Since the team's first preseason game against Philadelphia at Atlanta Stadium (later Atlanta–Fulton County Stadium), the Falcons have become a mainstay in Atlanta's sports culture. Now playing at the Georgia Dome, the Falcons join the Atlanta Braves and Atlanta Hawks as professional sporting attractions in Georgia. The Falcons are part of the National Football Conference (NFC) South, along with the Carolina Panthers, New Orleans Saints, and Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Their logo is a black falcon with red accents, and the team colors are black, red, silver, and white.
After other attempts to place a professional team in Atlanta were unsuccessful, Rankin M. Smith, executive vice president of Life Insurance Company of Georgia, was awarded the franchise for $8.5 million. Football fans across the Southeast were overjoyed with the news, as evidenced by the more than 1,000 calls Smith received within twenty-four hours of acquiring the franchise. Ticket sales for the new club reached an NFL record of 45,000 tickets sold. The corporate name for the Atlanta franchise was registered as "Five Smiths, Inc." in honor of Smith's five children. Fans submitted suggestions for the new team's nickname in a contest, and while many fans recommended the falcon, Julia Elliott, a teacher from Griffin, was selected as the winner for her reasoning. She wrote, "The falcon is proud and dignified, with great courage and fight. It never drops prey. It is deadly and has a great sporting tradition."
The First Teams
During the supplemental draft in February 1966, the Falcons added forty-two players, and along with rookies, free agents, and hopefuls, Hecker opened training camp at Blue Ridge Assembly in Black Mountain, North Carolina, with 130 players. The first preseason game was held on August 1, 1966, before a crowd of 26,072 at Atlanta Stadium. The Falcons lost to the Philadelphia Eagles and also lost the first regular season game against the Los Angeles Rams before a home crowd of 54,418. The Falcons rallied after a nine-game losing streak to win their first game on November 30, 1966, defeating the New York Giants at Yankee Stadium with a score of 27-16.
Leeman Bennett took over as head coach in 1977 and established an NFL record with the least amount of points allowed (129) in a fourteen-game season. In his first season he led the Falcons to a 7-7 record, followed by a 9-7 record in 1978 and the first play-off appearance for the franchise. Under Bennett the Falcons reached the play-offs three times between 1978 and 1982.
The Falcons NFC Western Division title in 1980 was followed by a string of disappointing results from 1981 to 1997, in which the Falcons recorded only three winning seasons, in 1982, 1991, and 1995.
In 1991 the Falcons played their last game at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium and moved to the Georgia Dome, which holds 71,250 spectators and has played host to the Super Bowl and other sporting events, including college bowl games and the Southeastern Conference (SEC) championship game.
Falcons Taste Success
The 2004 season, under the guidance of head coach Jim Mora and with quarterback Michael Vick at the helm, had Falcons fans optimistic for the future of the franchise. The Falcons were 11-5, winning the NFC South Division title and appearing, for only the second time, in the NFC championship game. Though a rookie head coach, Mora was named 2004 NFC Coach of the Year.
The Falcons struggled during the next two seasons, however, and Mora was fired after the 2006 season, which ended with a record of 7-9. Bobby Petrino was named head coach for the 2007 season. In August star quarterback Vick pleaded guilty to involvement in an illegal dog-fighting ring. Vick was imprisoned, and Blank released him from his contract. Petrino left the team before the end of the season, which concluded with 4-12 record.
The Falcons concluded the 2010 season with a 13-3 record and defeated the Carolina Panthers to win the NFC South title once again. The team was subsequently chosen as the top seed in the NFC play-offs for the first time since 1980 but lost in the first round to the Green Bay Packers. In 2011 the Falcons finished the regular season with a record of 10-6.
William A. Schaffer and Lawrence S. Davidson, Economic Impact of the Falcons on Atlanta: 1972 (Atlanta: Atlanta Falcons, 1973).
Susan A. Kahrs, University of Georgia
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