Jason Elam, 38, signed with the Atlanta Falcons in the offseason after 15 years with the Denver Broncos. The Brookwood grad holds a handful of NFL kicking records, including a league record-tying 63-yard field goal in 1998, and also won two Super Bowls with the Broncos. He and his wife, Tamy, a former Broncos cheerleader, have four home-schooled children, sons Jason Jr. (11) and Joshua Matthew (5) and daughters Jordan Noel (10) and Julianna (7).
In the latest installment of "Getting to Know...," Elam talks with sports editor Will Hammock about settling down back in his hometown, his NFL career and his hobbies of writing books and flying planes.
WH: How did it come about that you made it to Atlanta? Was it just perfect timing?
JE: I have always said if I didn't play for Denver, that I'd love to play for Atlanta. That would be the only other team I'd like to play for. I grew up a Falcons fan starting in the '70s and into when Steve Bartkowski and William Andrews and all that crew was here. I was a huge Falcons fan. It really is a dream come true. As a little boy, I thought about what it would be like to play for the Falcons. Now I get to live that dream, so it's pretty cool.
WH: Was the plan to settle down in Atlanta after football?
JE: Yeah, it was. My wife's from Denver. But we lived here up in Chateau Elan my first 10 years with Denver during the offseason. My wife loved it. She loved the South. She loved everything about Atlanta, the food, the culture, the history. The beginning of the offseason she was talking about coming to Atlanta and she was excited about coming back. My family's still here. My mom lives in the same house I grew up in. My brother's in the military and he just got re-stationed at Fort Gillem in Atlanta, so it's a big homecoming for all of us. I was surprised that my wife, being from Denver, wanted to come back here. But she's always wanted to do that. I'm really happy that things ended well in Denver. I feel like all those relationships are still intact. I feel like we ended that relationship well and I got to come back home and continue my career.
WH: You've been away a long time. What are the things you missed most about Atlanta?
JE: Family and friends, most of all. But there is something special about Atlanta and the South. I love the history, the food, everything about it. Sweet tea. My 11-year-old was so excited that we can come back and he will be able to order sweet tea. I just love being around family and friends and being around the lifestyle in the South.
WH: How is it going to be different kicking indoors at the Georgia Dome? Those are two pretty different places to kick, the Dome and Mile High Stadium in Denver.
JE: Early on, it's great kicking out in Denver. But late, it's not. I got the schedule out when I first signed here. I looked at November and December and was thinking, there's not a bad weather game in the whole thing. This is going to be great. Just playing in the Dome knowing it's going to be warm and no wind, that's a huge thing for a kicker. I'm pretty excited about that.
WH: Tell me about the (NFL record) 63-yarder (in 1998). When you hit it, did you know it had a good chance?
JE: When I hit it, I knew I hit it as good as I could. I hit it as pure as I could. It just kind of stayed between the uprights. It was just a fun, fun time. It was a 58-yarder when I went on the field and we took a delay of game penalty. I looked over at coach and he said stay out there and try it. That whole week leading up to it he had backed me up to 65 yards in practice. He had never done that before. I made a couple, so I think that gave him the confidence to try it. You don't go into a game thinking you'll get a shot like that. A lot of guys have that ability. I'm surprised that record hasn't been broken. I thought it would be well broken by now.
WH: What are your best memories from Brookwood? What stands out in your mind?
JE: My junior year we were really bad. We were 1-9 and everyone was really down on ourselves. Coach (Dave) Hunter came in and completely turned the program around, just really quickly. We went from 1-9 to 10-2. That whole senior year was just really special. I still keep in touch with many, many of those guys. My senior year was just a lot of fun.
WH: How big was the win over Clarke Central (in 1987, the first win by a Gwinnett team over Clarke)?
JE: That was huge. Clarke Central was beating Gwinnett County teams 60-0, 70-0. I don't even know if they were scored on by a Gwinnett County team. For us to go into their place and beat them was a huge, huge deal. We had come off a narrow win the week before against Riverdale. We had a big bench-clearing brawl with them. We beat them 7-0. Everybody was thinking we'd go to Clarke Central and get crushed. But to go in and beat them kind of kick-started the whole program. It gave us a lot of confidence.
WH: Coach Hunter said you were a pretty good athlete, that he could have used you at another position because you tested so well.
JE: They had me in there for awhile. I was playing wide receiver. We were doing our first special teams day and I did some punts and kickoffs and he ordered me to go sit on the sidelines. I thought, what did I do? He came over there and said, 'Son I want you to sit down on that bench and all you're going to do is kick. You don't understand. You're going to get your college paid for.' That's pretty much what he did. He didn't let me do anything else from that point on.
And I really enjoyed kicking, too. That's what I wanted to do. But I didn't know, especially after a 1-9 season. I had kicked five extra points my entire junior year. We scored five touchdowns my entire junior year and four of them were against Parkview. So one touchdown in nine games, it was a brutal year. I thought I was going to have to walk on somewhere and do that deal. But to get to go to the University of Hawaii was incredible.
WH: How did you get into writing your novel, "Monday Night Jihad?"
JE: Writing a book was never anything I wanted to do. But for a long time my older brother had kept a journal of stories that I told him that he thought were funny, in the locker room, or on team flights or during games. Some of them were pretty fun stories. I was around football all the time, but I didn't think about writing a book. About three years ago, I kind of had this what if scenario if I could combine these stories that people love to hear with current events, an action-adventure story and something I am passionate about, my faith.
I think this would be a pretty fun book that people would enjoy reading and get something out of. I had the whole plot line in literally, about 30 seconds. I wrote the whole thing out. It was kind of an intimidating project, at least it was for me, writing a novel. How do you do this? I had a good friend of mine join me and we just had a blast doing this thing. We just finished our second book, the sequel to "Monday Night Jihad" called "Broken Coverage." It will be out in December. We've actually been talked to about books three, four and five in the series. This whole thing is something I've never dreamed of, but it's been a lot of fun, too.
WH: There must be a lot of satisfaction in finishing a project like that.
JE: The whole thing was a lot of fun. What I didn't want to do was hire a ghost writer, give them the idea and have it come back in a few months like, here is your book. I wanted to do a lot of the writing and make sure it went a certain directions. There were certain messages I wanted to convey in it.
WH: Speaking of your faith, do you have a church down here? Have you been going there awhile?
JE: My hometown church that we've been going to since 1979, Mt. Zion in between Lawrenceville and Snellville there on 124. We've got so many family and friends that go there. I actually spoke there a Sunday morning in April. I'm just excited to be back and building people's lives as much as I can. That's what I hope to do once I'm done (with football). Football is just kind something I do, it's not really who I am. But I feel strongly and passionately about my faith. That's what is most important to me.
WH: I understand you own your own plane and you're an avid pilot. How did the whole pilot thing get started?
JE: Ever since I was a little kid I loved airplanes. When I was real little, we lived in Fort Walton Beach and Destin. My dad was chief of police down there. They had a lot of friends at Eglin Air Force Base down there and we'd always see these pictures of fighter jets. I graduated from college in December of 1992 and I went to play in some of those college all-star games, went to the combine. After that, you're just sitting around and waiting for the phone to ring. You just work out and sit by the phone.
A good friend of mine was taking lessons at the Gwinnett airport and I thought, man that's something I've always wanted to do. I did a little Pepsi commercial in Hawaii and I got a little bit of money for it and I said, you know what, I'm going to take a few lessons and see if this is as fun as I think it would be. I had a ton of fun. I got my private license and each offseason I'd tack on another rating, my instant rating, my commercial rating, my multi-engine rating, flight instructor, all of those things. I've just kept going with it. I just really pursued it, accumulating a bunch of hours and I've done some commercial flying over the years.
WH: The pilot gig might be a second career after football.
JE: I definitely see myself being some sort of missionary pilot, something like that. I do a lot of traveling each year. This past year I led a group over to Israel on a holy land tour. I've done a lot of stuff in Turkey and Jordan. I just enjoy the culture and the people.
WH: As far as the end of your football career, do you see this four-year contract being your last contract? Or do you think you'll play beyond that?
JE: I don't know. When I first started talking with the Falcons in March, that was kind of their question. What's your mentality? I don't know what they were hearing out of Denver. It kind of seemed like they were thinking, you're going to be done. My mentality is as long as it's fun and as long as it's something I feel like I'm doing well, I'd like to keep going. It has been a real blessing. Playing in the NFL, how much better does it get than that? I'm taking it literally one year at a time.
I tried to convey that to the Falcons as much as I could. They even told me, it's a four-year deal but we'll take it a year at a time and maybe when you're two or three years down the road, maybe we'll sign you to an extension. Maybe you'll want to keep playing. You look at Morten Andersen, you look at Gary Anderson, John Carney, John Kasay, Matt Stover. A lot of these guys played well into their 40s. I just want to take as good of care of my body as I can and if it gets to a point where I can't do this anymore or I'm not as good as I once was, then I might hang it up. But I really don't feel like I'm at that point. I feel like I'm kicking the ball really well and it's been a lot of fun.