These birds may be symbolic of eternal mockery among New England Patriots fans, after blowing a huge lead late in the fourth of Super Bowl 51, but that doesn’t mean they have no history getting to where they are today. All due respect, the Atlanta Falcons find themselves in a city where it has become the new place for aspiring artists, bringing much more attention to the NFL team that’s been soaring since.
It was the mid-nineteen-sixties, and football slowly gained ground among sports fans around the country, namely down in the [NFC] South. Much like the NBA fans in Seattle are hungry to land back a team after their Supersonics became the Thunder moving to Oklahoma City, the brewing fans of professional football have been wanting a team of their own. After getting the “okay” from the NFL, no rights in securing a stadium was set causing commissioner Pete Rozelle to take action in blocking the deal. It wasn’t until June 30, 1965, when the city was finally awarded a franchise in the league, and crowning Rankin Smith Sr. as the team owner.
Talk about team effort: the team held a city-wide contest to submit suggestions for a name to call their new football club. Over 500 different names were submitted out of a total of 1,300, and folks strongly suggested the name “Falcons.” Love the name or not, you can express either thought to a teacher by the name of Julia Elliot, who wrote as to why the name works:
“The Falcon is proud and dignified with great courage and fight. It never drops its prey. It is deadly and has a great sporting tradition.”
Sounds like a legitimate reason, doesn’t it? Other suggestions, according to NFL historians, were the following: Firenuts, Trashers, Rebels, Knights, Crackers, Firebirds, Bombers and Awesome Guys. (At least no one suggested “Dudes.”)
Smith Sr. took his duties to start the hiring process for his new team, thus starting with the coaching. Smith Sr. hired Norb Hecker on January 26, 1966, who was the assistant coach of Vince Lombardi, the head coach of the Green Bay Packers. Oddly enough, coach Lombardi was the first one approached in the head coaching position but declined the offer. It was then the Falcons entered into a spot and won the first pick, including the last pick of the first five rounds, of the 1966 NFL Draft. Their first official Falcon was a linebacker from the University of Texas named Tommy Nobis. The Falcons second pick was offensive tackle Thomas Mack, who became the only Hall of Famer that year.
That’s it? It just so happens that six weeks later, the NFL held an expansion draft to quickly get the new Falcons ready for the next upcoming season (much like new NHL team the Las Vegas Golden Knights did). Expansion drafts become a readily available sign-in for unrestricted players looking to “break in” a new franchise and/or perhaps look to take what they learned and bringing it over to create a new, fresh competitive club to match up against the top dogs in the league (think of it like a business offering you a job without the hassle of waiting for a call back and/or going to the interview processes).
A new club, new blood, as the Falcons took the turf to show the country their official debut in 1966. Not sure if it was the hype or the new hires but the Falcons started off the bat with an awful losing streak since preseason and opening season. It wasn’t until they faced the New York Giants where they secured their first official win with a final score of 27-16, on November 20, 1966. It wasn’t until December 11 of that same year when the Falcons won their first home game, defeating the St. Louis (now Arizona) Cardinals, 16-10. The first season in the NFL sought the Falcons with a record of 3-11, and although the Giants had a much worse season that year, finishing with 1-12-1, the feathers of the wings are just starting to grow and mature.
While it was business as usual with the NFL merging with the AFL, packaging the Falcons in the Coastal Division with the Los Angeles Rams, Baltimore Colts (a team moved to the AFC to be replaced with the New Orleans Saints), and San Francisco 49ers, in 1970, the Falcons debuted their first appearance on the famous event Monday Night Football Game. Their debut was a laugh as they lost at home against the Miami Dolphins 20-7.
Defense wins championships, doesn’t it? Falcons had their own defense named the “Grits Ritz Blitz” thanks to their defensive coordinator Jerry Glanville (Northern Michigan). In 1977, they allowed an average of 9 points a game from their opponents thanks to this gameplay.
The following year, NFL expanded to a 16-game season only to secure the Falcons first playoff appearance in franchise history. If that isn’t enough, a win at home against the Philadelphia Eagles, 14-13, were in the books after a clutch play scoring in the wee minutes of the fourth quarter. However, the Falcons winning aura dissipated losing the next round to the Dallas Cowboys on the road, 27-20.
As the years went on entering into the decade of the nineteen-eighties, the Falcons just got better and better. In the 1982 season, the Falcons fired their head coach Leeman Bennett (Kentucky) after losing to the Vikings, 30-24, in the first round.
In 1989, first round draftee Deion Sanders (fifth pick) joins the club–a wide receiver from Florida State. Deion also played for the New York Yankees and the Atlanta Braves (MLB), having nicknames like “Neon Deion” and “Prime Time.” Five years after, Deion moved on with the San Francisco 49ers.
Entering the nineties decade, along with modifying their jersey and helmet colors, the Falcons drafted Brett Favre of Southern Mississippi (thirty-third pick). Favre’s passes were abysmal during his tenure, the “2 legit 2 quit” team traded the quarterback to the Green Bay Packers for a first-round pick.
In 1992, Turner Network Television, TNT, straight out of Georgia, launches its network in contrast to the Falcons moving into their new Georgia Dome Stadium. New turf and new broadcast led to a win against the LA Rams, 30-24. The TNT network aired their last game from North Carolina, only to air the birds’ loss to the Carolina Panthers, 21-12. To add to that pain was the passing of the Falcons’ owner Rankin Smith Sr., to which his son, Taylor Smith, respectfully took over.
It wasn’t until 1998 when the Falcons snapped their 22-game losing streak since 1982, defeating the New England Patriots, 41-10. Yeah, finally, much so of the fact that tight-end OJ Santiago (Kent State) busted the “Dirty Bird” dance that represented his team the entire season (call Terrell Owens, if you want). You can’t blame Santiago’s implementation of the dance since 1998 was the Falcons’ best season since its birth, finishing the regular season with a 14-2 season. However, every good run has their drama: after a missed field goal by Gary Anderson of the Vikings (Syracuse), being 35 of 35 the entire season in field goals, the Falcons soared through with a game-tying touchdown forcing overtime. With the Vikings using every second of the clock to try and score at the end of regulation, the Falcons took over, giving them a win 30-27, with a 38-yard field goal. If there’s anything to be learned here, that’s to never run down the game clock when you have possession and plenty of time to run and win the game in less than four downs. The Falcons kept soaring through the playoffs only to get tackled in Super Bowl XXXIII against the defending champs, the Denver Broncos, by a final score of 34-19 (January 31, 1999).
We’re onto the millennium, and in 2001, the Falcons’ wide receiver Tim Dwight (Iowa) was traded to the [San Diego] Chargers in exchange for a first-round pick. This is the pick that helped the birds land Michael Vick from Virginia Tech. The next year, 2002, the Falcons agreed to sell the team to Arthur Blank, co-founder of Home Depot at a mere $545 million dollars.
Who says change is bad? New owner Blank, in 2003, presented a new logo for the Falcons, showing a more fierce, dagger-looking Falcon spreading its red feathers–this design is still used today. Maybe it’s the pressure of the logo’s aggressive symbolism as Michael Vick suffered a broken leg, missing 12 games at the beginning of the regular season. Losing seven games in the process, Falcons fired their coach Dan Reeves (South Carolina) to hire interim head coach Wade Phillips of Houston. Eventually, Vick recovered and is back in the field, but wasn’t enough ending the Falcons’ season with a 5-11 record.
While the Falcons sought to live through a teeter-totter decade, making and missing the playoffs, they failed to make another Super Bowl appearance, let alone having back-to-back winning seasons.
It wasn’t until 2007 when Michael Vick pleaded guilty in his participation and betting in dog-fighting in Virginia. As the NFL suspended Vick, the Falcons cut the quarterback off its roster as he served his 23-month sentence in jail.
On to 2008, when the Falcons landed a third overall pick to which they signed quarterback Matt Ryan (Boston College). Ryan did not disappoint in his debut season, being awarded Offensive Rookie of the Year. In addition to his marvelous performance, Ryan helped break the streak of the Falcons not having winning back-to-back seasons–a record held throughout nearly all major sports leagues, namely the NBA, NHL, and MLB.
Ryan’s carrying of the team gave the Falcons a reason to soar again, giving them their best record in the NFC, 13-3, in 2010. Fast forward to 2012 and the Falcons tried yet another shot at the gold but losing to the New York Giants by a face-palming 24-2.
Still unable to make noise trying to land a spot in the playoffs, comes a conviction you may never find anywhere else in American sports: the NFL investigated and fined, the Falcons organization $350,000 for alleged use of “noise tracks” during their home games in the 2013 and 2014 seasons. Saints fans must me looping laugh tracks at such a wretched move by team owner Blank, who denied the allegations. This led to the NFL snatching their draft pick away from them!
More house cleaning as the Falcons fired their coach, Mike Smith, to hire Dan Quinn–the Falcons’ 16th head coach of the franchise. Starting off with a nice 5-0 in the 2015 regular season, the birds still failed to make the playoffs yet again, finishing with an 8-8 record.
Enter in 2016, the year according to social media as the roughest year in the 2010 decade, became a great season for the “Dirty Birds,” finishing with an 11-5 record. Along the way, they gusted out the Seahawks, with a final score of 36-20, and grating the cheese-head Packers with a score of 44-21. The Falcons finally got back into the Super Bowl only to face Tom Brady‘s red, white and blue New England Patriots in Super Bowl LI. Entering the fourth quarter, the Falcons secured a large lead, 28-3. Due to “spacing out,” daydreaming their first Super Bowl win to be official in less than 10 minutes, the Patriots, still awake, took control and stunned the Birds tying the game at 28. One can only imagine how many empty beer bottles were destroyed by disgruntled Falcons fans in the process, as the Patriots forced overtime–a first in Super Bowl history. The Falcons blew out their last feathers losing by a rib-aching 34-28.
Undergoing various changes in the coaching department, quarterbacks having a very sub-par performance until the launch of the Matt Ryan era, and finally showing the pro football community they are capable of soaring high, only to pull off an “LA Dodgers” on the big stage, flunking at the wee minutes of the game, the Falcons have gained some middle ground and making the turf rumble in the NFC. And no, the sounds of the rumble isn’t pre-recorded.