“I can’t turn on the TV without hearing we’re going to be the underdog,” Mughelli, the Atlanta Falcons fullback, said Wednesday. “A 13-3 underdog each week.”
In fact, the Falcons are favorites for their divisional playoff game at the Georgia Dome against , though the wee point spread suggests that the Packers, bottom-seeded in the N.F.C., would be the betting public’s preference over No. 1 Atlanta on neutral ground.
Mughelli proffered one oft-repeated reason in the locker room for any slight, then proposed a solution: “We don’t have a lot of flashy names. Maybe we need to start some scandals.”
With the Falcons, it does not get more outrageous than defensive end Kroy Biermann’s pending daddy-hood with his pregnant paramour Kim Zolniak, co-star of the other closely followed drama unfolding in town, “The Real Housewives of Atlanta.”
Well, wide receiver Roddy White, an ultralite version of Ocho/T.O., did casually invoke during trash talk with the . Since a consultation with Falcons Coach Mike Smith, White has confined cyberspace bashing to his state’s spotty road-clearing efforts of ice and snow this week. (“All this money I pay Georgia in taxes.”)
White, agreeing with Mughelli, said (not via his thumbs): “It’s kind of tough, week in and week out, we’re taking care of business, and people are picking other teams to win. I’m getting tired of it.”
Most of his teammates shrug off the notion that the Falcons’ support group nationwide might be less bandwagon than Volkswagen Bug.
“We are not one of the storied franchises,” observed tight end Tony Gonzalez, citing the Packers and the Bears.
“It’s more of the history to me. We’re not, like, America’s team. We’ve never won a , right?”
Correct. They have reached only one in 45 mostly inglorious seasons. Their trophy case, with four division titles, could fit in a broom closet.
By contemporary measures of individual player popularity, the Falcons are back in the pack. Gonzalez has 40,000 Twitter followers, the most on the squad, but that pales alongside the six-digit armies that track , Darrelle Revis and the king jesters, Chad Ochocinco and .
No Falcon has cracked the top 25 for player jerseys sold on .
“We do not have a lot of guys who are, ‘Hey, look at me; look what I do,’ ” offensive tackle Tyson Clabo said. “That stuff can get annoying at times.”
The roster may be sprinkled with stars, wide receiver Michael Jenkins said, “but nobody tries to outshine the other.”
Several players concurred that Smith’s unassuming manner radiates through the organization, which may draw admirers but not hordes of fans from beyond the state border.
“Teams tend to take from the aura of their coach,” said wide receiver Brian Finneran, an 11th-year Falcon, second in seniority on the squad. “He kind of has that laid-back surfer attitude.”
The team owner Arthur Blank detects another trait in his coach that ultimately deflects attention from the team.
“Some people say they are humble and are not really humble,” Blank said Wednesday. “Smitty really is a humble person.”
Blank brought on board the low profiles of Smith and General Manager Thomas Dimitroff before the 2008 season. Their roster reconstruction, guided in part by unloading and avoiding players perceived as selfish (and, thus, more attention-getting), has dovetailed with the Falcons’ first three-year stretch of winning records.
“A lot of teams have these big-name guys,” linebacker Curtis Lofton said. “We don’ t have that. We follow our coach. We’re not going to be big and flashy because that’s not our coach.”
Mughelli said: “Very few ‘me-me’ guys here. It’s more about the team. You won’t see them in the papers, wanting more passes” thrown their way.
Cornerback Dunta Robinson, offering a newcomer’s perspective, suspects that much of Nation would label the Falcons’ 13-3 record a fluke.
“We really don’t get much attention,” said Robinson, the big-ticket free-agent acquisition. “But we don’t care.”
By many numerical evaluations, the Falcons are run-of-the-mill. They rank 16th on offense (yards gained) and defense (yards allowed), and are below average on N.F.L. wonk statistics like net yards per pass attempt.
“We’re not No. 1 in anything,” acknowledged Blank, forgiving those computers and humans who forecast a quick out for the Falcons.
Finneran pointed out this: “The other teams, I guarantee you, they respect us.”
So do their peers, having voted seven Falcons into the Pro Bowl, a league high until New England passed them with two replacement picks.
One of Smith’s in-house mantras is that respect, like other rewards in the N.F.L., must be earned. For now, these Birds, as they are referred to locally, will continue to fly low and see where it takes them.
“We kind of like it, staying under the radar,” Jenkins said. “We win the Super Bowl, and there will be nobody else to talk about then.”