How They Got There: Franchise History Of The Atlanta Falcons
Only two days to Super Bowl LI. So let's learn about the history of the Atlanta Falcons!
Aug. 10, 1962: The Denver Broncos take on the Houston Oilers in an American Football League preseason game in Atlanta -- the first pro football game played in Atlanta.
April 9, 1965: Atlanta Fulton County Stadium (initially called Atlanta Stadium) opens. Built for $18 million on Capitol Ave., it holds 52,007 for baseball and 60,606 for football. For the first year its only tenant is the International League's Atlanta Crackers, until the Braves (moved from Milwaukee) and Falcons (NFL expansion team) move in the following year. The first pro football game at the stadium is a preseason contest between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Minnesota Vikings on August 14, 1965.
May, 1965: Not until the stadium is built does Atlanta decide to pursue a football team, and the city applies for both an NFL and AFL franchise.
June 7, 1965: Atlanta and life insurance company owner Rankin M. Smith are awarded an AFL franchise. But hearing of this, NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle gets on a plane and flies to Atlanta, making Smith a counter offer. Smith backs out of the AFL deal and takes the NFL offer. The AFL then goes to plan B, and the Miami Dolphins are born.
Aug. 18, 1965: The Beatles perform at Fulton County Stadium as part of their U.S. Tour. Tickets are $5.50 for the lower deck and $4.50 for upper deck.
August 29, 1965: The new franchise holds a contest to name the team, and among the entries are the Knights, Bombers, Rebels, Thrashers, Lancers, Firebirds, Fireballs and Thunderbirds. But Julia Elliot, a teacher from Griffin, GA, is one of about a dozen to suggest Falcons. Her winning essay: “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.”
Nov. 27, 1965: The Falcons are awarded the first pick in the NFL Draft, and choose University of Texas linebacker Tommy Nobis. The team also gets the final pick in each of the first five rounds, and is able to choose more players in a supplemental draft.
Aug. 1, 1966: In their first exhibition game, the Falcons lose to the Philadelphia Eagles, 9-7. Under head coach Norb Hecker and quarterback Randy Johnson (Texas A&I) the Falcons begin the regular season 0-9. This includes a 56-3 loss at Green Bay.
Nov. 20, 1966: The Falcons win their first game, 27-16, at the New York Giants. They finish the season 3-11.
Sept., 1967: The NFL Coastal Division is established, and the Falcons finish last out of four teams at 1-12-1. The Los Angeles Rams, Baltimore Colts and San Francisco 49ers are also in the division.
Jan. 30, 1968: Atlanta's first pick in the draft is defensive end Claude Humphrey of Tennessee State, who will go on to six Pro Bowls and the NFL Hall of Fame.
Sept., 1968: Norb Hecker starts the season 0-3 and is fired. Norm Van Brocklin takes over. Atlanta finishes 2–12.
Sept., 1971: The Falcons, still under Van Brocklin, record their first winning season -- 7-6-1. No playoffs, however.
Sept. 1972: The Falcons finish 7-7, in second place in the NFC West Division. San Francisco is first at 8-5-1. Bob Berry is the featured quarterback, throwing for 2,005 yards and 11 TDs. It'a the second straight season the Falcons are edged in the standings by the 49ers.
Sept., 1974: Norm Van Brocklin steps down as head coach midway through the season but stays on as general manager. Marion Campbell is the new head coach. The Falcons finish 3-11.
Jan. 28, 1975: The Falcons use their first pick in the NFL Draft to take quarterback Steve Bartkowski out of the University of California.
Jan., 1978: The Falcons make the playoffs for the first time behind Steve Bartkowski's 2,489 passing yards and 10 TDs. They win the Wild Card game vs. the Philadelphia Eagles Eagles, 14–13, but lose to the Dallas Cowboys, 27–20, in the divisional playoffs.
Jan., 1980: Falcons post a then-team record 12-4 season, including a nine-game win streak and their first NFC West title. But it's the final year before the rise of Joe Montana and the 49ers, also in their division. Atlanta lose in the first round of the playoffs, and again in strike-shortened 1982. Falcons coach Leeman Bennett is fired after the '82 loss.
April 23, 1989: Falcons draft cornerback Deion Sanders (Florida State) in the first round of the NFL Draft. He would play for the Falcons from 1989-93 and for the Atlanta Braves from 1991-94. He also played for four other NFL and four MLB teams.
April 21, 1991: The Falcons draft Brett Favre with the 33rd overall pick in the NFL Draft. But Favre plays in only two games for Atlanta, throwing four passes with no completions and two interceptions. Head coach Jerry Glanville, who disagreed with drafting him, said that it "would take a plane crash" for him to put Favre in a game. Favre is traded to Green Bay for the 1992 season.
Sept., 1991: Under head coach Jerry Glanville, the Falcons finish 10-6 and make the playoffs (losing to Washington in the divisional round). Glanville brings in the "red gun" offense and all-black uniforms.
Aug., 1992: The Falcons move into the new 74,000-seat Georgia Dome, which would last only 24 years until they would get another new stadium built right next to it.
Jan., 1994: Jerry Glanville is fired and June Jones takes his place as head coach.
Sep. 22, 1996: During a game with the Philadelphia Eagles, quarterback Jeff George engages in a heated sideline argument with head coach June Jones, all caught on TV. Jones suspends George for the remainder of the season and then trades him to the Oakland Raiders.
Jun., 1997: The Falcons hire Dan Reeves as head coach. Reeves had been head coach for the Denver Broncos and New York Giants before that.
Jan., 1998: The Falcons put together their then-greatest season behind quarterback Chris Chandler (Univ. of Washington) and running back Jamal Anderson. They go 14-2, including a 41-10 win over the New England Patriots, and win the NFC West. The Falcons beat the top-seeded Minnesota Vikings in the NFC Championship Game, 30–27, but lose in Super Bowl XXXIII to the Denver Broncos, 34-19.
Sept. 20, 1999: Running back Jamal Anderson suffers a season-ending knee injury at Dallas, and the Falcons finish 5–11. Anderson injures the knee again in 2001, ending his career.
April 21, 2001: The Falcons choose Michael Vick (Va. Tech) in the first round of the NFL Draft, the first time an African-American quarterback is taken with the top pick. The San Diego Chargers traded the No. 1 pick to the Falcons for first- and third-round picks that year.
Sept., 2002: Behind Vick -- 231-of-421 for 2,936 yards and 16 touchdowns and 113 carries for 777 yards and eight rushing touchdowns -- the Falcons finish 9-6-1 and make the playoffs. Vick sets a then-NFL record for rushing yards by a quarterback in a single game -- 173 vs. the Minnesota Vikings, on Dec. 1. Atlanta beats Green Bay, 27–7, in the first round of the playoffs and loses to the Philadelphia Eagles, 20-6, in the divisional round.
Sept., 2004: Vick passes for 2,313 yards, 14 touchdowns and rushes for 902 yards and three touchdowns as the Falcons go 11–5. In the playoffs Atlanta beats the St. Louis Rams in the first round and again loses to the Philadelphia Eagles in the divisional round. Vick signs a nine-year, $130 million contract extension on December 23.
Nov., 2006: Vick is fined $10,000 by the NFL for giving the middle finger to Falcons fans as he leaves the field following a 31-13 loss to the New Orleans Saints.
Aug., 2007: Vick pleads guilty to federal charges in the Bad Newz Kennels dog fighting investigation and is eventually sentenced to 23 months in prison. The NFL suspends him indefinitely without pay, and the Falcons recover $19.97 million of his $37 million signing bonus. The team releases him in June of 2008. Vick is convicted of "direct involvement in dog fighting, high-stakes gambling, and brutal executions of dogs." He admits to using much of his signing bonus to fund the business. Vick is forced to declare Chapter 11 bankruptcy. He is eventually signed by the Eagles in 2009.
Dec. 11, 2007: Without Vick, Joey Harrington becomes the starting quarterback. Rookie head coach Bobby Petrino resigns 13 games into the season to become head coach at the University of Arkansas, leaving no notice except a note in the locker room. Secondary coach Emmitt Thomas takes over. The Falcons finish 4–12.
Jan. 13, 2008: The Falcons hire former New England Patriots director of college football scouting Thomas Dimitroff as general manager, and two weeks later hire Jacksonville Jaguars assistant coach Mike Smith as head coach.
April 26, 2008: The Falcons take quarterback Matt Ryan (Boston College) with the third overall pick in the NFL draft.
Jan., 2010: The Falcons finish 13-3, but lose in the divisional round of the playoffs, 48-21, to the Green Bay Packers.
April 28, 2011: The Falcons trade with the Cleveland Browns to get the rights to draft Julio Jones (Alabama). They give up five draft picks in the deal -- none of the players sticking with the Browns. A critic of the deal is Bill Belichick, who says Jones' "hands are suspect." Atlanta finishes 10-6 but lose to the New York Giants in the first round of the playoffs, 24-2. It's the third straight playoff loss by Matt Ryan and Mike Smith.
Sept., 2012: The Falcons start the season 8-0 and finish 13-3. After beating the Seahawks in the playoffs (30-28), they lose to 49ers (28-24) in Atlanta.
Jan., 2014: The Falcons lose to the Carolina Panthers, 34-3, in the final game of the regular season to finish 6-10, and the following day Mike Smith is fired as head coach. Seattle Seahawks' defensive coordinator Dan Quinn his hired to replace him.
Feb., 2015: The NFL investigates the Falcons for using artificial noise in the Georgia Dome, and penalizes the team one draft pick. Atlanta starts 5-0 an finishes 8-8.
Jan., 2017: The Falcons finish 11-5, beat the Seattle Seahawks, 36–20, in the divisional round of the playoffs, and top the Green Bay Packers, 44-21, in the NFC Championship Game -- their final game in the Georgia Dome. Atlanta advances its second Super Bowl, Super Bowl LI.
Feb. 3, 2017: Michael Vick officially retires from football.
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