Sports

ATLANTA FALCONS: BIRDLADY

Bedridden for 12 years, Carolyn Freeman was inspired by a Falcons player who came back from a career ending injury. She shed the wheelchair and started going to games as a form of physical therapy. Say hello to BirdLady!

by Bud Light and VICE Digital Services
Sep 16 2016, 6:23pm

CREATED BY BUD LIGHT AND VICE DIGITAL SERVICES

Carolyn Freeman had been bedridden for 12 years when she saw one of her Falcons come back from what was thought to be a career ending injury. Fired up, she shed the wheelchair and started going to games as a form of physical therapy. Say hello to BirdLady. She loves Atlanta and Atlanta loves her.

How did you fall in love with your team?

I can't remember a time when I didn't love them or they weren't a part of my life. However, '98 was the year that I realized my destiny. If I wanted to continue to live with any quality of life ... it was in 1998 that the Falcons saved my life. After lying in bed for twelve years, I saw Gerald Riggs preparing to return to the game after the same surgery I was told would keep me in bed for life. It inspired me to get up, shed the wheelchair, crutches, braces, and walker to start attending games to get some form of physical therapy, activity, which led to me getting my name and the rest is history!

What is your first memory around your NFL team?

Watching the games with my dad and always being by his side when he discussed the Falcons with his friends, I was so intrigued even at a young age. Hooked immediately! Many years later, sometime around '92 or '93, I attended a game. I wasn't a season ticket holder yet. I was going to about five to six games per year. I had a custom made jersey with my name on the back in metallic silver embroidery. I was in a front row, end zone seat. The next day, I was front-page news! They labeled me as "The Macon Super Fan". Since the tickets were purchased through a ticket company in Macon, I guess they knew I was from Macon. They deemed me a bit over the top in leading the crowd and team with an infectious spirit. I didn't see it. I was shocked the next week when I arrived at The Dome and someone asked me to sign their paper!

What is the best thing about your team?

They Love me. My Boys are good people with huge hearts. They volunteer, they donate, they support The BirdLady and other charities. Many have charities of their own. The Atlanta Falcons and The Blank Foundation have an impressive and extensive history of giving back to the community. The building of the new state-of-the-art Mercedes Benz Stadium and the revitalization of the West End area are prime examples of how we like to stay a step ahead of the pack.

What is your favorite NFL moment or team memory?

This is a hard one; I have seventeen years to ponder. In 2012, we had an amazing season and when we won that last game heading into the playoffs, the fans picked me up and passed me over their heads like at a rock concert! I was screaming, "Don't drop me!" My phone went in the air and broke into five pieces. #OnlyInTheThunderDome

What distinguishes you from other fans of your team?

Well, I'm The BirdLady! I didn't decide to be a superfan; the players gave me that title. I became a superfan out of a need to get up and out of the bed for physical therapy to save my life.

I have branded myself for eighteen years. I have used this platform to form my own non-profit, BirdLady Cares, Inc. It does amazing things for so many people and children. I also work with several national charity organizations.

BUT!

More than any of that... I am The Atlanta Falcons superfan. My hair is flaming Red. My eyelashes are made of feathers. My glitter make-up sparkles daily in the sunlight. The only colors I wear three hundred and sixty-five days a year are Black, Red, White, Silver or Grey. They call me The BirdLady because I wear wings as I fly around The Georgia Dome. No one can do what I do! HOOTY HOO! Other fans come and go, I'm there until the clock reads 00:00 - then I head to the locker room to see My Boys. It doesn't matter to me if we are 10-2 or 2-10, they are still My Boys and I'm not going anywhere. I will continue to fill buses and the stands for My Boys as well.

How did you develop your costume and and your superfan persona?

As for my costume, I have never repeated an outfit in eighteen years at The Dome. The only constant is that I wear my wings, as they are custom designed for every outfit.

I was anointed "BirdLady" eighteen years ago by Falcon legends Jessie Tuggle and Jamal Anderson. They named me after I interrupted their conversation to ask Jamal to dance with me doing his famous "Dirty Bird" routine. When he refused and insisted that I dance, even though I was on crutches, I immediately began shaking my bottom and flapping my arms. They began to laugh; Jessie commented that I was his "Dirty Bird." Jamal then said, "No, That's our "BirdLady!" I have remained a loyal and recognizable fan ever since.

It was in 1998 that the Falcons saved my life.

My outfits have grown to include wings, red hair, eyelashes, feathers, and glitter makeup over the years. In 1998, the players gave me my first "Falconmobile". I continue to represent three hundred and sixty-five days of the year by driving only customized Falcon/Birdlady vehicles.

When did you start collecting / building your fan cave?

I have a few items BBL (Before BirdLady), but I now actually have to rotate my collection. Since 1998, I have collected about two hundred autographed jerseys and footballs, a few game balls, tons of sponsor flags, towels coolers, scarfs...and oh the t-shirts! Every room and wall at my nest will eventually be covered with memorabilia.

I am in the process of changing every room in my house to black and red. It will truly be a full museum of sports memorabilia from all sports. My house -- AF (Atlanta Falcons) BirdLady's Nest is black, red, white, and gray. The garage door has a huge bird's nest with "AF BIRDLADY'S NEST" proudly displayed to match its Google maps listing.

What is your game day ritual?

I don't get to sleep the night before game day as it takes five to six hours to go full BirdLady. Since I live in Macon, GA. I have to leave home around 4:00 - 4:30 a.m. in order to arrive at the Dome by 7 a.m. for pre-game media interviews and begin my "Tour of the Tailgates" with my dancers - The Birdetts. I have several stops along my route with people wanting me to stop so they can take pictures of me in full costume, especially my ex-law enforcement co-workers. I love seeing my neighbors line the street waiting for me to leave my nest. I visit the opposing team tailgates to welcome them and provide them with anything they need. They are always waiting for me as I always host a welcome party for them the day before. I visit Falcon tailgaters to get the celebration started and pump up the fans.

How do you prefer to watch the game?

Unfortunately, for home games I don't get to watch the game since I don't get to sit down because of my dedication to all my fans. I focus on seat visitations, better known as "Roaming the Dome" with my disabled, special needs kids, birthday celebrators, and the elderly, or what I like to call, my V.I.P. Fans.

I normally settle in at my nest the next day and watch a DVR of the game. Everyone knows not to call/visit or bother me on "ME MONDAYS". I don't get out of bed. I rest; after all, I didn't even lay down Saturday night! As far as the away games, I love to flap my wings front and center of the action close to my boys so they can see and hear me. They expect to see me there, so I have to check in and let them know I have their backs and have the stands and fans under control.

I host three bus trips to Carolina, Tampa, and "Nawlins" every year for the fans and My Boys. I always travel with a pack, as the fans always want to hang with the BirdLady when we are on the road. There will be a welcome party and lots of fun!

How does it feel to be known by your friends and peers as a die-hard fan?

IT FEELS FABULOUS! I love It! I was born for this. They really aren't that surprised. I've sort of been this way all my life. I am not normal. Never have been, never wanted to be. I think sanity is overrated. I may be sane when, and if, I ever grow up, but right now I'm having a ball! HOOTY HOO!

All images by Stephanie Mei-Ling.

See more of the Hall of Fandom here.

This content was paid for by the advertising partner and created in collaboration with VICE digital services, independently from the VICE Sports editorial staff.