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1998 Atlanta Falcons: Doing the Dirty Bird

Jason ButtContributor IMay 27, 2009

17 Jan 1999:  Jamal Anderson #32 of the Atlanta Falcons dances the dirty bird with coach Dan Reeves during the NFC Championship Game against the Minnesota Vikings at the H. H. H. Metrodome in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The Falcons defeated the Vikings 30-27. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Stockman  /Allsport

The Atlanta Falcons aren't known for having many great teams.

They've caused me a lot of despair over the years—something I can sympathize with fans of Cornell lacrosse after its choke job Monday.

But in my heart, the memories of the greatest Atlanta team still remains, non-tarnished unlike those Michael Vick years are now to me (sorry, I'm a dog lover).

With only one Super Bowl appearance in its 42-year history, there's no doubt which Atlanta team is the best. I probably don't even have to specifically name the team.

But I will, and it's the 1998 Dirty Birds.

This team took the NFL by storm. Nothing was expected after a 7-9 season in 1997 as, in my opinion, the league was underestimating former Atlanta coach Dan Reeves (could any coach have worse luck in a career?).

But Reeves knew better. He knew he had a good defense after his first campaign in '97 (significantly better than June Jones' 3-13 steaming pile of Jeff George tirade-laced crap in 1996).

And in Reeves' second year as the head coach of the Falcons, he made history. The team went 14-2 and won the NFC West (how did that ever make sense geographically?).

With the state of Georgia's first professional team (the University of Georgia) struggling throughout the 90s, the Peach State finally had something to be proud of in sports (let's be honest: no one cared about Georgia Tech's 1990 National Championship. Even the AP voters gave Colorado an undeserved title).

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This Falcons team was special though. They ranked first in takeaway to giveaway ratio. Their defense was second against the run—led by big Shane Dronett up front, with linebackers Jessie Tuggle and Keith Brooking stuffing running backs for little gain.

Safety Eugene Robinson (I know—insert religious hypocrite picks up a prostitute joke here) had a spectacular year too. And Ray Buchanan was still known as "Big Play Ray," as opposed to "Giving Up The Big Play Ray." 

The defense was stout, no doubt. Statistically, they were the best defense since the 1977 Gritz Blitz.

But this offense also turned heads. And no one expected that in the preseason.

Jamal Anderson, before giving adequate analysis on ESPN and being busted for cocaine possession, was the leader of the group—the Dirty Birds frontman. Don't lie, even if you were a 49ers or Saints fan in those days you could appreciate the Dirty Bird dance.

Anderson ran for 1,846 yards in the 1998 season, setting the franchise single-season record. He was a treat to watch, breaking tackles (as well as ankles) and scoring touchdowns—14 to be exact.

With all the success, the Falcons were still given no chance to beat NFC top-seed Minnesota. In fact, the Vikings were 11-point favorites after its offense drubbed opponents all year (which was nasty with Randall Cunningham, Cris Carter and Randy Moss).

But sometimes, you need a little luck for dreams to happen.

Up 27-20, and after an Atlanta drive stalled, the Vikings drove down the field to set up a Gary Anderson 38-yard field goal.

Keep in mind, Anderson hadn't missed a field goal all season. This should have been over and Atlanta should have never reached a Super Bowl.

But Cornell lacrosse must have taken a cue from Anderson, because what should have been a simple routine to close out a game turned into disaster.

Anderson missed wide left, giving Atlanta hope.

Quarterback Chris Chandler took his team down the field and found Terance Mathis in the end zone for the tying score, making it 27-27—effectively sending the game to overtime.

On Atlanta's second overtime possession, Chandler drove the Falcons 70 yards into field goal range and Morten Andersen kicked the game-winner. In improbable fashion, the Dirty Birds did it. They finally made the Super Bowl.

Sure, Atlanta lost Super Bowl XXXIII to Denver. And quite frankly, as much as I hoped, I knew the Falcons didn't have much of a chance (thanks a lot, Ray Goff, for minimizing Davis' talent at Georgia).

But this Atlanta team was a pleasure to watch. And this team continues to make me smile during years of misery—such as Arthur Blank firing Reeves like an idiot after Michael Vick was injured in the 2003 preseason, considering the backups that played were Doug Johnson and Kurt Kittner (yeah, I'm still bitter).

But the 1998 Dirty Birds remain the best.

But don't worry, I'm still holding out hope that a better team emerges in the coming years.   

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