Todd McClure's words resounded and spoke truth Monday.
"I love this franchise. I'll be a Falcon for life," he told the crowd of media members, Falcons executives and staff and teammates gathered at the Arthur M. Blank Family Office in Atlanta during an emotional ceremony to officially announce his retirement.
After 13 seasons with the Falcons — a rare feat in today's free agency era — perhaps it's no more true of any other former player that he will be a Falcon for life. McClure has left a legacy that won't soon be overshadowed in Falcons history.
His story is an inspiring one of a seventh-round draft pick without much hope of making the team, let alone carving a significant notch into the history books of an NFL franchise. McClure came in as the first of two seventh-round picks in 1999, a year after the Falcons had played in and lost the only Super Bowl in the team's history.
As with most seventh-rounders, their true potential is unclear. For McClure, it's a wonder he ever achieved his. Just two days into his first NFL training camp, McClure tore his ACL and was lost for the rest of his rookie season.
"When I got drafted in the seventh round, my goal was just to make the team at that point," McClure said Monday. "My goals kept getting raised as the years when along, but I never would have thought. When I look back on it now, 14 years has flown by very fast and there have been a ton of memories that I'll cherish forever."
McClure has been a staple of the Falcons organization, and it'll certainly be strange in 2013 when he's back home in Louisiana when the Falcons take the field at the Georgia Dome. McClure walks away owning the franchise's streak for most consecutive starts with 148, a record previously held by former teammate and linebacker Keith Brooking at 128.
A knee injury that held McClure out of the 2011 season opener at Chicago ended the streak, but McClure started in 195 games and played in 198 as a Falcon.
McClure is headed back to his ranch in Louisiana, where he has spent many an offseason raising bucking bulls. He said he'd most assuredly be the biggest Falcon fan who lives in Louisiana, which got a big laugh from the crowd at the ceremony.
During the weekend, McClure said he spent his time coaching a multitude of baseball and softball games for his children, Maverick, Madden, Ryann and Riley, and he got emotional as he talked about how he will devote his retirement to youth sports — something he called his passion.
When he looks back at his football career, however, McClure doesn't have many regrets.
From growing close to teammates — Matt Ryan, Tyson Clabo, Justin Blalock and Sam Baker were in attendance Monday — to playing in memorable games, like the stunning 27-7 win over the Green Bay Packers in Lambeau Field during the 2003 wild-card playoffs, McClure walks away from the game accomplishing so much.
The one thing he didn't get was the Super Bowl championship he had been after.
"It's been a great run, a great career. There's just one thing I came up short, you know, I didn't get a chance to get that ring," he said, before choking up. "But it's time."
McClure took a moment to thank everyone he could during his press conference, from Falcons owner & chairman Arthur Blank to members of the equipment staff — Brian Boigner, Jimmy Hay and Kenny Osuwah — who made their way to Atlanta to watch the ceremony, saying so many people along the way in his career had become like family.
Blank, who introduced McClure and spoke for a few minutes about the impact McClure has had on the franchise, said that McClure will be a member of the Falcons' Ring of Honor one day, an honor bestowed on very few who have ever worn red and black.
"I don't know if I have the right words for that. I mean, you look up in the rafters and you see those names — (Steve) Bartkowski, (Jessie) Tuggle, (Jeff) Van Note, (Deion) Sanders — you look up and you see those names," McClure said, "and to be mentioned in those names, I don't feel worthy."
It's safe to say that the entire Falcons organization and fanbase whole-heartedly disagrees with a man whose career will forever be synonymous with the franchise he has played such a huge part in helping to grow to where it is today.