Fal­cons bond over ping­pong

Pawtucket Times - - SPORTS -

FLOW­ERY BRANCH, Ga. — For the At­lanta Fal­cons, brother­hood be­gins at three ping­pong ta­bles in the mid­dle of the locker room.

That's where friend­ships are forged and friendly wa­gers set­tled.

And when that lit­tle white ball starts fly­ing, look out!

These guys are just as com­pet­i­tive with a pad­dle as they are with the pigskin.

“We're al­ways com­pet­ing,” All-Pro re­ceiver Julio Jones. “It gets the blood flow­ing and the heart pump­ing.”

When the Fal­cons re­designed the locker room at their sub­ur­ban train­ing fa­cil­ity dur­ing the last off­sea­son, they left room for a sin­gle ping­pong ta­ble. It wasn't long be­fore they were bring­ing in two more.

“The lines to get on that ta­ble were strong, so it grew to two. Then it grew to three,” coach Dan Quinn said. “It's just been a fun thing for the guys to con­nect. It goes on all sides of the ball, all dif­fer­ent groups com­pet­ing against one an­other. We have a lot of fun with it.”

Quinn was ea­ger to build a real kin­ship among his play­ers, a sense of ca­ma­raderie and re­spon­si­bil­ity that would carry over to the field on Sun­days.

He dubbed it “brother­hood,” a word that he put on hats, T-shirts and just about any tweet he sends out. It quickly be­came a mantra for the Fal­cons on their way to the sec­ond Su­per Bowl ap­pear­ance in fran­chise his­tory.

Ping­pong played a pow­er­ful role, giv­ing the play­ers a rea­son to put away their head­phones and iPhones when­ever they had a lit­tle down time be­tween meet­ings, work­outs and prac­tices.

On the ta­bles, they re­ally got to know each other.

“We're not as con­nected as we could be, so that was just one more av­enue for our team to see how close we could get,” Quinn said. “Is this a col­le­giate en­vi­ron­ment? I think it's way deeper than that. This is a brother­hood that's con­nected not just per­son­ally, but they're also con­nected pro­fes­sion­ally.”

Two of the best play­ers on the team, Jones and quar­ter­back Matt Ryan, also have some se­ri­ous pad­dle skills.

“Like our team, I think my ping­pong game has been im­prov­ing through­out the year,” Ryan joked.

Jones is far more an­i­mated on the ta­bles than he is on the field, strut­ting around the room and dol­ing out lots of juicy trash talk to any­one who dares chal­lenge him. In re­cent days, though, he was more sub­dued. “I got hum­bled a lit­tle bit,” Jones con­ceded with a hint of a smile. When asked for de­tails, he clammed up. “I can't tell y'all that,” Jones said, his eyes dart­ing around the room, no doubt plot­ting his re­venge against the team­mate who beat him.

Ping­pong has some prac­ti­cal ben­e­fits, es­pe­cially when it comes to hon­ing hand-eye co­or­di­na­tion. When you see Jones stretch out for a shot and whip it back across the net, the ball moving so fast you can barely see it, it's a lit­tle eas­ier to un­der­stand how he makes those amaz­ing catches.

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