Brian Finneran - Newspaper Article

From the Main Line to Atlanta

Oct. 30, 2001

By Jonathan Gust, Villanova Media Relations

He is a success on the gridiron. He is an all-star husband and father off the field. He is Brian Finneran - the former Villanova wide receiver and Walter Payton Award winner who currently spends his Sunday's playing for the NFL's Atlanta Falcons.

Finneran had a storybook career on the Main line from 1994-97, and was one of the nation's finest players throughout his four years. During his storied career, he caught 265 passes for 3,872 yards and 34 touchdowns. Finneran currently holds 14 Villanova school records including the career marks for receptions, yards and touchdowns.

Arriving on the Main Line in 1994 from Mission Viejo, Calif., along with twin brother and fellow Wildcat football standout Brad, Brian Finneran himself was on a mission. He immediately began to turn heads as a freshman in 1994, catching 56 passes for 805 yards and seven scores. Finneran set Wildcat class records for most catches and yards receiving in a season by a freshman. For his performance, he was named to the All-Yankee Conference second team.

Missing the first two games of his sophomore season due to a separated shoulder, Finneran returned slowly but still caught 32 passes for 471 yards on the year.

Finneran's real breakout season came in 1996, when as a junior, he posted 81 receptions for 1,207 yards and eight touchdowns. The honors came from everywhere, as he received first All-Atlantic 10, All-ECAC and All-American honors.

His top campaign would come one year later, in the form of season, which took both him and the Wildcats to the status of one of the nation's best. With a perfect 11-0 regular season, Villanova was No. 1 in the country and posted the first-ever undefeated, untied full regular season in school history. Despite losing a 37-34 heartbreaker to Youngstown State in the second round of the NCAA Division I-AA Playoffs, the season was a memorable one for Finneran and the `Cats. Finneran finished the year with 96 catches for 1,389 yards and 19 touchdowns. He capped off his career by earning the Walter Payton Award, given to the nation's top Division I-AA player.

"My senior year, we stayed healthy and played well as a team," said Finneran. "I won a bunch of awards and the team did also. It was really unbelievable. Going into the season, the Walter Payton Award was not on mind. As the season continued to go on and the team did well, I realized I might have a shot. It is just a direct reflection of the type of team we had that year. You can't win that without the team doing well. It was a great way to go out."

What made Finneran's collegiate career so impressive was not just what he did on the field, but what he did off the field as well. After going to class and football practice, most players would go to the campus dining hall or back to their dorm room to do more work or take a power nap. Finneran, however, went home where he had his wife Erin, son Conor and daughter Brynn waiting for him.

"I got married after my sophomore year and my wife and kids moved to the Philadelphia area from California," said Finneran. "I was used to living in the dorms and hanging out with the guys. Obviously being married with kids brings with it different responsibilities. Sometimes life smacks you in face and shows you what is really important and what 's not. It turned everything around for me and helped me become a better person."

Finneran had to balance as a college student what most individuals do not have to worry about until years later. But for him it was not a burden, it was a pleasure.

"It was definitely tough at times to balance everything that we had going on," said Finneran. My wife worked as waitress and when I got home, she would be getting dressed to leave for work and I would watch the kids. I had a lot of help though. Guys on the team would baby-sit. My brother Brad helped out all the time. Players, friends and coaches were all very helpful with the situation."

"Coach Talley was very cooperative and did a great job helping me get through those situations," said Finneran. "A combination of everyone wanting to help, being around great people at Villanova and having a great wife and kids made everything a lot easier for me."

Following his Villanova career, Finneran signed with the Seattle Seahawks as a free agent. Playing well in training camp, he made it all the way until the last set of cuts before being released.

"Coming out of college as a free agent, I felt like Seattle was a good spot for me," said Finneran. "I did pretty good, but you could tell I was a step behind of where I needed to be. I was only 195 pounds, and a step slow on speed. They let me go after last preseason game."

Finneran spent the entire regular season without being picked up. During that time he worked as a risk manager for a commercial air conditioning company. Finneran's day consisted of working from 7:30 to 4:00, after which he worked out to get ready for the next season.

Catching a break, which might have been just the thing he needed to turn his career around, Finneran was selected in the NFL Europe draft by the Barcelona Dragons. He was the Dragons' top receiver, ending the year third in the league in catches and fourth in touchdowns. Finneran's performance helped lead Barcelona to the World Bowl.

"It was tough on my family," said Finneran. "I had a hunch we would be going to Europe. We ended up going and had a great time. It was like a long vacation for them. They have been troopers, my wife especially. She kept pushing me. NFL Europe catapulted me in returning to the NFL."

Finneran's play overseas led a number of NFL teams to inquire about his services for next season. He would end up going to a familiar place.

"Close to 10 teams inquired about me," said Finneran. "I ended up going to the Philadelphia Eagles. It was real good to come back to the Philadelphia area. It gave me some backing that I wouldn't have had in other cities. People there knew me and were familiar with name."

Despite making the 53-man roster and seeing limited playing time with the Eagles early in the season, it did not work out for Finneran in Philadelphia as the Eagles released him mid-way through the year.

"After the Eagles let me go, I sat out for five weeks," said Finneran. "With three weeks left in 1999 season, the Atlanta Falcons picked me up and I went on the practice squad. There were a lot of guys there that took to me and I took to them. After the season, the Falcons resigned me and those relationships got stronger."

Playing in 12 games for the Falcons in 2000, Finneran caught seven passes for 60 yards. More importantly, he gained experience that has benefited his career tremendously.

"My first year on the 53-man roster was tough," said Finneran. "Learning how to play special teams and finding out how to break into the receiver corps is very difficult. That first year, I played decent on special teams. I think getting that experience has helped me going into this season."

Early on in the 2001 season, Finneran has played an important role for Atlanta. He is a key on the Falcons special teams unit, playing on the kickoff, kickoff return, and punt return teams. With a number of injuries to Atlanta's receiving corps, he has also made an impact on offense.

"Special teams keeps me in the game," said Finneran. "It also gives me the opportunity to get into the receiver rotation if someone goes down."

On Sunday, Oct. 14 versus the San Francisco 49ers, Finneran saw his dreams come true. With just over two minutes remaining in the game and the Falcons trailing 24-23, Atlanta had the ball at the San Francisco 47-yard line. Quarterback Chris Chandler stepped back in the pocket and found Finneran, who ran around cornerback Anthony Parker and sprinted down the left sideline for a 47-yard touchdown.

Despite tying the game at 31-31, Finneran's first-career touchdown would not be enough to give the Falcons the win as San Francisco defeated Atlanta 37-31 in overtime. It would be enough, however, to show the Falcons, their opponents and the rest of the NFL just what Finneran is made of.

"It was awesome," said Finneran. "I felt like I was back at `Nova. The excitement was unbelievable and the crowd went wild. I just wanted to make a big play and do the things I know I can do. (Quarterback) Chris Chandler had faith on me. He audibled and threw the ball to me. I just ran as fast as I could towards the end zone. Once I got there, I spiked the ball over the goal post. I had been waiting to do that since my days at Villanova."

"As far as Atlanta goes, the city and the people have been good to me," said Finneran. "People will come up to me on the streets and wish me good luck, and little kids will bring me their trading cards and ask me to sign them."

If Finneran continues to make big plays down the stretch in games the way he did just a few Sundays ago, Atlanta will continue to fall in love with this Villanova product. With his first-career touchdown against the 49ers, he has just begun to show the NFL what he is capable of.