Jerry Rhea with his wife, Linda.

Dunwoody resident and longtime Atlanta Falcons’ athletic trainer Jerry Rhea will be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s first-ever Award of Excellence class in June.

Rhea, a longtime resident in the Redfield subdivision, has logged more than 50 years in the athletic training profession, including 25 years in the NFL. He worked as an athletic trainer with the Atlanta Falcons from 1969 to 1994.

“I was shocked to be included in this first-ever batch of honorees,” Rhea said. “It was a real thrill for me, and a big surprise.”

Rhea, according to a biography published when he was inducted into the Georgia Athletic Trainers Hall of Fame, began his career in 1956 while a student at Texas A&M.

After graduation, Rhea worked eight years in the Odessa, Texas school system before joining the Los Angeles Rams as an assistant athletic trainer for two years.  

During his 25 years as athletic trainer for the Falcons, Rhea was a frequent convention and clinic speaker.  From 1994 to 2001, he worked as assistant to the president of the Falcons and served as president of the Atlanta Falcons Youth Foundation.  

Rhea has also received numerous awards during his tenure, including his 2004 induction into the inaugural Georgia Athletic Trainers’ Association Hall of Fame. The hall honored him with an annual award in his name, the Jerry Rhea Athletic Trainer of the Year Award.  

The Atlanta Falcons also paid tribute to Rhea by endowing a scholarship in his name for both undergraduate and graduate students.

According to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, the Award of Excellence, “is part of the hall’s effort to recognize outstanding contributions from members of four groups vital to the game’s on-field success and behind the scenes. The honor is for individuals who have spent their football careers as assistant coaches, athletic trainers, equipment managers and public relations personnel.”

Rhea likened his job as athletic trainer to being “a medic in a combat zone.”

“There was always someone wrong with someone, and every day was different,” he said. “I enjoyed every minute of it.”

Rhea said as thrilled as he is to be recognized by the NFL, he is happy that the league is paying tribute to the support personnel who have dedicated their careers to helping football players, coaches and teams.

“As great as it is for me, I’m glad also that the hall of fame has recognized the influence that the support staff has had on the success of the teams and their players,” he said.

According to the NFL, the winners will be honored during the 2022 enshrinement week in Canton, Ohio in late June.

Cathy Cobbs

Cathy Cobbs is a freelance writer based in Dunwoody. She can be reached at khakico@gmail.com.