The NFL-AFL Merger and the Birth of the Super Bowl

         Courtesy of Austin Kirk

In the late 1950s, a group of wealthy businessmen led by Lamar Hunt and Kenneth S. “Bud” Adams Jr. approached officials of the National Football League (NFL) about acquiring expansion franchises.  NFL officials scoffed at the notion, so Hunt and Adams came up with an alternative.  The two men helped launch the American Football League (AFL) in 1959 and play began in 1960 with eight franchises:  Dallas Texans (Hunt’s franchise), Houston Oilers (Adams’ franchise), Boston Patriots, Buffalo Bills, New York Titans, Oakland Raiders, Denver Broncos and Los Angeles Chargers.  AFL officials negotiated a television contract with the American Broadcasting Company (ABC) and conducted a separate draft from the NFL.  AFL owners began luring college draftees to the AFL with contracts much greater than offered by the NFL.  For example, former Louisiana State University player Billy Cannon had to choose between an offer from the NFL’s Los Angeles Rams and the AFL’s Houston Oilers.  The Rams offered him a three-year contract worth $30,000 while the Oilers offered him a three-year contract worth $99,000.  Not surprisingly, Cannon took the Houston offer.

While some other college players chose to play in the AFL in the early 1960s, the NFL still had the upper hand in terms of fan support and the overall quality of the players.  Attendance in many AFL cities suffered and the league struggled to survive until a lucrative contract with the National Broadcasting Company (NBC) offered an infusion of much needed cash.  As the AFL franchises stabilized, more and more college players and NFL veterans chose to play in the AFL.  A bidding war for players ensued and player salaries increased in both leagues.

Tex Schramm, the general manager of the NFL’s Dallas Cowboys, representing several NFL owners in 1966 set up a secret meeting with Hunt to discuss a merger between the two leagues.  Schramm and Hunt met several times in Dallas to discuss increasing player salaries and players jumping between leagues.  By the end of May, the two men had laid the ground work for the merger of the NFL and AFL.  On June 8, 1966, the two leagues announced a formal merger.  The leagues agreed to hold a single players draft beginning in 1967 and the champions of the two leagues would meet in a championship game beginning in January 1967.  A common schedule based on all the teams involved in the merger would start with the 1970 season, thereby completing the merger.

The game between the NFL and AFL champions became known initially as the “AFL-NFL World Championship” game. The name stood until the fourth championship game between the two leagues.  That game in 1970 matched the NFL’s Minnesota Vikings and the AFL’s Kansas Chiefs.  Lamar Hunt moved the Texans from Dallas to Kansas City in 1963.  Hunt changed the name to Chiefs in honor of Kansas City mayor H. Roe “The Chief” Bartle, who was instrumental in convincing Hunt to move the team to Kansas City.  The fourth, and last, AFL-NFL championship game became officially known as the Super Bowl.  Hunt is credited with the origin of the name.

The Kansas City Star in July 1966 quoted Hunt referring to the game as the Super Bowl.  Hunt said he inadvertently came up with the name after watching his two children play with a toy called a Super Ball.  According to Hunt, the “Bowl” part of the moniker naturally came to him based on the college bowl games of the time, namely the Rose Bowl.  Later that year, newspapers such as the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and the Washington Post all began to refer to the championship game as the Super Bowl.  The name has been incorporated retroactively to apply to the first three championship games.

Officials from the AFL and NFL decided to number the championship games with the first one in 1967.  This decision was predicated on the need to avoid confusion because of the fact that the championship game would be played in a different calendar year than the regular season.  So for example, Super Bowl 4 was played in 1970 after the 1969 season.

Hunt is also credited with the use of Roman numerals as part of the official name.  This practice began with Super Bowl V between the Baltimore Colts and the Dallas Cowboys.  Hunt stated that the use of Roman numerals made the game “much more magisterial.” NFL officials wanted to give the Super Bowl a more prestigious feel in order to attract more viewers, so Hunt’s Roman numeral idea seemed appropriate.  Like the term “Super Bowl,” Roman numerals have been incorporated retroactively for the first four championship contests.

The current state of the NFL and the Super Bowl owes much to Lamar Hunt.  His vision and timely thoughts helped the NFL and its championship game become the multi-billion dollar business that it is today.  As you sit in front of a television watching Super Bowl LI, remember the man that made all of this happen.  Cheers Mr. Hunt!

Is Atlanta a Bad Sports Town?

              Courtesy of Daniel Mayer

For years, members of the national media have accused Atlanta of being a bad sports town.  Their definition seems strictly based on professional sports (the four major sports: football, baseball, basketball and ice hockey) and the lack of sell outs or near sell outs for Falcons, Braves and Hawks games.  These media naysayers also love to point out that Atlanta has lost two National Hockey League franchises.  Their definition of a sports town does not include college sports, sports participation per capita, or hosting sports events.  However, my definition does.  This article will attempt to define Atlanta as a sports town.  I will use documented facts as much as possible to support my statements but sometimes my points will be based on observations developed as a 45+ year Atlanta resident and sports fan.  Let’s examine Atlanta as a sports town using the variables of sports participation, hosting sports events, college sports, and professional sports.

City sports participation per capita must be one variable to consider.  Actual numbers are unavailable, but in Atlanta, people play and watch sports from the earliest days they can walk until well into their twilight years.  Soccer, baseball, softball, karate, football, basketball, wrestling, swimming, running, tennis, golf, lacrosse, ice hockey and horseback riding are all examples of sports offered in the Atlanta metro area at six years of age or younger. This is by no means an exhaustive list. The point is Atlantans become involved in sports at an early age, especially outdoor sports because of the temperate weather.  Atlanta boys and girls continue to participate in sports well into adulthood.  For example, the Atlanta area, according to, lists well over 100 golf courses that offer year-round golf to players of all skill levels.  For tennis lovers, the United States Tennis Association Atlanta Chapter has the largest number of adult and junior team tennis programs in the country.  The Atlanta Track Club has a membership of over 27,000 and hosts more than 30 events a year.

You can drive or walk anywhere in the metro area and see people of all ages participating in a sport they love. While sports per capita participation must be one variable of a sports town’s measure, others must be considered.

Hosting sporting events has long been a point of pride for Atlantans.  The city hosted the 1996 summer Olympic Games.  Only Los Angeles and St. Louis can make that distinction among American cities.  Atlanta has also hosted two Super Bowls (one more in 2019), four National Collegiate Athletic Association Men’s Basketball Final Fours (another in 2020), 23 Southeastern Conference football championship games (current contract runs through 2026), 49 Peach Bowls (next year’s Peach Bowl will host the College Football Playoff title game), 47 Peachtree Road Races (considered the largest 10-kilometer race in the world), and 16 Tour Championships (the Professional Golf Association’s end of season tournament).  Additionally, the city has hosted two Major League Baseball All-Star games, one National Hockey League All-Star game, and two National Basketball Association All-Star games.  Furthermore, the city has hosted numerous other professional and amateur golf events, professional car races, international soccer matches, professional tennis tournaments, and national/international amateur Olympic sports tournaments.  Few cities in the world can match Atlanta’s resume when it comes to hosting sports events.

As for college sports, this has always been a passion for Atlantans, especially college football.  Until the mid-1960s, the city had no professional sports, only college sports.  Atlanta residents flock to games all over the Southeast on autumn Saturdays:  to Athens for University of Georgia games, Auburn for Auburn University games, Knoxville for University of Tennessee games, Columbia for University of South Carolina games, Clemson for Clemson University games, Tuscaloosa for University of Alabama games and so on. Sell outs are the norm.

Fans often pay thousands of dollars just for the right to buy season tickets, and weddings are rarely scheduled in the fall for fear that no one would attend.  College football is a religion in the South and Atlanta is in the thick of it all.  Chick-fil-A sponsors at least one game per year in Atlanta to kick off the season, the city hosts the aforementioned SEC Championship games, and the Peach Bowl is part of the College Football Playoff rotation.  Furthermore, the College Football Hall of Fame resides in Atlanta.  Arguably, no city in the United States has the passion for college football that Atlanta does.

While college football reigns supreme over other college sports, Atlantans support basketball, baseball, soccer, tennis, golf, lacrosse, track and field, gymnastics and just about any sport associated with their alma mater.  Going back to their college for a sports event has been a staple of Atlantans since the early 20th century, which leads to the final variable associated with the definition of a sports town—professional sports.

Professional sports came to Atlanta with the Falcons and the Braves in 1966, the Hawks in 1968, the Flames in 1972 and the Thrashers in 1999.  The combined seasons for the five teams amount to around 170.  At this point (the Falcons may bring home a title with a win in Super LI), the teams have won one championship—the 1995 Braves.  A lack of championships will not endear fans to a team, in my humble opinion.  Professional sports in cities in the Northeast and Midwest have fans that live and die with their teams.  These teams have been around much longer than Atlanta teams and have won championships.  Again, championships produce diehard fans.  The major exception to that would be the Chicago Cubs.  Their fans supported them even though the Cubs had not won a title in over a hundred years.  Of course, the Cubs finally won a title this past season.  However, the general rule is that championships create a loyal fan base.

The national media chastises Atlanta fans for not supporting the local teams.  They point to a lack of sell outs for the Falcons, Hawks and Braves, even when the teams are having winning seasons.  Atlanta fans are fickle when it comes to the pro teams.  I argue that when the teams are winning the fans turn out to support them.  The 2016 Falcons averaged about 70,000 per game, around 98% capacity.  Yet, when the Falcons are having losing seasons, attendance drops off.  That is the same for the Hawks and the Braves.  When the teams are having winning seasons and they look like they will make the playoffs, fans will come to the games.  If not, the fans will choose to spend their entertainment money elsewhere.

Braves fans, in particular, have been skewered in the media.  The Braves won 14 division titles but only one World Series, the last World Series appearance came in 1999.  Fans came out to the ballpark in droves during the 1990s but would not sell out playoff games in the Wild Card or Division rounds as the seasons progressed.  The fans were waiting to see if the Braves reached the league championship series.  Frankly, Braves fans were spoiled.  They reached the playoffs every year baseball was played from 1991 to 2005.  This same phenomenon happened in New York with Yankees fans in the 1950s.  Even though the playoffs consisted of just the World Series back then, Yankee Stadium did not sellout for every game.  The Yankees participated in seven World Series in the 1950s.  So boredom with winning does exist.

The Braves have not won a playoff series since 2001, and the fans have not bought every ticket to every playoff game since then.  My guess though is that with the new stadium, SunTrust Park, opening in a few months and a team that will compete for a playoff spot, the fans will return.

To be honest, Atlanta sports fans do not support the pro teams as in other cities.  Part of that may be the transient nature of the city.  People move to Atlanta from all over the country and bring their allegiances to other teams with them.  Many will move on from Atlanta and the process will start over again.  It also cannot be overstated that winning titles enhances the loyalty of the fan base and Atlanta has but one.

As for the Flames and Thrashers, the Flames probably came to Atlanta a bit early.  The 1970s did not witness the great influx of people from other areas of the country that the 1990s did.  Ice hockey was not a sport southerners understood or participated in with significant numbers as they did with sports such as football and baseball. With the economic woes of the time, Flames owner Tom Cousins had little choice but to sell the team.

However, the Thrashers came to Atlanta when the city had residents originally from hockey towns and youth hockey was thriving.  The problem was the ownership group.  The Atlanta Spirit group bought the Hawks and Thrashers as a package deal from Ted Turner.  The group had very little interest in hockey and refused to put a competitive team on the ice.  Atlanta hockey fans became disinterested with a perpetually losing team and would not support it.  The Spirit group finally sold it to a consortium from Winnipeg.  I firmly believe that if the Thrashers had owners who cared about hockey, the team would still be here today.

When you take into consideration the aforementioned variables, Atlanta is a great sports town.  Atlanta excels in sports participation, hosting sports events and college sports.  The city does not score as high on the professional sports variable, but a few championships would enhance the marks.

Frankly, who cares what the national media think?  Cheers Atlanta!

The Atlanta Falcons: Super Bowl Champions?

I call myself a fan of the Atlanta Falcons and have been such for just over 40 years.   Which is pretty good since the franchise is in their 51st season.  Oh sure, I could have picked the New England Patriots (but they actually sucked pre-Belichick and pre-Brady) or the Green Bay Packers or the Pittsburgh Steelers or the Dallas Cowboys, but that would have been too easy.  I figured I live in Atlanta so why not pull for the home team. Now, over those 40+ years I have witnessed much failure and little success.  A quick tale of the tape shows that the Falcons have won six Division titles, one National Football Conference (NFC) championship (1998) and no National Football League (NFL)–Super Bowl–championships.  I would also be remiss if I did not add that the organization has had one player inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame as a Falcon—Claude Humphrey in 2014.

Satrurday, the Falcons will play the Seattle Seahawks in the NFC divisional playoffs.  The Dirty Birds finished 11-5, won their division, and garnered the number two seed in the NFC playoffs.  Vegas oddsmakers have established the Falcons as a 5 point favorite in the Georgia Dome on Saturday.  However, the Falcons lost to this same Seattle team earlier in the year, albeit after a bit of controversy. Still, Atlanta seems to have a good chance to win the game and a fair chance to bring home the city’s first NFL title.  After all, they have one of the most prolific offenses in the history of the NFL.  Yet, I am uneasy.  I am skeptical of their chances against Seattle. I am somehow expecting the Falcons to pull out defeat from the jaws of victory.  As any long-time Falcons supporter (yes, more than a few of us exist) will tell you—we have witnessed too many Falcon playoff horror stories.

As a backdrop, please know that Atlanta is 7-12 all time in playoff games.  Though, it seems much worse than that.  I attended the first game after the 1978 season.  Yes, it took the Falcons twelve years to make their first playoff appearance.  That should have tipped me off right there, but I was young and stupid (now, I am much older and a little less stupid, mainly because my lovely wife has enlightened me a bit).  Anyway, Atlanta won 14-13 when the Philadelphia punter, subbing for the injured placekicker, missed a 34-yard field goal with 17 seconds to go in the game.  My thoughts simply were that we were lucky to win the game and had no inkling that the Falcons would break our hearts over and over again.  We lost the next week in Dallas to the Cowboys, 27-20, after leading 20-13 at halftime.  However, I wasn’t jaded yet.

That feeling began to form after the 1980 season.  Atlanta posted a 12-4 record and won its first division title.  The Birds hosted Dallas in the divisional playoffs with visions of a Super Bowl title firmly implanted in my brain.  With Atlanta leading 24-10 going into the third quarter, I was feeling pretty good.  However, we gave up three touchdowns in the fourth quarter, including the game winner with 47 seconds to go.   That game initiated an oft-repeated mixture of feelings: frustration, anger and despair.

After the 1982 strike-shortened season when it seemed the whole league made the playoffs, my Falcons decided to flush the season with a 30-24 loss to the Minnesota Vikings.  At that point, I could have cared less because the strike had left me a little embittered with professional football.

I should have cared more because the Falcons would not make the playoffs again until 1991.  For years, I forgot Atlanta actually had an NFL team, and frankly, I think many Americans believed the same.  But lo and behold a brash fellow by the name of Deion Sanders, Prime Time, entered the Atlanta sports scene and helped lead both the Falcons and the Braves back to the playoffs.  If I had a boy at this time I would have named him either Deion or Prime Time, but I didn’t, so let’s move on.  The Falcons actually won a playoff game in 1991 by defeating the hapless New Orleans Saints, 27-20.  However, the Birds were face-planted the next week in D.C. by the Redskins 24-7.  All in all, I felt pretty good to be a Falcons fan and Deion helped the Braves go to the World Series.  Maybe I’ll name my next dog Prime Time.

While the Braves were becoming the Team of the ‘90s, the Falcons just struggled.   Deion left for greener pastures, and who could blame him?  The Falcons made the playoffs again in 1995 but decided to freeze up in Green Bay as the Packers blasted the Birds, 37-20.   Just as I was pushing the Falcons deeper into the abyss of my mind, Fate laid her hands on the Dirty Birds in 1998.  After eking out a 20-18 home playoff victory over the San Francisco 49’ers, Atlanta somehow defeated the heavily favored Minnesota Vikings up there.   Normally dependable placekicker Gary Anderson missed a chip shot field goal that allowed the Falcons to tie the game on a Chris Chandler to Terance Mathis touchdown reception with 57 seconds to go in regulation.  Morten Andersen nailed a 38 yard field goal in overtime to secure Atlanta’s first Super Bowl berth.  I took special delight in the fact that Atlanta defeated Minnesota in that disgrace of a building, the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome.  The 1991 Braves lost four times in that god forsaken place to the Twins during the World Series.  Karma, man!

Just as I was feeling some love for the Dirty Birds and believing they might actually win a championship, Fate kicked us in the posterior this time.  You see, we had an All-Pro safety by the name of Eugene Robinson.  The day before the Super Bowl, Robinson received an award given annually to a player who best exemplifies outstanding character and leadership.  Late that evening, Robinson celebrated by soliciting an undercover police officer posing as a prostitute.  As you can imagine that did not go well for ole Eugene or the Falcons.  After getting out of jail in the early morning of Super Bowl day, Eugene lined up in his safety position and John Elway and the rest of the Denver Broncos beat him like a rented mule.    A mantra of mine sprung forth as a result of this defeat:  Same Ole Falcons! Yep, just when you start to believe, they do something that will make you puke.

And so we move on to the Michael Vick era.  Atlanta finally made it back to the playoffs in Vick’s second season with Atlanta.  Stunningly, he led the Birds to a victory over Green Bay in Lambeau Field after the 2002 season.  Up until that time, Green Bay had never lost a playoff game there.  Of course, just as I was revving up the Falcons love meter, Atlanta and Vick spit the bit the next week in frigid Philly.  Still, I had thoughts that the Falcons were about to embark on a new era–a time of consistent playoff appearances and a much-coveted Super Bowl title or two or three.

Vick breaks his leg before the 2003 season but returns to form in 2004 to lead the Falcons back to the playoffs.  After routing the St. Louis Rams at home, Vick returned to Waterloo the next week and the Falcons were again caged in Philly.  Yet, I still had hope that the Falcons were close to going on a long championship run.  Those hopes were dashed when the Falcons could not make it back to the playoffs the next two years and Vick checked in to Leavenworth after a conviction on dog fighting charges in 2007.  At that point, I washed my hands of those filthy Falcons.

Enter Matt Ryan.  Ryan performed admirably as a rookie in 2008 and the Falcons made it back to the playoffs only to see Ryan throw two costly interceptions in a loss to the Arizona Cardinals.  I became hopeful again.  Ryan was just a rookie, so better times were ahead, or so I thought.  What I didn’t know at the time was that Ryan would have trouble winning in the playoffs and would commit horrific turnovers that would lead to those losses.

The Falcons missed the playoffs the next year.  Yep, same ole Falcons.  And guess what, the hapless Saints won the freaking Super Bowl.  Are you kidding me?

However, Ryan and the Birds soared to a 13-3 record in 2010 and secured the number one seed for the playoffs.  Oh happy, happy, joy, joy!  Surely, this will be the year.  Nope.  Ryan throws two interceptions and loses a fumble.  The Packers boat race the Falcons, 48-21, in Atlanta.  Honk if you didn’t score for the Packers in that game!  Same ole, stupid Falcons!

We made it back to the playoffs the next season.  Ryan commits no turnovers!  We score two points.  We lose to the New York Giants.  Same ole Falcons.

Then, the 2012 season unfolds. The Falcons go 13-3 and secure the number one seed again.  We open with Seattle and jump out to a 20-0 halftime lead.  Game over, right?  Wrong!  The Falcons offense went comatose and Seattle scored three touchdowns in the fourth quarter to take a 28-27 lead with 31 seconds left.  Another Falcons choke?  Not this time. Matty Ice led the team down the field, kicker Matt Bryant booted a 49-yard field goal with eight seconds to go and the Falcons held on.  Again, with the thoughts of a championship fresh in my mind, Atlanta proceeded to waste another healthy halftime lead in the NFC championship game.  They got the ball down to the San Francisco 10 yard line late in the game but gave it back to the 49’ers on downs.  The Falcons fought hard but lost 28-24.  Maybe this was the sign of good things to come.

Nope.  The Falcons fell apart over the next two seasons and the organization fired its all-time winningest coach, Mike Smith.  Same ole Falcons.  Just shoot me!

Enter Dan Quinn.  Arthur Blank hired Quinn as his new head coach after the 2014 season.  Quinn came from the ultra-successful Seattle organization. While the 2015 season was a bust, the 2016 season saw the Falcons finish with the aforementioned 11-5 record against one of the toughest schedules in the league.

So now it’s time to see if the Falcons have changed. Will they finally win that elusive championship?  Or will they revert back to those same ole Falcons.  First up–Seattle.  After that, who knows?  If we can’t beat Seattle, it’s a moot point.

I am cautiously optimistic about the Seattle game.  I honestly believe Atlanta has the better team, but I believed that before Dallas beat us in 1980, Green Bay killed us in 2010 and San Francisco beat us in 2012.  I have seen too many collapses over the years and can’t get this image of Ryan committing costly turnovers out of my head. I want so badly to believe, but the Falcons have never won a championship in 51 years.  Like a lot of Atlanta fans, I am hoping for the best but expecting the worst.  Please don’t be these same ole Falcons.  Please. Please.

Short History of the Atlanta Falcons

Courtesy of Albert Herring

Courtesy of Albert Herring

The Atlanta Falcons joined the National Football League (NFL) as an expansion team in 1965.  NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle offered the franchise to Rankin Smith Sr. on June 30, 1965 in exchange for $8.5 million, the highest price in NFL history for a franchise to that date.  The NFL granted the Falcons the first pick in the 1966 draft and the franchise chose Tommy Nobis, a linebacker from the University of Texas. Smith hired Norb Hecker, an assistant under Green Bay legend Vince Lombardi, as the first coach and the team lost its first regular season game to the Los Angeles Rams 19-14 on September 11, 1966 in Atlanta Stadium.  And so, the Falcons began their journey as one of the least successful franchises in NFL history.

Hecker lasted three games into the 1968 season before Smith fired him after the coach compiled a record of 4-26-1.  Smith then hired Norm Van Brocklin, who lasted eight games into the 1974 season before receiving the axe.  Van Brocklin’s ledger: 39-48-3.  Marion Campbell became next man up.  He lasted through five games into the 1976 season, walking away with a 6-19 record.  Leeman Bennett stepped to the fore-front at the beginning of the 1977 season and led the Falcons to their first playoff game (a 14-13 win over the Philadelphia Eagles) in 1978, and their first Division title in 1980.  Unfortunately for Falcons fans, both playoff runs ended with losses to the Dallas Cowboys.   Bennett’s tenure with the Falcons ended with another playoff loss after the strike-shortened 1982 season, but he became one of only four Falcons coaches who left with a winning record, 46-41.  The next 15 years entrenched the Falcons as one of the worst franchises in NFL history as a litany of coaches came and went while compiling a record of 79-147-1, a .350 winning percentage.

Dan Reeves took the helm in 1997 and led the franchise to its only Super Bowl appearance after the 1998 season.  The team lost to the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XXXIII, 34-19, without star safety Eugene Robinson who was arrested earlier that day for soliciting an undercover police officer posing as a prostitute.

Reeves remained the head coach after Arthur Blank bought the franchise from the Smith family on December 6, 2001.  Reeves proceeded to guide the Falcons to the playoffs in 2002 behind first-year starting quarterback Michael Vick.  Vick broke his leg during the 2003 preseason, the Falcons lost seven straight games during the regular season, and Blank fired Reeves.  Reeves left with a record of 49-59-1.

Jim Mora took over the reins in 2004 and Vick returned as the starting quarterback.  The Falcons won their third Division title, defeated the St. Louis Rams 47-17 in the Divisional playoffs, but lost in the NFC Championship game to the Philadelphia Eagles, 27-10.  Mora would not achieve another winning season in Atlanta and in 2006 professed his dream job of head coach at the University of Washington.  After a 7-9 record that year, Blank gave Mora the opportunity to pursue his dream job after terminating Mora’s employment with the Falcons.

Bobby Petrino accepted Blank’s offer to become the Falcons’ 13th head coach.  Before the 2007 season, Vick pleaded guilty to dog-fighting charges in Virginia and would never play for Atlanta again.  Petrino resigned without notice after 13 games to begin a career at the University of Arkansas.

Yet, the Falcons would enjoy their best five-year run in franchise history from 2008 to 2012.  Mike Smith became head coach, Thomas Dimitroff took over as general manager, and Matt Ryan became the third overall pick in the 2008 NFL Draft.  The Falcons finished 11-5 that year but lost in the first round of the playoffs to the Arizona Cardinals, 30-24.  While not making the playoffs in 2009, the team finished 9-7 and for the first time in franchise history attained back-to-back winning seasons.  The Falcons stormed back in 2010 with a 13-3 record, their fourth Division title and the top seed in the National Football Conference (NFC) playoffs.  However, the Green Bay Packers pasted the Falcons in the Georgia Dome, 48-21.  The next season, the Falcons again made the playoffs before falling to the New York Giants, 24-2, in the NFC Wild Card game.  In 2012, the Falcons enjoyed their best season since the 1998 Super Bowl campaign.  The team went 13-3, beat Seattle in the Divisional round of the playoffs (30-28), for Smith’s only playoff win, and lost to San Francisco in the NFC championship game, 28-24, after a fourth-down pass from the San Francisco 10-yard line fell incomplete in the waning moments of the game.

The 2013 and 2014 Falcons compiled a 10-22 record, which ultimately led to Smith’s demise.  Blank fired the coach after the 2014 season.  Still, Smith left as the winningest coach in franchise history, 60-36.  Not long after Smith’s termination, Blank hired Dan Quinn to coach the team.  Time will tell if the decision to hire Quinn was a shrewd one or another in a long line of poor management decisions that have plagued the franchise from its inception.

The Falcons are arguably the worst franchise in NFL history.  The team is about to embark on its 50th season and yet the numbers do not lie.  After 49 years of play, the team compiled a record of 322-424-6, 7-12 in the playoffs.  The franchise owns five Division titles, one Conference championship, one Super Bowl appearance, one Hall of Fame inductee (Claude Humphrey), and zero, I repeat, zero, NFL Championships.  To borrow a phrase from former San Francisco 49er coach and current University of Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh, “Who has it better than us?”  For Falcons fans, just about every other franchise.  Falcons Rise Up!