quick to flap their jaws in the trenches, refrain from exhibiting big, noticeable personalities.
Ojinnaka was an exception. If he laid someone out, odds are he'd let the guy know about it. And he'd do so in a flashy way. That bravado, coupled with the natural high he enjoyed from fan adoration, gave him the blend of motivation and confidence he needed to hang up his cleats and pursue a career in professional wrestling.
"I liked to imagine those 70,000 people chanting my name, but instead of a field, I'd be walking out to a ring," he said. "I always kept that in the back of my mind."
Ojinnaka fell in love with wrestling when he was 10 and would discuss it in locker rooms with anyone who'd listen. As a kid he looked up to many of the sport's greats—Razor Ramon, Dusty Rhodes, Ric Flair, Bill Goldberg, Eddie Guerrero—and, despite his talents on the gridiron, aspired to follow in their footsteps.
The time to do so came soon after the Falcons traded Ojinnaka to the Patriots. That deal sapped a lot of the fun out of his job, and although he got to play for New England, Indianapolis and St. Louis, his passion departed from he left Atlanta.
"That's when the reality of things hit me, like, 'Man, football's not fun anymore,'" said Ojinnaka. "I left all the friends, the team I got drafted by. That's when it hit me."
In Rams camp, he decided enough was enough. Determined to make a change, he began researching ways to get involved in pro wrestling. He found a in St. Louis, then another in Toronto. Eventually he came across WW4A Pro Wrestling School in Atlanta, where he still called home, and made an inevitable decision: He'd file his retirement papers and start a fresh chapter
Ojinnaka then enrolled at WW4A, where Sesugh Uhaa (known as Uhaa Nation) became a mentor. Before working out with the main instructor at WW4A, Uhaa, now with the WWE, guided Ojinnaka on his own. When it came time for Ojinnaka to show the higher-ups what he was capable of, he was more than prepared.
From there he got a few small gigs, including a role as a security guard with Global Force Wrestling. In September of 2013, after just four months of work, Ojinnaka tried out for Ring of Honor: one of the world's most distinguished wrestling associations. They liked his potential and quickly offered a contract. He's signed the dotted line in 2014 and has been with ROH ever since.
Ojinnaka took an expedited path to his new career, but the transformation didn't come without its challenges. He had to get used to the choreography. He had to push through the pain in his back caused by a slew of hits into unforgiving ropes.
And he had to adjust to the attention. When you win or lose in football, Ojinnaka explained, you have 53 players including yourself with whom to celebrate or find blame. In wrestling, it's extremely different.
"If you perform well, you have yourself and the guy you're fighting to split the celebration. It's great," he said. "But if you do bad, most of the time it's your fault. So, you hold a lot more responsibility. It's just you and the guy you face."
Since Ojinnaka started moving up the food chain—he won his first major ROH match last winter—he's gained a strong reputation in wrestling circles. During his NFL tenure, he could walk around town and be left alone; now, however, people notice him in public. Just recently Ojinnaka went into a Gamestop and left with free gear courtesy of a supporter working behind the register.
"I never got that treatment as a football player," he said. "No one knew who I was. It's a great feeling to get noticed. I'm just glad the wrestling family took me in so well. I get tons of support from those guys."
Football may not have sent Ojinnaka on the fast track toward stardom, but it's provided him with several advantages at ROH. Having spent hours upon hours watching film, he's been able to study wrestlers he admires, learn what they do right and apply his own twists to their moves. For example: The idea for his flip spear—dubbed a "Hitstick", an ode to the Madden video game—is a variation of one of Goldberg's maneuvers from the 90s.
The athleticism that allowed Ojinnaka to be successful in football has aided him in wrestling, too. Years of strenuous training, which focused on staying strong for a three-hour contest, made shifting to his his new workout routine—short, albeit intense—relatively smooth.
And, of course, his God-given abilities have come in handy. After all, not many people can leap well enough to dropkick a tall opponent in the face.
"You don't see a lot of 300-pounders jumping that high," he said.
Ojinnaka currently has 18,000-plus followers on Twitter and has garnered praise from some of the community's most revered figures. Right now his goal is to win the Ring of Honor title; long-term, he'd like to sign with WWE and, one day, become a champion there as well.
"I'm happy where I'm at. When my contract with Ring of Honor is up, we'll see," Ojinnaka said. Do I want to work for WWE someday? Yes I do. But right now, I'm still young. I'm 31 years old. So I don't think there's any rush. Whatever happens happens."
If asked to reflect on everything he's been through since walking away from football, Ojinnaka makes sure to emphasize how important his experience with the Falcons has been to reinventing himself. If it weren't for those Mooooose calls nearly six years ago, there's no telling where he'd be today.
"That helped me out tremendously, because it gave me my wrestling gimmick," Ojinnaka said. "This situation would have never happened if I never told someone to introduce me as Quinn 'Moose' Ojinnaka. So thank you, Atlanta."