As players finished clearing out their lockers following a tough loss to the Panthers, reporters and cameras surrounded superstar Julio Jones. Everyone in the room had to have an explanation for the unfathomable drop.
In the shadow of all the hustle and bustle that surrounded Jones stood Sean Weatherspoon, quietly packing his bags without a reporter in sight.
It’s hard not to think that just a few years ago, Weatherspoon was that guy, the one surrounded by countless cameras and questions. These days, he plays a much different role.
A former first-round draft pick and forever fan favorite, Weatherspoon was leading “D-block” and the Falcons’ linebackers through memorable playoff seasons as recently as 2012. If not for several serious injuries, Weatherspoon’s legacy in Atlanta might be much different today.
After a one-year stint with the Arizona Cardinals in 2015, Weatherspoon’s bounced on and off the Falcons’ roster. With so many other teams needing a linebacker with his speed, leadership, and infectious energy, it’s surprising he’s only been on one other team.
After his 2016 season was ended prematurely by an achilles injury, Weatherspoon had another long road of recovery ahead, a road he called “the climb”.
But when the Falcons drafted outside linebacker Duke Riley in the third round of the 2017 draft, Weatherspoon knew Atlanta might never call again, and the climb became a lot more difficult. Not one to throw in the towel, Weatherspoon got healthy and stayed in shape.
He enjoyed a rejuvenating offseason of rehab, workouts, and life.
He got married. He played in a charity basketball game and attended football games at his alma mater, Missouri. He spit fire in a recording studio. All the while he waited for a team to call, hoping it would be the Falcons on the other end.
Through Week 7 of this season, Weatherspoon still wasn’t on an NFL roster.
Then, Riley tore his meniscus. With reserve linebacker LaRoy Reynolds already on IR with a torn pec, the Falcons badly needed linebacker depth. Weatherspoon was ready.
The call came in.
Back in the visitor’s locker room on Sunday, Weatherspoon was ready to walk over to the team bus. When approached, he seemed to prepare himself for an onslaught of questions about the ugly loss to Carolina. But when asked about his feelings of being back with the Falcons, Weatherspoon lit up.
Now in his third stint with the Falcons, Weatherspoon is grateful to be back with the team he started his career with and in a city that’s meant so much to him.
“It’s a great place,” Weatherspoon said. “Atlanta is a place that’s in my heart, and it’s a place that’s changed my life quite a bit. The organization has always been first class, and I’ve tried nothing but to do the same thing, be the same way with them, and I think that’s kind of why it makes sense.”
Weatherspoon played five years of his career under former Atlanta head coach Mike Smith, but even after Smith’s firing, the bond between Weatherspoon and the Falcons keep bringing each other back.
When the Falcons hired Dan Quinn after the 2014 season, Quinn and GM Thomas Dimitroff identified Weatherspoon as a critical part of the future. But the team and Weatherspoon couldn’t agree to terms, and he ended up signing with the Cardinals.
Last season, the terms were right and the Falcons brought Weatherspoon back, and he’s on a new 1-year deal with the team for 2017. Asked what it is about this team that keeps bringing him back, Weatherspoon raved about what he sees in the Falcons’ roster and the style of coaching that Quinn brings.
“I really love our tenacity,” Weatherspoon said. “I feel like we’re a group that flies around on both sides of the ball. [It’s] really exciting to watch us play; a lot of great players on the team. The atmosphere at work is something that I think a lot of people don’t really get at other jobs here in the league, so I would just have to say the environment and the way it’s ran. You feel like DQ is really a player’s guy."
Weatherspoon hasn’t been active yet this season, but after years of playing in the Georgia Dome, he’s excited for a chance to suit up in the brand new Mercedes Benz Stadium this Sunday against Dallas.
“It’s definitely something I’ve been thinking about,” said Weatherspoon. “And I love the old Georgia Dome, but this place is just mad, so I can’t wait to check it out.”
For Weatherspoon and the Falcons, thinking about another Sunday together just feels right.