Todd McClure has had a long NFL career, the entirety of it spent with the Falcons. With the center in the second half of his career, he knows opportunities like the one Atlanta faces on Saturday are running out. He's soaking every moment up as the Falcons reach for everything.
Just a few days before he's set to play in just his sixth playoff game in his 12-year career, Todd McClure heard from a former teammate.
"I actually got a text from Keith Brooking the other day saying 'Good luck, you guys are doing really good so finish it off,' " McClure said Tuesday. "People are wanting us to do good and hopefully we can get it done."
Before Brooking left the Falcons after the 2008 season to sign with the Dallas Cowboys, the linebacker, like McClure, had spent his entire NFL career with Atlanta.
Brooking was a rookie in 1998 with the Falcons during their Super Bowl season, a season that has stood out as the best in franchise history. The linebacker reached out to his former teammate to wish him good luck and share his pride in what his former team had accomplished this season, one that compares to '98.
McClure and Brooking were faces of the Falcons franchise through the 90s, players who exemplified effort and character on and off the field. When McClure started at center in the first game of this season against Pittsburgh, he broke Brooking's franchise record for consecutive starts. His start in Week 17 against the Panthers marked the 141st consecutive game the lineman's played in.
Former Falcons punter Chris Mohr is another player McClure said reaches out to him often. Atlanta's punter from 2001-2004, Mohr routinely sends the center messages of congratulations on Atlanta's season. McClure said he's not surprised some of the former players take pride in what the 2010 Falcons are doing and said someday when he hangs up his jersey he'll probably do the same.
"I know I'll be there one day looking and pulling for the Falcons," he said. "Hopefully, it's later rather than sooner. I'm sure people have played here in the past probably take a little proud and probably doing a little trash talking wherever they're at and hopefully we can give them a reason to keep talking."
McClure knows the time to reminisce and enjoy Atlanta's run this season is when he's at home in the recliner telling his grandchildren about his glory days in the NFL. Right now, however, he and his teammates are focused on the task at hand, starting with their Divisional playoff game against the Green Bay Packers at the Georgia Dome on Saturday.
What they've accomplished this season will mean a little less if they can't continue the ride, but the veteran believes he and his teammates can use everything they've learned this season to produce a few more wins.
"I think you take the confidence that you've built up all year from the success you've had and take it out on the field on Saturday," McClure said. "Right now's not a time to look back and relish the high points of the season. We want to go out and make three more high points. That's what we plan to do. We're going to take it one game at a time and hopefully play two of them here at home, win those and move on to the big game."
Even though they've got the most important game of the season to prepare for, they have still been able to enjoy the outcome of all their hard work throughout the season. Even though head coach Mike Smith mandates a 24-hour rule that means the team isn't allowed to focus on a win or a loss longer than 24 hours after it's occurred, they've appreciated the fruits of their labor, starting with the first-round bye their 13-3 season produced.
But now the games resume and it's win or go home. In some ways, their next opponent is more primed than they are because they played last week, although the Falcons used the week to get healthy, re-energize and rest.
"You soak it in but you also realize that it's an even playing field now that you're in the playoffs," McClure said. "Some teams have played a game and won a game, but it's an even playing field. It's do or die. We know that the past success of this season doesn't mean anything unless we go out and get a win this Saturday."
This season has been a special one for McClure. With his career closer to the end than the beginning, he knows years like the Falcons have had are rare. They've won a variety of types of games, from double-digit victories to last-second nail-biters. Despite all the ways they've won, he echoed a phrase that the organization has repeated throughout this season.
The center praised the efforts of special teams in setting up his offense to do so many special things this year. He also said the defense came through in critical times to lift up the other aspects of the team when things weren't going so well. He knows the total package is there and he believes they've got the ability to put it all together. When they do, they'll be hard to beat.
Even though they're still searching for the elusive complete game, the guys around McClure can win games without always being at their absolute best, as they've shown all season. That trait makes this team unique in the eyes of the veteran offensive lineman.
"This team that we have is just different from any other team I've ever been on," McClure said. "We don't have any 'me' guys in the locker room that are trying to get attention all the time, saying they want to get the ball more or this and that. It's just a group of guys that want to go out and win, whatever way we can do it."