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Former players gather for Alumni Day at camp


There was Lou Kirouac, a Boston College graduate who was a member of the Falcons' inaugural team in 1966, introducing himself to Jesse Tuggle whose son is a quarterback at BC.
Jenkins said he saw some ex-teammates for the first time in 20 or 30 years. He said name tags were necessary since some had changed so much in appearance – their children looked more the visions in his memory, he said.

Some like James Cotton, who runs a nonprofit for athletes from his alma mater of Ohio State to transition after athletics, came from the Buckeye State to attend.

And then there was ex-place kicker Morten Andersen, the alumnus most recently removed from playing, as he played on the 2007 team, who shared a warm embrace on the practice field with current wide receiver Brian Finneran.

Team President Rich McKay told the alumni the organization wants to continue its commitment to them through events like Tuesday's, one last season in which it honored members of the 1998 NFC Championship team during a game and this year's move to honor the 1966 team. He also said the team is open to any requests and suggestions from alumni.

Kevin Winston, the team's senior director of player development, said the outreach program has been successful. Last year 52 alumni attended and that this year that number was a good deal higher.

Winston said events like Tuesday's were a great way for former players to connect with the organization even after the football part of their lives has ended.

Head Coach Mike Smith and General Manager Thomas Dimitroff seemed to enjoy mingling with the former players between practices on Thursday. Smith said he hoped his current players could learn something from their predecessors.

"I think it's something that builds camaraderie that carries over through the different eras and I think it's important that our guys see the guys who came before them," he said. "Not only with the Atlanta Falcons but in the NFL and see what they've done after their playing days. I think it will enlighten a lot of our players in terms of what the future holds for them."

Many of the former players – including Georgia natives Tuggle, Mathis and Jenkins – said they are excited about this year's team.

"The offense is going to score points," Tuggle said. "… The defense is the biggest question. [John] Abraham has to stay healthy. When he does, he's one of the best defensive ends in the NFL. The biggest questions are the linebackers and the secondary.

"They have to stop people. If they do that, they will definitely win 11 games."

All of the Falcons' offensive weapons are causing some alumni to think that maybe their glory days are not as far in the past as they seem.

"These guys should average 25 or 26 points a game," said Jenkins, 57, once the organization's all-time leader in pass receptions and receiving yardage. "If these weak-side receivers don't earn their money, I'm coming back."

Buchanan, six years removed from playing for the organization, said he tries not to let his pro-Falcons' bias come through when he works for ESPN and Fox radio as an analyst.

"Last year was like a bonus," he said. "For retired players, it gives us bragging rights when the team does well."

Mathis said even the most successful teams hit rough patches in the season, including the '98 Falcons who went 14-2 en route to the Super Bowl. He spoke of three wins that season – the first two he said the team should have lost against Chicago and St. Louis – and a third in which starting quarterback Chris Chandler was hurt and back-up Steve DeBerg had to play in a win over Indianapolis.

"For this team to win, they are going to have to overcome adversity," he said.

Andersen, who was with the team for arguably its highest and lowest seasons, 1998 and 2007, said he likes the talent level on this team and agreed with Mathis' point about perseverance and mental toughness.

"It looks like they're moving in the right direction," he said. "… It's all about having confidence to reach your fullest potential. You can't kill yourself with penalties and mental errors."

Day 11 -- Tuesday, Aug. 11, 2009
8:30 a.m./3:20 p.m. Practice "Alumni Day"
@FalconsJMoore "Words of the Day"

TRANSCRIPT:Smith talks about some scuffles at practice * FEATURE:Former players gather in The Branch for Alumni Day * BLOGS:J. Michael Moore's blog posts from Aug. 11, 2009 * VIDEO:Head Coach Mike Smith | Ryan * ALUMNI VIDEO:Tuggle | Pridemore | Whitlow | Barnes * PHOTOS:Images from Day 11 at training camp (Flickr)

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