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Treat for Falcons fans

There was a time when many NFL players didn't live in huge mansions within gated communities. They were paid well, but nothing close to today's mammoth salaries.

They were regular guys. They lived in everyday neighborhoods among us.

That was still the case when I was a young Falcons fan.

I might run into Steve Bartkowski or William Andrews at a Gwinnett restaurant. Those stars were pretty accessible, but so were the other Falcon players, many who made their homes in Gwinnett because of its proximity to the team's training center in Suwanee.

It's still possible these days to catch glimpses of stars like Matt Ryan, Michael Turner or Roddy White, but it won't happen as often now as it did back in the days when the stars were Bartkowski and Andrews. That's why this week's Falcons event at Brookwood High will be so special.

The team is hosting its second straight Falcons Friday Night Lights this Friday, pitting Atlanta's offense against its defense in a scrimmage. The festival-like atmosphere will feature games and activities for kids, as well as a post-game fireworks display.

But the biggest draw will be the Falcons players. Fans can see them perform up-close in a cozy high school stadium, then can get access to them during a 15-minute post-game autograph session. And admission is free.

If Friday's event matches the thrill of last year's inaugural scrimmage at Mill Creek, it should be a great night. Roughly 10,000 fans showed up to watch Atlanta and Ryan, the new face of the franchise who went on to lead the Falcons to the playoffs as a rookie.

The team will host another free event and scrimmage Saturday at the Georgia Dome, leading up to the Aug. 15 preseason opener. But seeing the team play games in the Dome isn't exactly a rarity. Seeing an NFL scrimmage at a Gwinnett high school stadium is a treat, one that local fans have been fortunate to have here two straight years.

The event likely will return to Gwinnett in the future at some point, but there is no guarantee it will be here every year.

So Falcons fans should take advantage of the access to the players at Friday's gathering, since it's such a unique occurrence these days.

Will Hammock can be reached via e-mail at will.hammock@gwinnettdailypost.com. His column appears on Thursdays.