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‘Brothership’ has helped Falcons get to NFC Championship Game

Atlanta Falcons head coach Dan Quinn, right, hugs

Atlanta Falcons head coach Dan Quinn, right, hugs players after a touchdown against the Carolina Panthers in the first half in Charlotte, N.C., Saturday, Dec. 24, 2016. Credit: AP / Bob Leverone

Dan Quinn came up with the word late last season, his first as head coach of the Falcons.


It’s an amalgam of brotherhood and friendship, and he clearly believes it is one of the most important words in football — even if it doesn’t really exist anywhere else. And it’s one of the reasons Quinn and the Falcons are where they are Sunday, hosting the NFC Championship Game against the Green Bay Packers, one win away from a Super Bowl.

Their bonds began in the spring when Matt Ryan organized team getaways that mixed football workouts with social interactions, and they continued throughout practices this past week in preparations for the biggest — and final — Falcons game in Georgia Dome history.

To use an actual word, the Falcons are a fun bunch.

“This is probably one of the most enjoyable environments, locker rooms, meetings that I’ve been in during my career,” 15-year veteran defensive end Dwight Freeney said. “They do a great job around here of keeping things upbeat, light, you know? I don’t know if it’s the fact that there are so many young guys that there’s always energy in the building. I’m not sure. But just walking around here, it’s a different feeling. It’s uplifting, energy that I think has a lot to do with Dan and how he likes to run his team.”

It’s a philosophy that Quinn brought with him from Seattle, where he was an assistant and eventually a defensive coordinator under Pete Carroll.

“I do know that I had a blast coaching with him and the players had a blast playing for him,” Quinn said of Carroll.

Now they’re saying that about Quinn.

“I definitely see how he’s treated each guy like a man until you prove otherwise,” Freeney said. “Everyone is responsible for getting ready. We don’t have to do any extra stuff or be any extra tougher on anybody because we’re all men around here.”

Men who like to have a good time together. Who share a bond through blood, sweat and . . . laughter.

“I do think you can work really hard and have a good time doing it,” Quinn said. “Forever, I’ve loved being part of really connected, good teams. I knew for us to play at our best, we’d have to be really close to each other in the locker room, and that carries over to the field. Then it’s up to the players to see how far they can take that connection. Not every year the team is the same, so for this team to connect as they have, the unconditional support they have for each other, it’s legit. You can feel it.

“Having that unselfish attitude, knowing I want to ball out for the guy next to me, when you know you are playing for something bigger than yourself, it’s a really cool feeling,” Quinn said. “I’m glad they’ve captured that.”

It also helps to have an MVP candidate at quarterback in Ryan, a pair of running backs who can create mismatches with opposing defenses, and one of the fastest groups of defenders in the NFL. All of that will be put to the test by the Packers, who come into the game with the hottest quarterback around in Aaron Rodgers and an eight-game winning streak.

Also put to the test, apparently, will be Quinn’s ability to come up with words like “brothership” to describe the closeness of the team.

“Having another guy that you want to play so well for, not let down and have that accountability, it’s even deeper than collegial,” Quinn said. “It’s like, I love this guy, I’m not gonna let him down. We’re probably past that one into the connections that are so strong with somebody that you’re just going to bust your butt not to let that guy down. I recognize the collegial part. We do have a good time. But at the same time, the discipline, the focus and the work that is put in to get everyone ready, that’s real, too.”

He paused and reflected on that new facet of fraternity, then smiled.

“We’ll have to come up with a term for that.”


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