FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. — When Todd McClure was drafted by the Falcons, they had just made the Super Bowl for the first time.
"You think it's going to be easy," he remembered.
Fourteen years later, McClure is still waiting for his first trip to the big game.
"I tell the young guys on this team that we have to take advantage of this opportunity," he said, "because it's not a given that you'll be in this position again next year."
When the Falcons host the 49ers on Sunday for the NFC title, McClure will be right in the middle of things.
McClure snaps the ball, then fades into the background while players such as Matt Ryan, Julio Jones and Tony Gonzalez grab the headlines for Atlanta's high-octane offense.
But ask around the locker room, and everyone will say that McClure is the glue that holds the unit together.
"Todd has been huge for my career here in Atlanta," Ryan said. "He's a guy who doesn't get enough recognition. In all honesty, my first two years here, in terms of pass protection, Todd carried me. … He helped me out immensely."
As the longest-running member of the Falcons by far, McClure has gone through his share of ups and downs.
A seventh-round pick out of LSU in 1999, McClure went on to set a franchise record with 148 consecutive starts. Over the past dozen seasons, he's missed only four out of 192 games.
McClure has gotten this close to the Super Bowl only once. In the 2004 season, with QB Michael Vick, the Falcons came up one win short, losing at Philadelphia in the conference championship game.
"This is why we play the game," said McClure, who turns 36 next month. "That's why I'm still playing this game."
49ERS CUT CUNDIFF: The 49ers released Billy Cundiff, making David Akers the only kicker on the roster heading into Sunday. San Francisco signed Cundiff Jan. 1 to compete with Akers, who missed 13 of 42 field-goal tries this season.
ABRAHAM STILL LIMITED: The Falcons plan on having DE John Abraham ready, though he was limited in practice for the third straight day. He expects to start Sunday.