Remembering the Falcons in Suwanee

A former executive at the Falcon Inn recalls when the NFL team trained at I-85 and Lawrenceville-Suwanee Road. 'There was a lot of activity,' Mark Rusin said.

The Atlanta Falcons have begun another training camp, and they now are identified with Flowery Branch and known as an annual playoff contender.

But a generation ago, the Falcons were identified more with mediocrity on the football field -- and with Suwanee off the field.

Yes, Atlanta's NFL team once called Suwanee home. The Falcon Inn and Conference Center was located at I-85 and Lawrenceville-Suwanee Road. It was a former Ramada Inn that was bought and redeveloped by the Smith family, the former owners.

-- Do you remember the Falcon Inn in Suwanee? Tell us in the comments below.

And it was anything but dull when the team, which practiced there during the season, occupied the facility during training camp. "It was like Peyton Place," recalled Mark Rusin, the GM of the facility from 1983-85 and now a North Carolina-based executive.

Rusin was both amused and nostalgic recently when he recalled his tenure at the Falcon Inn. Former head coach Dan Henning arrived the same year.

"(Henning) was a phenomenal coach," Rusin said. "He was too advanced offensively for the team."

Other names of Falcon lore also rolled off Rusin's tongue -- Steve Bartkowski, William Andrews, Jeff Van Note. Also, Tommy Nobis -- the first player ever drafted by the Falcons back in 1966 -- was then the GM who turned over leadership of the Falcon Inn to Rusin.

And there were other luminaries who stayed there. Legendary actor Paul Newman would stay regularly when he pursued his other passion of auto racing at Road Atlanta in Braselton. Ditto Senator and presidential candidate John Glenn in 1984.

The Miami Dolphins, coached by Don Shula, came for a scrimmage, and the Chicago Bears came during the winter for playoff preparations when the Midwest winter got too cold.

But it was the interplay between the Falcons players and the hotel staff that Rusin recalls most fondly.

"It was like a college dorm, two people to a room," Rusin said. "The rooms were not very big, but those guys were big."

So naturally, big folks like that can't stay cooped up forever during the eight weeks of training camp. Some guys who had families in the area were allowed to leave the site to visit home folks, and yes, the Falcons coaches also bunked there.

"A lot of people got to know each other well," Rusin said.

The Falcons left Suwanee in 2001, the same year the city passed the bond referendum that led to development of the signature parks system.

In 2012, the same I-85 intersection is sprouting a developing Suwanee Police station, which is also a symbol of Gateway redevelopment.

But ghosts of Falcon past are still in that area of Suwanee.

"I told Coach Henning I was going to write a book," Rusin said. "He said, 'You'll treat me good, won't you?' "

See also:

Mark Rusin July 26, 2012 at 02:55 PM
Just for clarification, I was not directly employed by the Falcons. I was employed by Marriott and we were contracted to manage the Falcon Inn & Conference Center....thanks Steve, for the article! Mark Rusin
Steve Burns July 26, 2012 at 05:25 PM
Welcome, Mark. Lots of people in Suwanee and Gwinnett County have fond memories of the Falcons' days here.


More »
Got a question? Something on your mind? Talk to your community, directly.
Note Article
Just a short thought to get the word out quickly about anything in your neighborhood.
Share something with your neighbors.What's on your mind?What's on your mind?Make an announcement, speak your mind, or sell somethingPost something
See more »