Pictured in this photo: A future Hall of Famer. And, Tony Gonzalez, another future Hall of Famer.
The Falcons dress up in their 1966 replica uniforms tomorrow night as they play a huge game against the vaunted Baltimore Ravens. How ironic would it be if the new and improved Falcons made one of the biggest statements in team history, in front of a national audience, wearing the uniform that hung upon the bodies of one of the more shamed teams in sports history?
Since the beginning—back in 1966—the Atlanta Falcons franchise has been a bottom dweller, finishing countless seasons with losing records and committing embarrassing plays on a way too regular basis. Heck, their first ever kickoff was literally missed; the kicker completely whiffed on the ball.
Time didn't heal the Falcons. They never had back-to-back winning seasons in the 20th century. They made one Super Bowl appearance, in 1999, where they were dismantled by the Denver Broncos.
The franchise's best players in history consist of lesser names most fans won't remember. Tommy Nobis, Claude Humphrey, Steve Bartkowski, Jeff van Note and Jessie Tuggle round out the team's proudest. Of course Deion Sanders was around for a while. Eric Dickerson had a one year stint. Jamal Anderson was a household name for maybe a year.
Atlanta was where you went to end your career. If it wasn't that, it was a place you were desperate to get out of.
Overall, the Falcons only have three division championships. That's right. Three.
On top of everything else, it seemed the Atlanta Falcons had hit an all time low back in 2007. The Michael Vick scandal tore apart a city. Many fans began to come out and say they never really liked the guy anyways.
Vick flicked off his fans. He would give extremely disconnected post-game interviews. Fans began to claim he was a glorified running back who would never, ever win the Falcons a Super Bowl.
It even went so far that racism became a hugely disturbing element of the Atlanta team's dismantling. The Falcons' new coach, Bobby Petrino, was so uncomfortable with the job that he jumped ship, leaving the team halfway through the campaign in 2007.
Arthur Blank began to be criticized. Atlanta hired some random guy named Mike Smith. Nobody had ever heard of him.
Atlanta drafted Matt Ryan, a quarterback from Boston College whose "noodle" of an arm would get him absolutely nowhere in the fast and powerful NFL. They should have taken Glenn Dorsey, said many critics.
Then it got to gameday of 2008. Atlanta was opening up against the Detroit Lions, in what many fans were calling the "Toilet Bowl." The only articles on local news sites and in the Falcons sports section pertained to whether or not the game was going to blackout.
People were starting to worry all eight home games would black out in the 2008 year.
Then, in front of a half-capacity crowd in the old, rundown, depressing Georgia Dome, Matt Ryan threw his first professional pass.
With a modest crowd watching, Michael Jenkins caught the skinny post in stride and ran it 62 yards for a touchdown.
Since that play, the Falcons franchise has catapulted upwards. Atlanta eventually won that game 34-21, with Michael Turner breaking Gerald Riggs' single game rushing record for the franchise with 220 yards. Atlanta finished the 2008 season 11-5, and finished the 2009 season, despite injuries, at a respectable 9-7.
The curse had been lifted. Atlanta achieved back-to-back winning seasons.
Right now, the Atlanta Falcons franchise could not look any better. Mike Smith is currently 26-14 as a head coach. Matt Ryan has an outstanding 17-1 home record.
Roddy White, who was formerly labeled a bust, is now one of the best players in the league and is a few catches away from being the Falcons' all-time leading receiver.
Their backup running back, Jason Snelling, went from an under the radar draft pick to a fan favorite. Kroy Bierman, the Falcons' starting defensive end, came from Montana.
But the best part was the response from the fans. Never have the Falcons had a better fanbase. The Georgia Dome, which has been a sour subject amongst talks of new stadiums, is one of the loudest and toughest venues to play in the league.
All of a sudden, the "new stadium" talk has quieted, and rightfully so, considering Matt Ryan was one dropped pass to Roddy White in 2008 away from having a clean home record.
Sure, it's only halfway through the 2010 year, but I think it's safe to say the Falcons franchise has finally found a way to "Rise Up."
That's Right, I Said Rise Up
So you are wondering what that means? Samuel L. Jackson admitted his love for the Atlanta Falcons this offseason, showing off his enthusiasm for the upcoming year with a television promo for the Falcons. The commercial's message, "Rise Up," has stuck as the unofficial slogan for the Falcons. What other NFL franchise is backed by one of the most intensely respected celebrities in the world?
And There Is More Where That Came From
Not stopping there, the Falcons have a few more followers. Sevendust recently recorded a music video solely subject of Atlanta Falcons football. Also, the Falcons have had numerous songs made for them by random artists around the area, all of which are constantly blasting from tailgates before games.
John Clayton Likes Them...Enough To Believe They Are No. 1
John Clayton, an NFL analyst for ESPN, claims the Atlanta Falcons are heading to Arlington this winter for the 2010 Super Bowl, where they will face off in a rematch of opening day against the Steelers. Atlanta is currently 6-2, which is tied with a handful of teams for first place in the NFL standings. The Falcons are undefeated at home—a trend that Clayton insists will lead them to a 12-4 season and a Super Bowl berth.
Blue Collar Team, Blue Collar Attitude
The Atlanta Falcons could be the most likable NFL team, if a poll ever existed for that sort of thing. They have never been a thorn in anyone's side. It's a lot harder to hate on them when you can hate on the Patriots, Cowboys, Steelers and the Ochocinco-Ocho Uno Show.
But, the Atlanta Falcons don't have big headed players on their roster. Tony Gonzalez is a class act and serves as a post-game interview template. Ovie Mughelli might be the nicest guy you will ever meet not named Warrick Dunn.
Brian Finneran stands in as the tenured team leader, having played with Atlanta since 2001. Michael Turner's middle name is modest, Roddy White follows the thumper rule, even as Atlanta's most vocal player, and Matt Ryan might as well wear "Aw, Shucks" on his jersey nameplate.
Not to mention most fans of other teams likely still don't know the Falcons head coach's name or what he looks like. Atlanta never makes the news for anything other than winning. Considering what they had to go through in 2007, it's been more than a blessing.
This team doesn't make excuses. They don't have locker room disputes that make headlines. They have each other's backs. And there isn't one big name player on their defense. But they win anyways.
Their most exciting defensive player, Brent Grimes, stands around 5'7". He went to Shippensburg College. Does anyone know where that is?
The Falcons Are a No. 1 Player in the Community
The NFL pushes for teams to be constantly involved in community service, though no team does it better than the Falcons. Ovie Mughelli leads the charge as the Falcons most active leader in schools and charities. Ovie Mughelli and Curtis Lofton have even been up for service awards.
The team has recently been featured in a T.V. spot for NFL Play 60. It's a little odd, but it's a nice gesture nonetheless.
Stats Don't Lie
The Falcons are in the top tier in most NFL statistical categories:
8th in total offense
11th in passing offense
6th in rushing offense
1st in third-down conversions
5th in rushing defense
2nd in interceptions
The team runs the ball, stuffs the run and creates turnovers—three important traits of a winning football team.
Tomorrow night, the Atlanta Falcons play the Baltimore Ravens in what has become one of the biggest games in Atlanta's recent memory.
Matt Ryan has only lost one home game in 18 attempts. Can he make it 18 for 19? The game will be a battle of 2008 Draft class quarterbacks, as Joe Flacco leads the Ravens offense.
Plus, there will also be the matchup of future Hall-of-Fame linebacker Ray Lewis versus one of the best, young defensive players in the game in Curtis Lofton.
The Georgia Dome crowd should be huge. The game kicks off at 8 p.m. on NFL Network, or local My ATL T.V. for Georgia residents.
If you're a Falcons fan, I'm positive you are going to tune in. If you are not, you need to tune in and learn the names of this no-name team. No, not because they are potential superstar players.
You need to learn the names of the people on this team, because the group in fact has saved a franchise that was deep in decades of torture.
Not only did they save it, but they also rose up above the standards, and they will continue to do so.