Falcons’ ping pong competitions in the locker room helped make them contenders

What do the Atlanta Falcons do after they’re not on the observe discipline? Contemplating the workforce’s success this season, it’s possible you’ll suppose gamers spend all of their free time finding out the sport plan or analyzing opponents on tape. Positive, that’s part of the workforce’s weekly preparation, however so is ping pong.

In the course of the offseason, the Falcons rearranged the locker room. In earlier seasons, there was a row of lockers bisecting the room, separating the lockers on the perimeter from those throughout the room.

Lockers have been largely organized by place group. It was segmented and separate, and head coach Dan Quinn thought the workforce wanted a brand new atmosphere to foster the “brotherhood” he hoped to construct.

“So we (have been) not as related as we might be, so it was only one extra avenue for our workforce to see how shut we might get,” Quinn stated.

The row of lockers down the middle was eliminated, leaving simply the lockers across the perimeter. Gamers have been shuffled round, placing Matt Ryan subsequent to his new heart, Alex Mack. Kicker Matt Bryant is subsequent to huge receiver Taylor Gabriel, and Julio Jones, who was once subsequent to Matt Ryan, has a brand new neighbor this season, too.

The rearranged locker room has fostered interplay between gamers who aren’t in place group conferences or movie research classes collectively, and has inspired the workforce to develop into nearer.

And down the center of the locker room, the place these lockers as soon as stood, now stand three ping pong tables. Throughout open locker room, when the media is allowed in to talk with gamers, these tables are at all times occupied.

“Not solely do they wish to spend time collectively out of the constructing, however within the constructing too,” Quinn stated. “Having that competitors in one thing as small as ping pong, simply to go battle for it. We’ve obtained three minutes till the following assembly, we’re going to play a recreation for 3.”

It might not shock you that the best participant within the room is Julio Jones. His athleticism interprets properly to ping pong, and you’ll see the pace and fluidity from the sphere echoed on the tables.

However what might shock you is what number of of Jones’ teammates consider they’re on his degree. It doesn’t matter if the participant in query is a good finish who spent a lot of the season on the observe squad, specifically D.J. Tialavea.

“And put this on file. D.J. Tialavea is the best ping pong participant on this locker room,” Tialavea advised SB Nation within the week main as much as the Falcons’ divisional win over the Seattle Seahawks. “You’ve obtained to go ask round. My ping pong recreation is on one other degree proper now.”

Rookie nickel cornerback Brian Poole ranked himself as the highest three ping pong gamers within the locker room.

“Poole, Poole and Poole,” Poole stated. “The highest three spots. I’m taking them.”

Matt Ryan has even gotten into the motion, and he’s a no-holds-barred form of competitor.

Proper sort out Ryan Schraeder thinks the NFL MVP would be the workforce’s MVP in ping pong, additionally.

“I performed in opposition to him, and I solely scored like two factors, and he simply disgraced me,” Schraeder stated. “So I’m positive he felt good about that. I believed I used to be good up till that time. Clearly not. I’ve performed Julio, (fullback) Patrick (DiMarco), they usually’re fairly good, and I’ve saved up with them.”

Ping pong within the locker room does foster Quinn’s supreme of “brotherhood,” and it has been a catalyst for the Falcons’ aggressive spirit this season. It additionally exemplifies the egalitarian angle of those Atlanta gamers.

Lengthy snapper Josh Harris isn’t probably the most well-known Falcons participant, by an extended shot. No lengthy snapper is. Although his position is extremely specialised and basically essential to the particular groups unit, and he’s fairly good at it, Harris is commonly ignored.

However not by his teammates, not when he’s on the ping pong table. Harris is a consensus top-five participant in that context, and he holds his personal with the workforce’s high participant.

“Julio and I’ve gone backwards and forwards. The collection is tied one to at least one,” Harris stated.

Within the week main as much as the Super Bowl, the Falcons have landed within the midst of a circus. From the theatrics and loopy questions of Tremendous Bowl Opening Night time, to a seemingly infinite stream of media obligations, it’s markedly tougher for the workforce to maintain that singular deal with Sunday’s recreation.

Nonetheless, the Falcons are attempting to take care of as a lot normalcy as doable, and which means they’re nonetheless enjoying ping pong.

“We get pleasure from spending time with one another, going by the sport plan, that form of stuff, after which simply enjoyable,” Ryan stated of the workforce’s preparation for Tremendous Bowl LI. “We’ve obtained a reasonably good setup with our recreation room and stuff like that. There’s some ping pong occurring, which you guys who’ve been within the locker room know that’s an enormous factor for us at Flowery Department. And so it’s been lots of enjoyable.”

When the Falcons face off in opposition to the New England Patriots on Tremendous Bowl Sunday, it is going to be the end result of months of exhausting work, planning and preparation. To counsel that ping pong helped get the workforce to the place it’s immediately, its first Tremendous Bowl berth because the 1998 season, might appear to be an effort to oversimplify the scenario.

However ping pong had a task in constructing the bond between these gamers and instilling an unshakeable sense of competitors in a workforce that beforehand lacked it. Ping pong did assist form the 2016 Falcons into the Tremendous Bowl contenders they grew to become.

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