Between the emotional waves of the Chiefs’ immediate past and short-week future games is a contest against an unfamiliar and dangerous opponent.
Sunday’s game at Atlanta would seem to occupy the classic letdown position on the Chiefs’ schedule, with the overtime conquest of Denver in the rearview mirror and an Arrowhead Stadium showdown with division-leading Oakland awaiting Thursday.
A low-energy concern might be the case if Sunday presented any other NFC or non-rival opponent.
But a large percentage of the Chiefs’ locker room speaks with Southern accent. Eight players on the active roster list a Georgia hometown, matching California in hometown leadership among Chiefs. Four on the Falcons’ roster are from Georgia.
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“The state is known for its talent,” said rookie cornerback D.J. White, who attended Georgia Tech and grew up a Falcons fan. “Just look around this locker room, Justin Houston, Eric Berry, a bunch of guys. It’s pretty cool to see.”
Houston, who recorded three sacks against the Broncos last week, hails from Statesboro, Ga., and went to Georgia. Berry, the hard-hitting safety who played at Tennessee, is from Fairburn, Ga.
There are Peachtree Chiefs, and some are connected in other ways. Two Chiefs, wide receiver Albert Wilson and linebacker Ramik Wilson attended college in Georgia but aren’t from the state. And a handful of others attended Southeastern Conference schools or grew up or attended college in the South.
The Chiefs’ family and friends section at the Georgia Dome will look like an extended family reunion on Sunday.
“All my family is from the South,” said defensive lineman Chris Jones, a rookie from Mississippi State. “I got like 30 cousins coming. Grandmothers, my dad, my mom, it should be very exciting. You know how close the South is.”
Linebacker Dee Ford, who is from Alabama and attended Auburn, said he’s been looking forward for this trip since game appeared on the schedule. He’s expecting about 100 family and friends in attendance.
Wide receiver and special teams standout Demarcus Robinson grabbed about 20 tickets for “aunties, cousins, sisters, brother, the whole family.” As soon as Robinson made the team, his mother got the schedule and declared she would make every game close to home in Fort Valley, Ga., about 150 miles from Atlanta.
“Every game is important, and when you have so much family involved, it’s even more powerful,” Robinson said.
Wide receiver Chris Conley, who played at Georgia and calls Dallas, Ga., home, said he likes the idea of playing well in front of so many familiar faces and understands the game represents another statement opportunity. The Falcons, 7-4, lead the NFC South and would be the No. 4 seed if the season ended today.
“This game is meaningful because Atlanta is a good team, and nobody wants to go off a win like we had last week and lose,” Conley said. “Are we going to be a team that’s all talk when it’s a night game, or are we going to take business when it’s not?
“It really comes down to who are we going to be? It comes down to a pride thing. But going back to Georgia makes it that much better.”