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Coach Mike Smith dethroned at 'Grill With The Falcons' event at Mall of Georgia

Falcons linemen Jonathan Babineaux, left, and rookie Paul Soliai hoist the championship spatula trophy after winning this year’s Grill with the Falcons event held Saturday at the Mall of Georgia. (Staff Photo: Jason Braverman)

Falcons linemen Jonathan Babineaux, left, and rookie Paul Soliai hoist the championship spatula trophy after winning this year’s Grill with the Falcons event held Saturday at the Mall of Georgia. (Staff Photo: Jason Braverman)

BUFORD — Last year was, perhaps, a little bit of home cooking.

Atlanta Falcons head coach Mike Smith took home the trophy — technically a massive spatula — at 2013’s inaugural Grill With The Falcons contest, held in the parking lot of the Mall of Georgia. At an event that was his brainchild and with a team of barbecue masters working around him, Smith was playing, to use gridiron parlance, with a short field.

“The players were a little upset about my tactics,” the coach said, grinning. “But I had a high draft pick.”

His saucy reckoning came on Saturday.

The group of defensive linemen led by Jonathan Babineaux claimed the “celebrity division” prize in the second-annual event, a gathering open to the public and meant to raise money for Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. Smith brought the master grillers from Bare Knuckle BBQ to the party-like atmosphere in Buford, but it wasn’t enough.

Winning is nice, Smith said, but the get together is really about one thing.

Well, OK, a couple of things.

“The most important thing is that this is a fundraiser for the Atlanta Falcons community to be able to raise money for CHOA,” Smith said, donning a Bare Knuckles T-shirt, sunglasses and a ball cap. “We also do it because as players and coaches we don’t get to have the experience of a tailgate party.”

Among other players participating Saturday were tackling-machine Paul Worrilow, University of Georgia grad Akeem Dent, towering tight end Levine Toilolo and 5-foot-6 running back Jacquizz Rodgers. They signed autographs and played traditional tailgating games like cornhole with fans young and old.

Music blared.

“Any time I’m around my Falcons it’s a good day,” Lawrenceville season ticket holder Michael Payne said.

His 12-year-old son, also Michael, toted a football filled with signatures.

“It’s very cool,” he said. “I like talking to the players.”

Saturday’s event came the day after the completion of three weeks of offseason training — known as OTAs, or organized team activities — and just a few days prior to the start of mini-camp.

Smith, who lives in Suwanee, said he loves grilling but rarely gets the chance.

“When I do it I usually cook for about a week,” he said. “I’ll start in the evening and do it all night and then start in the morning and finish about four, five o’clock and have meals for about a week. So in the summer we have a barbecue week in my family.”

It was unclear if he brought in professionals to help with that effort as well.