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Saying farewell to Roddy White

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Thank you for everything, Roddy. You'll be missed.

Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

Roddy White came to the Falcons the same year I did. He was drafted by Atlanta out of UAB in the first round of the 2005 NFL Draft, with the 27th overall pick. I moved to Georgia from Ohio a couple of months later and started watching the team when the season kicked off that fall.

White got off to a slow start in the NFL, and by his own admission, he didn't understand the work it would take to become a successful receiver at the pro level. The Bobby Petrino era wasn't good for much in Atlanta -- as a matter of fact, it still pains me to mention his name as much as I'm sure it pains you to read it. However, Petrino's brother, Paul, who served as the wide receivers coach that season, was a catalyst for White developing into one of the best receivers in the league.

"Paul Petrino worked me so hard and pushed me to string together good practices, go out there and do it every day," White told ESPN's Pat Yasinkas in 2010.

Veteran receiver Joe Horn was also brought in by the team that season, in part because the team really didn't think White had it in him to develop into a viable NFL receiver. Yasinkas wrote in 2010 that even the coaching staff didn't really believe in White's ability.

One person who worked for the Falcons at the time White first arrived admitted the brass in Flowery Branch had a huge case of buyer's remorse after they saw White in his first training camp and through most of his first two seasons. That person said there was a moment during White's rookie season when an assistant coach stood up in a meeting and said White simply wasn't good enough to play in the NFL and there was no argument in response.

White told Yasinkas that Joe Horn was instrumental in helping him understand how to be a NFL receiver.

"Playing with Joe was the best thing to ever happen to me,'' White said. "He was a guy who had been to Pro Bowls and he took me under his wing and really taught me what this league is all about. He's the one who made me realize what's expected of you if you're going to be a good pro. He's the one who taught me that you have to prepare mentally every day and you have to go out and practice hard every day. He's the one who showed me that this game takes so much more effort than I was putting into it.''

And White not only became a viable receiver; he became one of the best receivers in the league.

White led the league in receptions and total yards in 2010, and was in the top ten in 2008, 2011 and 2012. He holds many franchise records, including most career passing yards gained and most career receiving touchdowns. He's a four-time Pro Bowler and was a first-team All-Pro honoree in 2010.

Despite White's productivity in 2010, the team opted to facilitate a huge draft day trade to move up and select Alabama's Julio Jones in the 2011 NFL Draft. Many expected White to be offended or angry or bitter. Instead, he taught Julio how to be a pro, just like Joe Horn taught White all those years ago. Jones and White became more than friends. They became brothers.

"I knew we needed him to win games," White told NFL Media's Jeff Darlington in 2014. "You learn a lot just going through this league and not making the playoffs -- and then being able to get there and needing people to get you over the hump. Julio can do so much on the football field, and he's a game changer. Any time you get guys like that, you try to do as much as possible to get them going as fast as possible."

The 2012 NFC Championship loss to the San Francisco 49ers hurt. It's still painful to remember how we felt going into that game, riding high from the divisional win over the Seattle Seahawks. I remember vividly thinking that we were really going to go to the Super Bowl. Then the second half happened.

The loss hurt worse for players, I can assure you. I ran into Roddy at an Outback Steakhouse north of the city after the game. He was there with his kids and his whole extended family, and you could tell, you could plainly see in the expression on his face that he just wanted to be left alone. He looked visibly crushed. Still, fan after fan approached him. He signed autographs. He posed for photos. He took time away from his family; he diverted himself from seeking solace and peace and quiet on one of the more difficult days of his professional life to make some fans happy.

Roddy has quite a reputation for saying things on Twitter that range from silly to reckless to unnecessary. No matter what he's talking about, he's always just being Roddy, for better or worse.

White is perhaps best known on Twitter for his tendency to wish the world a good morning on a regular basis.

Then there was the time White made a Twitter bet with a fan on a Duke game and the fan won.

The 2014 season wasn't easy, and after the Week 17 loss to the Carolina Panthers, the team, and everyone else, knew Mike Smith was getting fired. Heading into the locker room after that loss felt like a funeral. In a way, it was. Amy Cearns, the wife of Atlanta's head of PR, Brian Cearns, had passed away that day. Amy and Roddy were dear friends. Roddy was in the wedding party for Amy and Brian's wedding. She adored Roddy and always referred to him as her best friend.

Roddy had lost a friend that day so unexpectedly, and I know firsthand how that loss felt, because Amy was my friend, too, and I still miss her every day. After the loss to the Panthers, one that kept the Falcons from the playoffs, Roddy also knew he was going to lose the man who had been his head coach since 2008.

He didn't want to talk to us. He did it anyway. He couldn't muster his trademark smile, but he was gracious with his time and professional about it even under miserable circumstances.

Of all the players I've had the opportunity to talk to, Roddy will always be one of my favorites. For one thing, he's always smiling, and when White flashes that smile your way, it's impossible to not smile back. He laughs constantly, and you can't help but to laugh with him. He's a fun person to be around.

I interviewed Roddy at a Birchbox event he did last summer. It's always fun to have those experiences with players away from Flowery Branch, because you get a better sense of who they are when the cameras aren't on and they're not officially on the job. I watched him take his time signing autographs and interacting with fans, and then I walked through the line with Roddy and interviewed him as he perused the products available.

White has always been fun to talk to, because he speaks his mind. He's also effortlessly funny. That day was no different, when Birchbox's beard oil selection reminded White of his then-teammate Joe Hawley.

"I'm going to get the beard oils to everybody, starting with Joe Hawley. That's my guy," White said. "And we're going to throw that beard oil in there, and we're going to get it rolling, baby."

Roddy definitely kept things interesting in the locker room, too. Last season, the media was huddled around Vic Beasley in the locker room, peppering him with questions about why the Falcons weren't getting sacks, and Roddy came over and stood next to me. The next thing I know, Roddy's got my recorder, and he's standing next to me with his elbow on my shoulder and he's commandeered the interview to ask Vic random questions about his sleep habits.

Covering an NFL team is a dream come true in most ways. I feel so privileged that I get to do this job. There are days, however, in the middle of a six-game skid, when you're listening to the same people ask the same questions and get the same answers every single day, and it feels like a grind. You could always count on Roddy White to say or do something to remind you why the NFL is fun and that it's a joy to cover this team.

When I think of Roddy White, I'm always going to think of the way fans chanted his name after seemingly every catch in the Georgia Dome last season. I got chills every time it happened. If I had to identify one way to sum up what Roddy meant to this team, it's that.

Most of all, I'll remember that Roddy loved this team and this game.

Faced with a diminished role in Kyle Shanahan's offense, White expressed displeasure early in the season. What NFL receiver doesn't want more targets? Who really wants to be out there blocking and not catching passes? It never changed White's perspective on the team. Roddy told the AJC in October that he intended to be a Falcon for life.

"I'm a Falcon. I'll be a Falcon for life," White said. "I've dedicated everything I've got to this team and this organization."

Roddy, you're always going to be a Falcon in my mind, and this team won't be the same without you.