Atlanta native Elam happy to be back home playing for Falcons

Associated PressJuly 29, 2008 

Jason Elam is still getting used to the uniform: the red jersey and the black helmet with the Falcons’ logo on each side.

‘‘I’m feeling pretty weird,’’ he joked Monday, strolling off the field after another training camp practice on a sweltering Georgia morning.

Otherwise, he has no complaints about going from one of the NFL’s flagship franchises to one that is starting over yet again.

For Elam, this is home.

The record-setting place-kicker signed with the Atlanta Falcons during the offseason after a brilliant 15-year run in Denver, where he made it to three Pro Bowls, played on two Super Bowl-winning teams, including one that beat the Falcons for the title, and equaled the NFL mark with a 63-yard field goal.

While perfectly content during all those years with the Broncos, Elam never lost sight of where he grew up, a child of Atlanta’s sprawling suburbs.

He first made a name for himself at Brookwood High School, right down the road in Gwinnett County. During his first decade with the Broncos, he still kept an offseason home not far from the Falcons’ current training facility. Elam always figured he would return some day, even after he married a Denver native.

‘‘I really enjoyed the organization out there,’’ Elam said. ‘‘But I always said if I didn’t play with Denver, the one place I would want to play is Atlanta. And it just happened to completely fall into place.’’

Did it ever. His mother still lives here. Just a few months before Elam signed a four-year, $9 million contract with the Falcons, his brother, who serves in the military, was reassigned to a base in Atlanta.

‘‘It’s really been a blessing just to come back home,’’ Elam said.

The Falcons have no complaints, either. Facing a massive rebuilding job after quarterback Michael Vick was sent off to prison for running a dogfighting operation on the side, Atlanta may struggle to score touchdowns. But at least it can turn to Elam to put three puts on the board, usually a pretty good bet considering he has scored more than 100 points every year he’s been in the league. Elam finds himself just five field goals away from 400 in his career.

Last season, Elam kicked four winning field goals, the most in the NFL since 1990, and closed out the year by making his last 15 attempts.

‘‘When you get the ball down there and are not able to put it in the end zone, you’ve got to have a guy who can put it between the pipes,’’ said Mike Smith, the first-year Falcons head coach. ‘‘That’s something Jason has done for a long time. We were excited to be able to acquire him. And I know he’s been really anxious to get back here to Atlanta. This is his home.’’

Elam’s career numbers — he has made 395-of-490 field-goal attempts, a percentage just below 81 percent — are especially impressive when you consider he played half his games in Denver’s often harsh weather. Swirling wind, howling snow and frigid temperatures aren’t exactly ideal conditions for a place-kicker.

There are no such concerns with the Falcons, who play their home games inside the nice, comfy Georgia Dome.

‘‘I’m really excited about that,’’ Elam said, breaking into a wide grin. ‘‘I’ll sleep very well at night knowing it’s going to be 70 degrees with no wind when I get out there.’’

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