FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- As the action heated up around the tables inside the Atlanta Falcons' locker room Thursday, star wide receiver Julio Jones, observing from the side, stood with a smirk when asked which guy possessed the title of best pingpong player.
“Last year, I was the best,” Jones said. “I took the trophy last year. We would get up in the team meeting rooms and would just compete.
“Now, we're doing doubles. It's not so much individuals now. We just work together. You have that next guy beside you to depend on and count on you to do his job. Right now, me and [Eric] Weems, we're undefeated. I thought [Matt] Bosher and [Josh] Harris would have probably been [up there], but we beat them Wednesday.”
Individually, Jones got the nod from his teammates. Of 40 Falcons polled, 20 of them voted Jones as the best pingpong player in the group.
“I think Julio's got his own paddle and everything,” cornerback Robert Alford said.
Another 17 went with the long-snapper Harris, a guy Jones apparently beat in a one-on-one match at some juncture.
“He plays like it's frickin' tennis out there,” fullback Patrick DiMarco said of Harris. “I mean he takes the long strokes and everything.”
Two players voted for DiMarco; one voted for Weems.
Comments such as “I ain't saw nobody beat him yet” and “the man's at another level” followed descriptions of Jones' pingpong game.
In the big picture, the competition and teamwork related to the pingpong battles is just more evidence of the team building ongoing with the 6-3 Falcons, an aspect constantly encouraged by coach Dan Quinn.
“It brings camaraderie,” veteran defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux said. “Guys are out here in the locker room just having fun. This is our area. This is our place where we come together every day to talk about the game of football and talk about life while also having fun as well.”
Obviously the interest level in pingpong has increased since the beginning of the season.
“It started with one table, and then it seemed like everybody started grasping on to it and liking it, so we ended up getting another one,” Babineaux said. “The next thing you know, we got a third one. I think pretty soon, we definitely are going to have a true Ping Pong championship around here. It just seems like everybody on the team is more involved than last year.”
Sounds similar to the transformation taking place on the field every Sunday.