Trailing 14-10 as time in the second quarter was winding down it was third down and long for the Atlanta Falcons. Taking the snap Matt Ryan dropped back and threw across the middle. Complete pass. First down. The receiver? Roddy White. Once again the cagey veteran made another important catch as he has done his entire career. The crowd at the Georgia Dome rose to their feet. And then they began to chant. “Roddy! Roddy! Roddy!” the crowd shouted. And I have to admit I did as well even though I am not supposed to since I am part of the media and am supposed to be impartial – at least until I write my recap. But I couldn’t resist. This has been a frustrating season for me being a life long Falcons fan and beat writer/photographer since the 2000 season as well as a frustrating one for White who has been all but forgotten in offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan’s scheme. It’s criminal to me. You see… I love Roddy White.
Roddy White is pretty much my favorite Falcon. I have literally seen him grow up before my eyes and now I’m watching him take a backseat to Julio Jones. That’s fine because Julio is seven years his junior but to be forgotten or overlooked like he has been this season? No excuse.
White has all but disappeared in the Atlanta offense this year. He even said something about it. The fans sure did and so did I. You see – there is something special about Roddy White. He’s one of the few players we’ve seen drafted in this day and age of the NFFL that remains and insists wants to end his career with the same team. It’s kind of like giving birth to a child and watching them grow and mature. That’s what Roddy did in Atlanta. And that’s one of the reasons I love him.
It didn’t start that way however. White was Atlanta’s first round draft pick in 2005 out of the University of Alabama Birmingham (UAB). The Falcons were desperately looking for a deep threat for Michael Vick coming off the heels of making it to the NFC Championship game only to lose to the Philadelphia Eagles 27-10. I wasn’t really impressed with Roddy that year but something has to be understood. Michael Vick was not only a coach killer but also a wide receiver killer.
In Vick’s brief tenure as the starting quarterback in Atlanta he cost three coaches their job – Dan Reeves who drafted him, Jim Mora Jr. who got them to the NFC Championship game and Bobby Petrino who didn’t actually coach Vick but was hire initially to work with Vick’s “unique” quarterbacking style. As we all know Vick ended up in a federal penitentiary because of the dog-fighting ring he bankrolled. Petrino skipped town literally two-thirds of the way though the season to go back to the college ranks leaving a note in his players lockers after a Monday Night routing by the New Orleans Saints.
I remember watching an inconsistent Roddy White make some good catches and drop a lot of balls he should have. That was the story for all the wide receivers of the Atlanta Falcons during the Vick era. The Falcons brought in one promising receiver after another and all failed. They even traded a number one pick for Buffalo Bills’ Peerless Price who was putting up huge numbers but the Bills really couldn’t really afford to keep. He was supposed to be the answer to Atlanta’s weak passing game. It ended up ruining his career after two years with Atlanta and he never recovered playing one season with the Cowboys before finishing his career back in Buffalo. The only receiver to blossom under Vick wasn’t a receiver at all. It was tight end Alge Crumpler who was Vick’s safety valve.
I was thinking to myself what a bust this Roddy White was. Sure he was impressive his senior year at UAB but he looked to have hands of stone at times with Atlanta. I chalked this up to another bad pick and acquisition by the Falcons. Until one night. Basketball season had started. I was covering UT Chattanooga basketball that year. I was in the pressroom one night before a game against UAB. The pressroom was kind of quiet with everyone eating and pretties much staying to themselves. I sat down at a table with my photo gear and in my camera bag was a Falcons roster. This young lady was sitting at the table and she noticed it.
“Do you cover the Atlanta Falcons?” she asked. I told her yes and then she said: “I love Roddy White!” She was with UAB’s athletic department and started telling me the virtues of Roddy White on how fast he was, how talented he was and on and on. I never heard someone gush so much about anyone in person before. Our conversation was very nice and cordial and after that game I decided to give Roddy White a second chance. You could say I kept an eye on him from that point forward. During the rest of the seasons I saw glimpses of promise but I knew deep down that White would never reach his potential on this team. Then the unthinkable happened. During the off-season there was rumor that Vick was involved and actually bankrolled a dog-fighting ring. He was arraigned and eventually convicted serving 18 months in a federal penitentiary. Newly hired coach Bobby Petrino had no quarterback really.
At this point White had two so-so seasons that showed promise but also caused much frustration. Without Vick 2007 was a fiasco. It was a quarterbacking roundtable in Atlanta. First Byron Leftwich whim the team got from Jacksonville, then Joey Harrington and finally Chris Redman who was once Petrino’s quarterback at Louisville. Petrino literally quit after a Monday Night drubbing by the Saints. White finally made a name for himself but not for the reasons you would think. During that Monday night game White scored and then when in the end zone he and Michael Jenkins the team’s other wide receiver lifted up their jerseys in the end zone displaying shirts that read “Free Michael Vick”. Vick had been sentenced that day to federal prison. White’s action cost him $10,000 as the league fined him.
But all of a sudden this guy came out of his cocoon and blossomed into an All-Pro as he became the go-to target for all three of Atlanta’s quarterbacks putting up incredible numbers. Nobody including myself had any idea that Atlanta had a real wide receiver on the team since Vick took over play calling in 2002. Even Michael Jenkins blossomed and a number two receiver.
2008 saw Mike Smith and company come in and with the third pick of the draft select Matt Ryan and pretty much the rest is history. White made one spectacular catch after another. He was able to stretch the field as all of a sudden thanks in part because of Ryan White was finally able to display everything that gal from UAB told me back in 2006.
With the arrival of a new quarterback White began an unprecedented run for the Falcons as we was voted to the Pro Bowl 2008-12 including an All-Pro selection. White broke and set every Falcons receiving and scoring record until Jones broke one of them this season.
As a longtime frustrated Atlanta Falcons fan and reporter (I’ve literally grown up watching team like I said in last week’s column) it was a dram come true to see White grow and become one of the best receiver bar none in the league although I don’t think he’s gotten the credit he deserves. Like I said before it is in an odd way like watching your child grow up, mature and become even more successful than even you, a proud papa expected. And the fact he’s stayed with the team this whole time and did not try to go elsewhere for more money means a lot of old school football fans like myself.
Julio Jones came and he’s a younger version of White – just a littler taller and a tad bit more athletic. The tandem is without a doubt the best wide receiver duo in the NFL since the Marks Brothers in Miami in the ‘80s. The duo was at its peak in 2012 when the Falcons offense was pretty much unstoppable as hey cruised to a 13-3 record and fell ten yards short of a Super Bowl berth.
2013 and 14 were nightmares as White missed his first games as a pro with a high ankle sprain and even Jones missed half the season with a broken foot. And then change came.
At the end of the 2014 season Mike Smith and company were shown the door. Dan Quinn who had been the defensive coordinator in Seattle replaced him. A whole new regime took over with an emphasis on defense and a new offensive coordinator by the name of Kyle Shanahan.
The season started off well as Atlanta began 5-0 and all of a sudden people were talking a deep run in the playoffs. But oddly absent during this was Roddy White number being called. It rarely was. All the emphasis was on Julio Jones. The play calling obviously got really predictable. In years past Ryan would spread the ball out to eight or more receivers. No longer. The most on any given Sunday was four different receivers, one being the running back. White’s catch output dropped 40 percent under the new regime.
Everyone noticed including White who publicly questioned his role in the offense. But unlike other receivers in the league in a similar situation he did not really complain or hint around that he wanted to go to another team that would use him more. Instead he insisted he was a Falcon for life. And he seemed sincere about it and still does now that the season is over. If he was trying to win some of us over he did a great job.
And while White’s time is starting to run down as a wide receiver in the NFL he remains a true team player who is willing to accept his role with the team and be ready when his number is called. He has definitely made many highlight reels since 2005 with hopefully more to come. That is why I love Roddy White.
Oh yeah, the Falcons lost the season finale Sunday losing on the last play of the game 20-17 to finish 8-8. 2015 was a very unpredictable and uneven at times. There are a lot more changes to be made in the off-season in roster and possibly coordinators. Stay tuned for more details.
– Dave Weinthal
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