The Atlanta Falcons are a professional football team in the National Football League (the NFL). The Atlanta Falcons play in the National Football Conference (NFC) South Division with three other teams: the Carolina Panthers, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the New Orleans Saints. The Atlanta Falcons have not won any Super Bowl Championships. The Georgia Dome, located in Atlanta, Georgia hosts all Atlanta Falcons home games.
In 1965, the NFL granted an NFL franchise to the City of Atlanta. Rankin M. Smith Sr., a senior executive at the Life Insurance Company of Georgia, was the first owner of the team. The team conducted a contest to pick the name of the new Atlanta NFL franchise and they settled on the “Falcon”. The team picked the name “Falcon” after a Georgia area schoolteacher praised the falcon as a courageous proud and dignified bird with a fantastic sporting tradition. The team participated in the November 1965 NFL draft, and played its first preseason NFL game against the Philadelphia Eagles on August 1, 1966. The Atlanta Falcons lost the first 9 games of the 1966 regular season, but won 3 of their last 5 games to finish with a 3-11 record. The Atlanta Falcons recorded their first NFL victory with a 27-16 defeat of the New York Giants in Giants Stadium. During its first 12 NFL regular seasons through 1977, the Atlanta Falcons only had 2 winning seasons and they never qualified for post-season play.
Things changed for the better in 1978 when the Atlanta Falcons started a stretch of making the playoffs 3 out of 5 seasons. In 1978, behind young Quarterback Steve Bartkowksi, the Atlanta Falcons finished with a 9-7 record to make the playoffs for the first time in the franchise’s short NFL history. The Atlanta Falcons then won their first playoff game when they defeated the Philadelphia Eagles 14-13 at home on December 24, 1978. The Atlanta Falcons lost the following week 27-20 to the Dallas Cowboys in the Divisional round of the playoffs, but they had finally made an appearance in NFL post-season play. The Atlanta Falcons failed to make the playoffs the following year, but in 1980, the Atlanta Falcons achieved another first when they finished in first place in the AFC West with a 12-4 record. Unfortunately, their playoff fate ended the same way as it did 2 years before with a 30-27 loss at home to the Dallas Cowboys in the Divisional round of the playoffs. The Atlanta Falcons failed to make a repeat appearance in post-season play in 1981 due to injuries. In 1982, a strike-shortened season, the Atlanta Falcons returned to the NFL playoffs for the 3rd time in 5 seasons, but once again, they lost early in a first round loss to the Minnesota Vikings. From 1983 through 1997, the Atlanta Falcons endured another long stretch of mediocre play. They finished with a winning record only 2 times during that span and those were the only 2 years that the Atlanta Falcons made the playoffs.
Super Bowl XXIII
The Atlanta Falcons finally made a Super Bowl appearance following the 1998 season. The Atlanta Falcons were the “surprise” story of the season when they finished atop the NFC West with a 14-2 record. Led by veteran Quarterback Chris Chandler, young Running Back Jamal Anderson, and a speedy defense that created numerous opportunistic turnovers, the Atlanta Falcons had great team chemistry that developed into a Cinderella story on the NFL mainstage. For much of the year, the Atlanta Falcons success was considered a fluke, especially with 2 humiliating early season blowout losses to 2 of the top NFL contenders – the New York Jets and the San Francisco 49ers. The Atlanta Falcons started the season with a 6-2 record and then went on an 8 game winning streak to finish the season with only 2 losses. In the 1998 Divisional round of the playoffs, the Atlanta Falcons defeated the San Francisco 49ers 20-18 behind a clutch running performance by Jamal Anderson and a consistent defensive attack that forced great quarterback Steve Young into making 3 interceptions. That victory set up an NFC Championship Game showdown with the high-powered Minnesota Vikings offense. Led by Quarterback Randall Cunningham and 3 great Wide Receivers – Randy Moss, Cris Carter and Jake Reed – the Minnesota Vikings set numerous NFL passing and scoring records that season and were heavily favored to make a trip to the Super Bowl. But the Atlanta Falcons continued their improbable run and hung around long enough to be down only 7 points with 2 minutes to play. Chandler led the team on an efficient 70-yard 80 second drive and scored the tying touchdown on a pass to Terence Mathis with less than a minute to play. In overtime, legendary kicker Morten Anderson kicked the game winning 38-yard field goal late in the period as the Atlanta Falcons advanced to the first and only Super Bowl appearance in franchise history with a 30-27 victory over the Minnesota Vikings. The Atlanta Falcons ultimately lost Super Bowl XXXIII to the Denver Broncos 31-19. Super Bowl XXXIII was never really close as the Cinderella story finally came to an end. Much of the pre-Super Bowl hype, however, surrounded 2 non-football related incidents. Legendary Denver Broncos Quarterback John Elway had announced his plans to retire following the season and the media focused on his retirement and his past relationship with then Atlanta Falcons Head Coach Dan Reeves who had coached the Denver Broncos from 1981 through 1992. In the other story, the media focused on the arrest of the Atlanta Falcons Free Safety Eugene Robinson for solicitation of an undercover police officer for oral sex. Ironically, earlier in the day that the embarrassing story broke, the NFL had presented Eugene Robinson with the “Bart Starr Award” for his high moral character.
“Prime Time” Deion Sanders
One of the more memorable Atlanta Falcons was 2-sport player Deion Sanders. The Atlanta Falcons made Deion Sanders their top draft pick in 1989. Deion Sanders was a talented young defensive back from the Florida State University and the team hoped he would inject some energy and flair into the organization in the early 1990’s. After disputing with team management during contract negotiations, Deion Sanders elected to play for MLB baseball’s New York Yankees during that first season. Eventually Deion Sanders made his NFL debut in the Falcons first game against the Los Angeles Rams. In that game he returned a punt 68 yards for a touchdown – becoming the first present-day athlete to score a touchdown and hit a home run (which he had done for the New York Yankees) in the same week. Deion Sanders was also a bona fide member of the 1991 “2 Legit 2 Quit” Atlanta Falcons. MC Hammer’s hit song “2 Legit 2 Quit” became the Atlanta Falcons theme song that year after Deion Sanders and fellow teammates Andre Rison and Tim McKyer appeared in a video for the song.
After advancing to the NFC Championship Game in 2004, the Atlanta Falcons have failed to win more than 8 games each of the last 3 seasons and they have not qualified for post-season play. In 2005, the Atlanta Falcons won 8 games and in 2006, the Atlanta Falcons won only 7 games. During the off-season following the 2006-7 NFL season, star Quarterback Michael Vick was embroiled in a federal dog-fighting scandal. Vick eventually plead guilty to the criminal dog-fighting charges in the State of Virginia. Vick received the maximum 23-month sentence and he was suspended indefinitely by the NFL. New Head Coach Bobby Petrino (who gained stardom with his role in turning around the University of Louisville NCAA Football program) was forced to go with Joey Harrington as his starting quarterback. The team would only win 4 games during the 2007-8 campaign and Petrino would ultimately resign following the 13th game of the NFL season to take the head coaching position at the University of Arkansas in a controversial move. In January 2008, the Atlanta Falcons hired Mike Smith as their new Head Coach. Smith had previously been the defensive coordinator for the Jacksonville Jaguars since 2003 and the Atlanta Falcons hope he can impart his unique defensive schemes to turn around the struggling Atlanta Falcons franchise.