Atlanta Falcons, professional football team and one of five teams in the Western Division of the National Football Conference (NFC) of the National Football League (NFL). Under the league’s realignment plan, which will take affect in 2002, the Falcons will play in the South Division of the NFC. The Falcons play in the Georgia Dome and wear uniforms of black, red, silver, and white. The team’s name was inspired by a letter from schoolteacher Julia Elliott of Griffin, Georgia, who won a contest in 1965 to name the new franchise, writing: “The falcon is proud and dignified, with courage and fight. It is deadly and has a great sporting tradition.”
Under the direction of head coach Dan Reeves, the Falcons franchise captured its first NFC championship following the 1998 regular season. A group of seasoned veterans led the team, including quarterback Chris Chandler, linebacker Cornelius Bennett, and kicker Morten Andersen. Atlanta advanced to Super Bowl XXXIII, where they lost to the Denver Broncos.
Altanta was awarded an NFL franchise for the 1966 season. The team’s first head coach was Norb Hecker, a former assistant to the legendary Vince Lombardi of the Green Bay Packers. Linebacker Tommy Nobis was the team’s first draft pick; in 1966 he captured the NFL rookie of the year award.
During the 1960s and early 1970s the Falcons produced several top players, including Nobis, defensive end Claude Humphrey, and offensive tackle George Kunz. The club struggled, but bright spots included the play of running back Dave Hampton and quarterback Steve Bartkowski. Atlanta posted consecutive 4-10 win-loss records in 1975 and 1976 before improving during the late 1970s. Rookie head coach Leeman Bennett guided the Falcons to a 7-7 record in 1977. Atlanta boasted a strong defense that was anchored by Humphrey and cornerback Rolland Lawrence. In 1978 the Falcons made their playoff debut after posting a 9-7 record. Entering the playoffs as a wild card team, Atlanta beat out the Philadelphia Eagles before falling to the eventual Super Bowl champions, the Dallas Cowboys.
Atlanta returned to top form in 1980, winning the Western Division. Once again, however, the Falcons lost to the Cowboys in the second round of the playoffs. Bartkowski, running back Gerald Riggs, and center Jeff Van Note led the team as it returned to the playoffs in 1982. The playoff appearance was followed by three consecutive last-place finishes, despite Riggs’s 1,719 yards in 1985, which led all NFL rushers that year. The club endured eight straight losing seasons and four coaching changes from 1983 through 1990. In 1991 former Houston Oilers head coach Jerry Glanville ended the playoff drought by guiding the team to a 10-6 record and a wild card berth. A rejuvenated offense featured quarterback Chris Miller and wide receivers Michael Haynes and Andre Rison. Haynes’s average of 22.4 yards per catch led the NFL and was the league’s best since 1983. Another strong player on the team was cornerback Deion Sanders, who also played in the outfield for the Atlanta Braves of major league baseball.
June Jones, a former Falcons backup quarterback from the team’s 1978 playoff season, returned to Atlanta as head coach in 1994. A strict believer in a powerful, high-scoring offense, Jones stressed an aggressive game that allowed quarterback Jeff George to pass for 3,734 yards in 1994. A year later George passed for an NFL-best 4,143 yards as the team posted a 9-7 win-loss record. Atlanta went to the playoffs that year but lost in the first round to the Green Bay Packers. In 1996 the team dropped to a 3-13 record. After the 1996 season, Jones was replaced by former Denver Broncos head coach Dan Reeves.
In 1998 Atlanta posted a 14-2 win-loss record and captured the NFC Western Division title. Led by Bennett, Chandler, running back Jamal Anderson, and receiver Terance Mathis, the Falcons defeated the San Francisco 49ers and the Minnesota Vikings in the playoffs, and won the NFC championship. Atlanta met Reeves’s former team, the Broncos, in the Super Bowl, which the Broncos won, 34-19.
1999 Super Bowl XXXIII Lost to Denver Broncos, 34-19.
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