ATLANTA -– The Atlanta Falcons embrace a heap of catchy slogans. They call them core values. Buzzwords like, "Include Everyone," "Togetherness," and "Rise Up!"
This one has caught fire: "In Brotherhood."
Now, people around the NFL and jaded football fans hear that and think it’s corny. Let’s be clear, the Falcons feature the league’s most intoxicating offense. Their quarterback, Matt Ryan, just outclassed rookie sensation Dak Prescott and veteran icon Aaron Rodgers. Atlanta’s defense is meshing. Its special teams are tight. And everywhere among those units is speed, scary speed. The Falcons play boldly fast and then faster than that.
These are the tangible reasons why the Atlanta Falcons are in Super Bowl 51. But this "In Brotherhood" thing is a concept we can’t ignore.
Falcons coach Dan Quinn said he stole it from Navy Seals when he invited them in for four days last April. The group ran the Falcons through drills designed to teach tenacity, teamwork, stress management, leadership, and communication.
"They talked about the brotherhood they share to do their jobs," Quinn told me on Sunday night in the middle of the Falcons’ jubilant locker room after seizing the NFC crown. "I knew right away I was going to use that."
The guy can’t utter three words without mentioning it.
He did it in his postgame news conference, quickly offering, "The brotherhood that these men in our locker room built has led to this moment. And how hard they want to play for one another, against each other, help getting each other ready. I couldn’t have been more proud of them."
Before he said that, he strode into the room to the rowdy applause of Falcons owner Arthur Blank, Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff, other Falcons executives, and a host of Falcons families and friends mixed in with reporters and cameramen. This blend is not normal in NFL postgame settings.
But in a Falcons "include everyone, togetherness, rise up, in brotherhood way," it fit.
Of course, Quinn comes from the Pete Carroll school of coaching where Kumbaya and hugs are as crucial as touchdowns and sacks. But I give Quinn this: He found a way in only two seasons as head coach to coax Atlanta to the Super Bowl. He cultivated a team that started 5-0 in his first season, one that splintered to a 3-8 finish, into a gyrating NFC champion.
While some NFL teams snipe and fuss and fight beyond healthy skirmishes (the Jets recently saw their starting quarterback get his jaw busted in the locker room), there is a very tangible brotherhood among the Falcons that has translated to the field.
It even flows through the organization. Blank is flying all Falcons employees to Houston for the game.
I searched the Falcons’ locker room, every corner of it, for one player who would tell me this "In Brotherhood" thing was a bunch of nonsense. Just smoke.
Not only did I find the opposite, some of these players became downright misty-eyed talking about it.
- Running back Tevin Coleman - "Some people think brotherhood naturally exists on NFL teams. It’s not that easy. Some guys just naturally gravitate to only certain people in a locker room most times. It is not that way with this team. We all engage each other."
- Rookie safety Keanu Neal - "A lot of teams have brotherhood but here it’s more real. It’s what `Q’ (Quinn) teaches. I really enjoy it."
- Safety Dashon Goldson - "It’s hard to get people to really understand that you don’t get this kind of bond in every team where you go. People know in the NFL that you can come, you can go. We started this offseason connecting to the core. We have developed friendships that will last forever, some where some of these guys will be godfathers to their teammates’ kids."
- Defensive end Dwight Freeney - "I didn’t even realize fully what [Quinn] was talking about until I got here, got in the building, saw how they do things here. I’ve seen nothing like it. And it’s a continual thing day in, day out. You play for each other, not just on Sundays, but every day. We talk about brotherhood every single day."
Notice how Neal calls Quinn “Q”? A lot of Falcons players call him that. He’s not too grand amidst his players to be just “Q.”
If Dan Quinn ever desires a second job, he should grab a white coat and clipboard and juggle his branding and psychological knack across the country.
He brings a fast, ambitious team to Houston. He also brings "In Brotherhood," a potent touch of humanity with and among his players.