Atlanta Falcons linebacker Brian Banks (53) makes a play against the Cincinnati Bengals during the second half at the Georgia Dome. The Bengals defeated the Falcons 34-10. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports
ATLANTA, Ga. -- With a cluster of microphones perched beneath his mouth and a towel wrapped around his neck, Brian Banks tells the gathered reporters, "I played an NFL game today." Then he looks down and laughs, as if he can't quite believe it himself.
It's safe to say Banks never thought he'd utter those words, never thought he would run through the tunnel of roaring flames onto the field, to the delight of waiting, screaming fans.
"As soon as I ran out of that tunnel, it just hit me. It just hit me. This was definitely a huge accomplishment. To be here today running out there on the field was just. It was emotional. It really was."
In his Atlanta Falcons uniform with its crest, Banks is about as far as one can get from where he was.
"First thing was 'How was prison? I saw those tv shows.'"
When Banks reported to Falcons camp this summer, the questions were waiting.
"How did that happen? How was it that she got away with it? How is it that you're not bitter?"
He was used to it. He'd been living in a national spotlight since the California Innocence Project got him exonerated.
Falsely accused of raping a highschool classmate, Banks spent five years in prison and another five on parole.
At the time of his arrest he was one of the top recruits in the nation, already committed to play at USC.
Finally free, it wasn't enough to reclaim his life, he re-committed to his lifelong dream.
Last night, in the final seven minutes of the fourth quarter, that dream was realized.
"I felt like in the timeframe I was in I did a really good job. I ran my gaps well. I performed my assignments well and I basically controlled our defense as a middle linebacker is supposed to. I feel in just that one game, if it all ended yesterday, that that dream was fulfilled."
But was it good enough to make the team? Banks will play at least one more game before the first round cuts.
"All I know is how hard I'm going to work. All I know is how much effort I'm going to put into making this happen. I have no control over the future. I have no control over the decisions made."
Brian Banks seems far older than his 28 years. He is. He survived one life -- a life of confinement and despair. This new life leaves no room for bitterness or worries about getting cut from the team.
"Nervous is when you walk into a courtroom and you don't know what your fate is going to be when you walk in that courtroom, nervous is when you walk onto a prison yard for the first time at 18 years old, and you don't know what's going to happen to you or around you, nervous is finding out you have a six year prison sentence to serve for a crime you didn't commit. Having an opportunity to make a football team? Running out onto a football field to play football -- there's no reason to be nervous about freedom. I'm free."