Falcons really ready to 'Rise Up'

The Falcons' "Rise Up" advertising campaign is putting more pressure on the team, but the players don't seem to have a problem with that. Todd Kirkland/Icon SMI

Let’s play a little game here. I want you to watch the television commercial where actor Samuel L. Jackson is telling the world it is time for the Atlanta Falcons to "Rise Up."

But, before you watch it, a couple of other ground rules. Pretend that every reference is not to the Falcons, but to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers or Carolina Panthers. Then, pretend you’re Bucs coach Raheem Morris or Panthers coach John Fox. Watch the commercial through their eyes with their rosters in your hand.

Then, still posing as Morris or Fox, leave your office and drive home. On your way, you’ll see a half-dozen or so billboards with “Rise Up’’ in really big letters. Do that a few times and the only thing that’s going to rise is your blood pressure.

What the Falcons are doing with this campaign would not work everywhere. Heck, it wouldn’t even have worked in Atlanta through most of the franchise’s existence. They’re not exactly Babe Ruth calling his shot or Joe Namath guaranteeing a Super Bowl victory. Heck, they’re not even the Oakland Raiders touting a “tradition of excellence’’ at a time when even mediocrity would be a step up.

But there is no doubt the Falcons are out on a bit of a limb with this one. Ownership, the marketing department or whoever made the ultimate decision on this campaign has turned up the heat on the team. In Tampa Bay, where the Buccaneers are rebuilding, or in Carolina, where Fox is in the last year of his contract and the Panthers have a lot of question marks, this theme just wouldn’t fit.

It would create undue pressure and would open the entire organization to ridicule if the team struggles.

But you know what? “Rise Up’’ fits perfectly in Atlanta right now.

“We have something special going on here right now,’’ middle linebacker Curtis Lofton said. “Everyone knows it. We feel like we’re about to rise up to the occasion and hopefully make it to the Super Bowl.’’

Lofton went a little beyond the company line when he brought up the Super Bowl. But, let’s be honest, why shouldn’t that be the goal?

Nobody -- I’m talking coaches, front office and players -- within the Falcons has a problem with the “Rise Up’’ campaign. In fact, it pretty much rhymes with the goals they all share for the season.

If ever there was a time for the Falcons to rise up, this is it. They’re coming off back-to-back winning seasons for the first time in franchise history. They’re built around a young group of core players who might be just entering their primes and they’ve got a handful of important veterans.

They’re on board with the idea of rising up. In fact, just by doing what they’ve done the last two seasons, they’re the ones who unknowingly hatched the whole idea.

“The very interesting thing and the very positive thing about this organization is that it’s a very collaborative effort on so many levels,’’ general manager Thomas Dimitroff said. “Although [coach Mike Smith] and I don’t work on the business side of the building, we interact very well with them and we have discussions about everything. They were very forthright with their ideas. We talked about it and certainly there was concern about not coming across as too brazen. There’s no question it has some aggression about it as sort of rising to another level and that connotation. We’re fine with that.’’

The Falcons should be fine with it. Although last season’s 9-7 finish was disappointing because the Falcons failed to make the playoffs after getting there in the 2008 season, they’re sitting in a pretty good spot.

They’ve got a whole bunch of injured guys back from last year. They’ve got a 2008 draft class -- guys like quarterback Matt Ryan, Lofton, Harry Douglas, Kroy Biermann and Thomas DeCoud -- that already has been good and should only continue to get better. They’ve got running back Michael Turner back in good physical condition. Their defense was a little shaky last year so they signed cornerback Dunta Robinson and drafted linebacker Sean Weatherspoon and defensive tackle Corey Peters.

“We know that this is the time that we need to continue to ramp up our abilities on the field and off the field to make sure that we bring this fan base along and give them reason to continue to believe in the Atlanta Falcons,’’ Dimitroff said. “Although seemingly aggressive, both Smitty and I were very comfortable it.’’

Aggressive? Yeah, maybe a little. But let’s be real honest, Dimitroff and Smith probably could have killed the “Rise Up’’ campaign if they didn’t think it fit. The fact is, they’re just like everyone else in Atlanta. They look at the current Falcons and they realize that anything less than a winning season and a playoff berth will be a disappointment.

“I think our team’s arrow is pointing up,’’ Smith said. “We are rising up. I think it is an appropriate campaign. In our third year, I think we continue to add to our roster. Barring any unforeseen injuries, I think we will continue to progress. Does that mean we’re going to win more games? We don’t know that. But I believe the arrow on this team is definitely pointing up. It’s not flat or going in the other direction.’’

Even Ryan, who's the face of the Falcons and generally is very careful to be politically correct, believes it really is the time for the franchise to rise up.

“I feel like we have the kind of talent to take it to the next level,’’ Ryan said.

Notice, the campaign itself does not mention or even hint at the New Orleans Saints. When the coaches, players and front office talk about rising up, they don’t talk about the Saints and are careful not to make any direct implications about the reigning Super Bowl champions, who just happen to also be in the NFC South.

Doing anything like publicly projecting themselves ahead of the Saints would create undue pressure and set the Falcons up for possible failure. That’s the last thing anyone involved with this franchise wants or expects. The Falcons walked a fine line in establishing the “Rise Up’’ campaign. They easily could have botched it with a wrong word or two or fired up the Saints with any implication about taking over the division.

The Falcons didn’t do any of that. They got this one right simply by staying within themselves. After all, the feeling by everyone at the team’s Flowery Branch headquarters is that it truly is the time for the Falcons to rise up.

“It’s the third year in the system for a lot of us,’’ Lofton said. “It’s time for us to take that next step. There’s no surprises. It’s the same coaches and it’s the same players with a few upgrades that we needed. We’re just ready for more.’’