NFL - NFC SOUTH
2021-2022 TEAM LEADERS
In 1966 the AFL and NFL finalized their plans to merge the two leagues, maintaining their identities through 1969, but becoming one cohesive league in 1970. However in 1965, when both leagues were plotting expansion, they were still fighting.
The NFL had plans to expand by two teams in 1967, making the announcement in June of 1965 of their intentions. Atlanta was one of the targets, but just a few days after the NFL revealed its intentions, the AFL jumped up and said it was awarding a team to Atlanta to begin play in 1966.
The NFL didn’t want to lose Atlanta as a city in its league, so it moved up its timeline, and commissioner Pete Rozelle granted Atlanta ownership to Rankin Smith, Sr, for the 1966 season. He gave them the first pick in the 1966 draft and scheduled an expansion draft as further incentive.
The Falcons said no to the AFL, which instead gave their expansion franchise to Miami, and said yes to the NFL, which resulted in an odd number of NFL teams at 15, and required them to schedule a weekly bye for one team. When the Saints joined the next year the NFL went back to an even 16 teams.
A nickname contest was held in Atlanta, and shunning suggestions like Knights, Bombers, and Confederates (thankfully), team ownership chose the Falcons. In 1966 and against the Rams, the newly formed Falcons played their first-ever regular-season game.
Championships by the Atlanta Falcons
The life of an expansion team was difficult in the 1960s. The Falcons were 6-35-1 over their first three seasons in the league and ranked dead last in points scored all three seasons.
But Norm Van Brocklin took over as head coach in 1969, and during his tenure, the Falcons had a pair of winning records. Finally, after two more coaching changes, the Falcons were a playoff team by 1978. And just 20 short years later they were a conference champion.
1998 NFC Championship
In 1998 the talent and coaching had finally aligned. Dan Reeves, a frequent visitor to the Super Bowl when he was with the Broncos, was the head coach. Chris Chandler gave Atlanta a Pro Bowler at quarterback. Jamal Anderson gave the team a stud at running back. And the “Dirty Bird” Falcons finally had an identity.
In one of the great NFC Championship Games in history, the Falcons went into Minnesota to take on the top-seeded Vikings as 11-point underdogs. But for the first time all season, Vikings kicker Gary Anderson missed a field goal, the Falcons tied the game with a touchdown pass in the final minute of regulation, and the Falcons won, 30-27, on an overtime field goal.
Atlanta went on to lose Super Bowl XXXIII to the Broncos, 34-19.
2016 NFC Championship
The Falcons made two NFC Championship Game appearances between their wins in 1998 and 2016. Following the 2004 season, they lost to the Eagles, 27-10, and following 2012 they lost to the 49ers, 28-24.
But following 2016, the number one scoring offense in the NFL was too much for their Championship Game opponent, Green Bay. Atlanta scored on eight of their first nine possessions, Matt Ryan threw for 392 yards and four touchdowns, Julio Jones had nine catches for 180 yards and two touchdowns, and the Falcons won 44-21.
Atlanta lost Super Bowl LI to New England, infamously blowing a 28-3 third-quarter lead.
Key Stats by the Atlanta Falcons
Along with their two conference championships, the Falcons have won their division six times, including four times after realignment put them in the NFC South.
The Falcons have appeared in the playoffs a total of 14 times, and they have ten postseason victories.
The first-ever member of the Falcons was linebacker Tommy Nobis. The number one overall pick in 1966 would go to win NFL Rookie of the Year and play in five Pro Bowls.
Unhappy with their home field in the early 1960s, Bill and Charles Bidwell, owners of the St. Louis Cardinals, met with the mayor of Atlanta about possibly moving there. St. Louis built Busch Stadium, the Cardinals didn’t move, and the Falcons became an expansion franchise.
Top Players in Atlanta Falcons History
The Falcons’ first star player was their first ever draft pick, Tommy Nobis. He was also drafted by the Houston Oilers of the AFL that year, and was actually told by orbiting astronaut Frank Borman, who was aboard Gemini 7 at the time, to choose Houston. Nobis went with the Falcons, and he is now in their Ring of Honor.
In 1966 he was unofficially credited with 294 tackles, which still stands as the record today.
Other great Falcons defensive players include Deion Sanders, who got two of his six cornerbacks First-Team All-Pro nods as a member of the Falcons. He was also First-Team All-Pro as a kick returner in Atlanta. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2011.
Defensive end Claude Humphrey made six Pro Bowls with the Falcons in the 1970s and was a five-time First-Team All-Pro. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2014.
Kicker Morten Andersen played eight of his 25 Hall of Fame seasons in Atlanta. Tight end Tony Gonzalez played the final five of his 17 Hall of Fame seasons with the Falcons. And when wide receiver Julio Jones decides to call it a career, he is a lock to be a Falcons Hall of Famer.
Top Coaches in Atlanta Falcons History
Mike Smith has the best resume of any of the head coaches for the Falcons. His 71 wins is the most in team history, he won a pair of division titles with the team, made the playoffs four times, and was the NFL Coach of the Year in 2008.
Dan Reeves was the NFL Coach of the Year in 1998 when he led the Falcons to their first Super Bowl appearance. Reeves had three playoff wins as the coach in Atlanta to go along with his eight postseason wins in Denver.
Leeman Bennett coached the Falcons to their first-ever division championship in 1980, and he was twice the UPI NFC Coach of the Year during his time in Atlanta.