Five Things You Didn’t Know About the Atlanta Falcons
By David Guidera
June 18, 2014 6:09 pm
Take in the following five facts and then grade your knowledge from zero to five on the following scale:
Zero: We must be talking about a different football.
One: Average Saints fan.
Two: Average Falcons fan.
Three: Average Falcons fan with a college degree.
Four: Always win the orange wedges in Trivial Pursuit.
Five: Have an Alex Trebek tattoo.
Atlanta was the second and final city to use the American Football League to land a National Football League franchise. Minnesota had already successfully manipulated the two leagues in 1960 before the City of Trees followed suit in ’65.
Atlanta had the clout, erecting Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium in ’65, to lure a Major League Baseball franchise as well—resulting in the Milwaukee Braves relocating in ’66. And the ATL made the short list of potential landing spots for the AFL’s Denver Broncos (pg. 27) and Dallas Texans—before they moved to Kansas City.
The city chose the established NFL over the upstart AFL once given the option, which settled one of the final disputes between the two leagues before they agreed to begin a merger process the following offseason.
Just Falcon around
Atlanta’s original owner, business magnate Rankin Smith, had a reputation as a cheapskate—he hired Norm Van Brocklin as head coach over Paul Brown and Vince Lombardi—and a philanthropist. It’s unclear which side took the wheel when Smith turned over the naming of the franchise to the people.
Fortunately the team passed on monikers like Peaches, Lancers, Vibrants and Confederates. They settled on Falcons because, “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,” wrote winning submitter, Julia Elliott.
Unfortunately for Smith, Elliott and the Falcons, the team has rarely lived up to its namesake. With 30 losing seasons in 47 years, the Falcons are far more often the prey than the predator.
Atlanta Falcons orginal helmet designThe mighty white and gold
This just in: college football was, is and always will be king in the South.
Smith knew pro football could be a tough sell in a well established college market, so he incorporated the school colors of Georgia’s biggest college rivals into the Falcons color scheme: white and gold for the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets, and red and black for the Georgia Bulldogs.
White and gold?! Yeah, I’m guessing you missed it in the midst of all that red and black too. Oh, did I mention Smith graduated from the University of Georgia?
To see Georgia Tech’s gold represented on the Falcons helmets you’ll need trifocals, a telephoto digital zoom or the microscope from the science kit gathering dust in your kid’s closet. Seriously, you can barely tell in typical action photos.
Atlanta ditched the charade in ’70. The gold stripes only reappeared on throwbacks in ’94 and ’09-’12.
Maybe part of Atlanta’s troubles all these years is disorientation: the NFL placed them in a division with the San Francisco 49ers and Los Angeles/St Louis Rams from ’67 to ’01. That meant the Falcons were guaranteed a road trip to California twice a year until the Rams moved to St Louis in ’95.
The league forced the New Orleans Saints (’67-’01) and Carolina Panthers (’95-’01) to endure the same fate until realignment in ’02. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers rounded out the aptly named NFC South, and Atlanta could finally shift some capital from the travel budget to that abysmal product on the field.
The Falcons have made the playoffs as many times in the 35 years before realignment as in the 11 years since: six.
Will GM for food
Nobody officially served as General Manager for the Falcons between ’86 and ’97. Ken Herock was Vice President of Player Personnel (’87-’96), which included managing the draft, but otherwise there was unspoken control by Head Coaches Jerry Glanville (’90-‘93) and June Jones (’94-’96) before Dan Reeves took control of the whole operation in ’97.
So what’s the worst that could happen?
Atlanta whiffed on DE, Aundray Bruce (No. 1 pick in ’88), CB, Bruce Pickens (No. 3 pick in ’91) and OT, Lincoln Kennedy (No. 9 pick in ’93). Kennedy eventually achieved First-Team All-Pro status, but that was with the Oakland Raiders.
The Falcons scored Hall-of-Fame CB, Deion Sanders in ’89, but let him leave for San Francisco via free agency in ’94. They took Brett Favre in ’91, but let Glanville trade the raw and undisciplined talent to the Green Bay Packers in ’92. They traded with the Indianapolis Colts for disgruntled gunslinger Jeff George in ’94, who remained disgruntled over the next three seasons in Atlanta before he unceremoniously left town via free agency. The George trade eventually yielded All-Pro DT, Bryant Young to the 49ers, and All-Pro WR, Marvin Harrison to the Colts.