Atlanta Falcons Team History
date of June 30, 1965 will always be remembered as a most significant
day in Atlanta's sports history. That day, the National Football
League awarded its 15th franchise to the city, marking an end
to a long struggle by the Georgia capital city to obtain a professional
football team. The franchise was awarded to 41-year-old Rankin
M. Smith, a successful life insurance executive, for $8.5 million.
One of Smith's first orders of business was to announce a contest
to provide a nickname for the new team. The name "Falcons"
was suggested by many, but a school teacher from Griffin, Ga.
was declared the winner. "The Falcon is proud and dignified,"
she wrote, "with great courage and fight. It never drops
its prey. It is deadly and has a great sporting tradition."
Excited Georgia fans showed their enthusiasm and appreciation
by buying season tickets in record numbers. By Christmas Eve,
when the Falcons cut off a brief 54-day ticket sale requiring
almost no promotion, an NFL record had been established for
a new team with the sale of 45,000 season tickets. Minnesota
was the previous record-holder with 26,000 sales in 1961.
Midway through the ticket campaign, the Falcons participated
in their first NFL draft on November 27, 1965. Their first pick
was an Outland Trophy-winning linebacker from the University
of Texas, Tommy Nobis. Nobis was also drafted by Houston of
the American Football League but he signed a Falcons contract
on December 14.
Norb Hecker, an assistant on Vince Lombardi's Green Bay Packers
staff, was chosen as the Falcons' first head coach. The new
Falcons lost their first nine games before defeating the New
York Giants 27-16 on November 20. They finished with three wins,
tying an expansion team first-season record up to that time.
In 1971, the Falcons recorded their first winning season (7-6-1)
under fiery Coach Norm Van Brocklin. In 1973, they finished
with a 9-5 mark, a new team high. The 1977 team under new coach
Leeman Bennett established an NFL team mark that still stands
by allowing just 129 total points in a 14-game season. Bennett
then led the Falcons to the playoffs three times in a five-year
span between 1978 and 1982. In 1980, the Falcons won the NFC
Western Division title with a club-record 12 wins and six Pro
Bowl stars, including quarterback Steve Bartkowski and running
back William Andrews. In addition to Bartkowski, Nobis and Andrews,
such stars as defensive end Claude Humphrey, center Jeff Van
Note, running back Gerald Riggs and Billy "White Shoes"
Johnson made things interesting for loyal Falcons fans.
Atlanta was one of the first teams to have a year-round practice
facility, opening a complex in 1978 in suburban Suwanee. The
Falcons closed out their 26-year era at Atlanta-Fulton County
Stadium in 1991 with an 11-win season, second most in team history.
The next year, the team moved into the luxurious Georgia Dome,
recognized as one of the finest indoor stadiums.
In 1998, the Falcons recorded their most successful season in
franchise history. The team won the NFC West with a 14-2 record
and marched through the playoffs to claim the NFC championship
and earned a trip to Super Bowl XXXIII.