Atlanta Falcons linebacker Brian Banks (53) makes a play against the Cincinnati Bengals during the second half at the Georgia Dome on Thursday. The Bengals defeated the Falcons 34-10. (Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports)
ATLANTA — Atlanta Falcons linebacker Brian Banks, who spent five years in prison wrongfully accused of rape, made his long-awaited NFL debut Thursday night.
Banks entered the Falcons’ preseason opener in the fourth quarter and registered a tackle against the Cincinnati Bengals. The Falcons lost 34-10.
“It was out of control,” he told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “Just running out there — the flames, the cheers, the crowd. I wasn’t nervous at all, but just the emotion of running through the tunnel, the adrenaline that comes with it, is better than any roller-coaster ride you could get on.”
Banks, 28, spent five years in prison and five years on parole after he was wrongly accused and convicted of rape while he was at Poly Tech High School in Long Beach, California.
He was a highly-regarded college recruit who dreamed of playing in the NFL at the time that he was convicted. That dream was put on hold until he was finally exonerated in 2012.
Banks first tried out for the Seattle Seahawks. Coach Pete Carroll had recruited Banks when he was at USC.
Banks signed with the Falcons in April. Four months later, he finally appeared in a game, albeit an exhibition contest.
He was credited with stopping Bengals running back Dan Herron late in the fourth quarter.
Banks is considered a longshot to make the roster. But he may get another chance when the Falcons take on the Baltimore Ravens on Aug. 15.
“Do I have to make it? I don’t feel like I have to, but I want to — not just for myself but for my family, for the people who’ve supported me and believed in me,” Banks said. “For people who’ve lost hope in their own (life). If I can be some kind of vessel, to show people that no matter the hard time you experienced, you can still succeed, I want to put out that positive energy, to never quit and never give up.”