The Atlanta Falcons are headed into their 47th season in the NFL. By most accounts, it’s been a rather unsuccessful time in the league. Admittedly the first 42 years could be looked at as “the painful growing period” of the Atlanta franchise, having limited pockets of success, but mostly mired in obscurity, poor decisions, and unwanted headlines.
However the last four years have brought new hope to a city that is known for rising from it’s own ashes and beginning anew. For the first time in Falcons history, there is a winning tradition, and expectations of more than just pulling a “Big Ben” play out of their asses every once in a while. So with this fresh new outlook, I think it’s time we looked back at some of the great players who got us to where we are by putting together an All-Atlanta Falcons team, decade by decade, and then finally, the all-time team.
More than just compiled statistics went into this pantheon of players. I looked at what they contributed to the team, and to the community in Atlanta. How crucial they might have been to team chemistry. How sad (or glad) fans were to see them leave town for another team. All these factors and more were taken into account. We’ll name starers and reserve players for all the skill positions, and then two defensive players, two offensive lineman, a tight end, a kick/punt returner, a kicker, a punter, and a head coach.
Today is our first installment. Since the Falcons didn’t enter the league until 1966, we’ll combine the decades of the 1960′s and 1970′s into one.
QB: Starting – Bob Berry (1968-1972), Reserve – Randy Johnson (1966-1970) Berry was quarterback during the Norm Van Brocklin era in Atlanta. He guided Atlanta to their first non-losing season in 1972. Johnson had the unfortunate task of being the Falcons first ever starting quarterback. He suffered through the pain of being a fledgling franchise, and led Atlanta to their first ever victory against the New York Giants
RB: Starting – Dave Hampton (1972-1976), Reserve – Jim “Cannonball” Butler (1968-1972): Hampton led the Falcons in rushing for four straight years, and was known as a punishing runner. Butler, who came over from the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1968, was built exactly like his nickname, and rolled over linemen in much the same way. Butler represented Atlanta in the Pro Bowl in 1969.
WR: Starting – Alfred Jenkins (1975-1983), Reserve – Ken Burrow (1971-1975): Jenkins was Roddy White before Roddy White was. He was that guy who would go up and get the ball no matter where it was thrown. Ken Burrow only played five years in the league, all with Atlanta. He was considered undersized for the position, but never let that keep him from leading the team in yards for three of his five season.
TE: Jim Mitchell (1969-1979): Mitchell was one of the iron men of the early Falcons, and didn’t play with any other team. He was named to two Pro Bowls (1969, 1972) and went on to coach at Morehouse College, and Morris Brown College in Atlanta after he retired from the NFL
OL: Dave Scott (1976-1982), George Kunz (1969-1974): Scott was known through the league as one of the best right tackles in the game, and had a reputation for being nasty in the trenches. Kunz became one of the top offensive linemen in the league during his time in Atlanta, being named to the Pro Bowl 8 times in his career.(1969, 1971-’77)
DEF: Tommy Nobis (1966-1976), Greg Brezina (1968-1979): Nobis is the consummate Falcon. He was Atlanta’s first ever draft choice, and had a reputation around the NFL for being able to lay just about anyone flat on the turf. Brezina played for 12 seasons with the Falcons, and he was selected to one Pro Bowl, and was named Falcons MVP by his teammates one season.
KR/PR: Rolland Lawrence (1973-1980): Lawrence was not only a dangerous kick returner, but also a first-class left cornerback. He averaged 23 yards per return on kickoffs, and 6.7 yards per return on punts.
K: Nick Mike-Mayer (1973-1977): If for no other reason, he’d have been picked just for his name. A Chris Berman favorite.
P: John James (1972-1981): Nailer of the coffin corners
Coach: Norm Van Brocklin (1968-1974): Van Brocklin took over as head coach of the Falcons in week 4 of 1968, replacing Norb Hecker, who had started the season with three losses. He led the team to its first winning season in 1971 with a 7-6-1 record, then nearly got Atlanta into the playoffs in 1973 with a 9-5 record.
So there you have it. The Atlanta Falcons 1960′s-1970′s all-decade team. On Saturday we’ll present our 1980′s team.
Is there someone you think was left off, or shouldn’t be on this list? Feel free to comment below!