Hey Falcoholics, I’m back with another edition of The Falcoholic’s Throwback Thursday series. This weekly segment highlights a former Atlanta Falcons player and discusses their life and what they did for the franchise.
Whether you’ve been a fan since the inaugural season, or just became a fan recently, this series will give insight on players from the past. This week we will be focusing on running back Warrick Dunn.
Warrick De’Mon Dunn was born on Jan. 5, 1975, in New Orleans, Louisiana. Dunn’s mother, Betty Smothers, was a police officer, who also worked security to provide for her family. Tragically, Betty was killed in a robbery attempt at a bank in 1993, leaving Warrick the responsibility of raising his younger siblings.
Warrick attended Catholic High School, and was a star quarterback and defensive back. He led Catholic to its first ever appearance in the state championship as a sophomore, and was named an All-American during his senior season.
After heavily being recruited, Warrick decided to take his talents to Florida State University to play for football coach Bobby Bowden. He started as a freshman, and never looked back. As a Seminole, Warrick totaled 575 carries, 3,959 rushing yards, 37 rushing touchdowns, 132 receptions, 1,314 receiving yards, and 12 receiving touchdowns. He was on the 1993 National Championship team and was named an Associated Press All-American for running track. He graduated in 1997 with a Bachelor’s Degree in Information Studies.
With the 12th overall pick in the 1997 NFL Draft, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers selected running back Warrick Dunn. Current Atlanta Falcons president Rich McKay was the Bucs’ general manager at the time. In his rookie season, Warrick rushed for 978 yards and four touchdowns, and after being awarded NFC Rookie of the Year, was selected to the NFL Pro Bowl. Warrick went on to play in Tampa for four more seasons before entering free agency in 2002.
Warrick ended up signing with the Falcons, where he would spend the next six seasons of his NFL career. Right away, Warrick made a positive impact on the team scoring nine total touchdowns, and leading the NFL with a 5.4 yards per carry average. Warrick combined with fellow running back T.J. Duckett and quarterback Michael Vick to form the famous “DVD” rushing attack. Following a 1-3 start in 2002, the Falcons rallied to finish 9-6-1, which was good enough to advance the team to the playoffs. In the Wild Card matchup against the Green Bay Packers, Warrick and the Falcons stunned the Brett Favre-led Packers 27-7, giving the Packers their first ever playoff loss at Lambeau Field. However, in the Divisional Round, the Falcons would lose to the Donovan McNabb-led Philadelphia Eagles 20-6.
In 2004, the Falcons would have a new head coach in Jim Mora Jr. This also would be the team’s most successful season since 1998, as they finished 11-5, and easily handled the St. Louis Rams in the Divisional Round. Once again, the team would face the Philadelphia Eagles, but this time, in the NFC Championship. Warrick’s rushing touchdown wasn’t enough to bring the Falcons a victory, and the loss would be his final playoff game of his NFL career.
In 2005 the Falcons would miss the playoffs, finishing 8-8, but Warrick Dunn’s career-high 1,416 rushing yards was enough to warrant him a selection to the NFL Pro Bowl, the third of his career. Also that season, Warrick was presented the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award, foreshadowing his post-playing career humanitarian efforts.
Following a 4-12 record in 2007, the Falcons hired new head coach Mike Smith and general manager Thomas Dimitroff. That offseason the team signed former San Diego Chargers running back Michael Turner, and a day later, Warrick requested his release from the Falcons. Warrick signed a two-year, $6 million deal with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but played only one season, before being released in 2009.
As phenomenal as an NFL player Warrick Dunn was, his biggest accomplishments have come off the football field. In 1997, Warrick established the Homes for the Holidays (HFTH) program which rewards single-parent families for reaching first-time homeownership. Additionally, Warrick started Warrick Dunn Charities (WDC) in 2002, which believes that children can thrive educationally, socially and economically by providing families with a positive home environment. HFTH recipient families are chosen through a partnership with Habitat for Humanity affiliates and WDC, given are complete home furnishings and down-payment assistance. Since its founding, WDC has reached more than 150 families in 15 markets, and assisted over 300 dependents in Atlanta, Tampa, Baton Rouge, and Tallahassee.
In 2006, Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson’s family was 61st recipient of the charity. Watson is pictured in the photo above on the left next to Warrick at a younger age.
“As a young kid, seeing Warrick Dunn give us the Habitat home and seeing how he used his platform in football to help others, I decided as a young kid I wanted to do the same thing.”
-- Deshaun Watson, Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award Acceptance Speech
Warrick Dunn’s off the field achievements have been well recognized throughout the years. Due to his creation of the WDC, Warrick received a Giant Steps Award in civic leadership from former President Bill Clinton. In 2009 he received the Bart Starr Award for his exceptional off the field involvement. In 2011, he was presented the Jefferson Award for Outstanding Athlete in Service and Philanthropy.
Warrick, along with Muhammad Ali, Jeff Gordon, Mia Hamm, and others, founded the Athletes for Hope in 2007. This organization helps professional athletes, sports industry professionals and fans get involved in charitable causes.
In 2008, he wrote an autobiography titled “Running For My Life” which discusses his mother’s murder, and his battle with depression. In this excerpt, he also writes about making the emotional decision to speak to the man on death row who murdered his mother.
In 2009, Warrick became a minority owner of the Atlanta Falcons, and in 2017 was inducted into the Falcons’ prestigious Ring of Honor.
I enjoy everything that I write, but I was very excited about doing this Throwback Thursday article on Warrick Dunn. He’s a rare gem, a selfless former NFL star who has exemplified how to give back to the community. Growing up, and dealing with what he dealt with, Warrick is a true humanitarian and a model of class. My only hope is that I did his story some justice, as he deserves nothing less.
So, let me know in the comments below some of your favorite Warrick Dunn memories. As always, you can find me on Twitter @EvanBirchfield. Additionally, make sure to follow @The_Falcoholic on Instagram for up-to-date news and information. Thanks for reading, Falcoholics.