Staff Photo: Jason Braverman Falcons fans Adam Copley, from left, Chris Wolfgram and Mark Haddeman prepare their food during the Grill with the Falcons event on Saturday at the Mall of Georgia.
BUFORD -- Driving past The Mall of Georgia on Saturday, you would have thought it was a Sunday in the fall at the Georgia Dome.
Thousands of people gathered as the Atlanta Falcons hosted the first Grill with the Falcons. The event featured many of the same tailgaters you see on Sundays as they competed for the best tailgate of the day.
"All the credit goes to coach (Mike) Smith for this," said Jim Smith, senior vice president of sales and marketing. "He had the idea a few years ago as a way to bring the Falcons players together with their fans for a lot of fun."
The Falcons recently wrapped up offseason team activities and will be heading into mandatory mini-camp next week.
"This is tailgating OTAs of some sort," Smith said. "Tailgaters get to come out and show their stuff as a way to get ready for the season."
Along with many of the tailgaters in attendance to compete for prizes, many of the Falcons players also set up shop to show off their skills.
From the defensive backs showing off their skills to the linemen, many of the 40 players in attendance felt the need to show what they could do.
Mike Smith said the event gives the Falcons coaches and players a little bit of an idea of what goes on in the parking lot before games.
"We don't get to see the tailgates before the games because we're so focused on the task at hand," he said. "But after seeing this, I can really see how passionate our fans our when it comes to food."
For eight-year season-ticket holder Gerrardo Torres, Saturday's event was just another way for them to show their support for the Falcons.
"We're all proud Falcons fans," he said. "This is a nice way to unwind and relax after a long week of work, and spend time with your family. It's not football season, but we're still getting excited about the season."
Torres said the most important thing in any tailgate is a proper headcount.
"You never want to run out of food," Torres said. "My motto is you have more than you need."
Wide receiver Harry Douglas understands the tailgating atmosphere as he says his parents tailgate every game.
"After the game, I go out and visit with everyone and enjoy the good food," Douglas said. "In an event like this, it's just a fun way to spend the day without it being a game day."
Reaching out to the community is something Douglas has always had on his heart.
"Even in an event like this, giving your time to listen and talk to some of the fans means a lot to them," he said. "You don't know of the lives you may change just by spending time with them. Also, they may also change your life by giving up a new-found perspective."
When it came to the food, Mike Smith said he was impressed by the cooking skills of defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux and linebacker Robert James.
"They really impressed me," he said. "We can put them over a grill any time they want and they'll be able to produce good food."
All proceeds from the event are going to Children's Healthcare of Atlanta, an added bonus for the event.
"We're glad we can help raise money for them," Jim Smith said. "We were able to capitalize on a great location with a lot of space to put on a successful event."