Alex Mack was first to the podium at Flowery Branch on Wednesday, and he paused to stare at the "NFC championship" backdrop. He faced 10 video cameras in a room off their field house the Atlanta Falcons don't normally use for media sessions, the usual place being far too cozy for this swelling crowd.
At first you thought, "Well, of course Alex Mack would be surprised by this media throng -- he came from the Cleveland Browns." And the Falcons, as we know, graced the NFC title tilt only four Januarys ago. But then you thought again.
And then you realized: The Falcons as a franchise have been here before -- three times! -- but most of these Falcons have not. We now offer the complete list of active Birds who worked against the San Francisco 49ers on Jan. 20, 2013: Jonthan Babineaux, Julio Jones and three guys named Matt (Ryan, Bryant, Bosher).
One defensive lineman drafted when Rich McKay was general manager. One quarterback. One receiver. Two kickers. That's it.
In today's AJC, we offered a review of the Falcons' rapid reset under Dan Quinn -- of the 22 offensive/defensive players listed as starters for the Divisional Round game against Seattle, 12 arrived in the past two years -- but the two years before that saw massive transition, too. The NFC championship game was the last as Falcons for Michael Turner, John Abraham, Dunta Robinson, Todd McClure, Tyson Clabo and Tony Gonzalez.
So yeah: This is new for all Falcons save five. The other semifinalists -- Patriots, Steelers and Packers -- are accustomed to being in the playoffs every year (or thereabouts). The Falcons made it four times in five years under Mike Smith and then they stopped.
And before you ask: No, I'm not trying to suggest the newness and bigness of the occasion will prove too much for the Falcons; I'm not the world's biggest believer in Playoff Experience as a determinant. Game's played on the field. The team that plays better will win. I believe the Falcons will play better than Green Bay.