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There's a big change as  Atlanta Falcons go into this week's draft. For the first time in their history, they are not owned by the Rankin Smith family. Under the Smiths, the Falcons suffered mightily. This story was written during their most successful season ever - 1999.

The Falcons went on to beat the Minnesota Vikings in the NFC championship game. They returned to their losing ways in Super Bowl XXXIII. The Denver Broncos won 34-19.

Later - After the 2002 draft, Furman Bisher covers a lot of the ground that I did.

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Lest We Forget
Sunday, January 10, 1999   By: Br'er Juan

NFL misery = Atlanta Falcons

Folks in Atlanta couldn’t be more surprised if Wyman C. Lowe won an election – or if J.B. Stoner bought time on WTBS (the Superstation) to promote racial harmony.  The Atlanta Falcons are playing for a National Football League Championship.  It’s the first time in their 33-year history.


The Falcons have a particularly pitiful past, and lest we forget, let’s replay a few memorable moments.  After all, a national sports magazine once totaled the records of all professional sports teams, and only the New Orleans Saints beat out the Falcons for dead last place.


Things were once so bad you could ask an Atlantean if he’d ever seen a professional football game and his answer was, “Nope.  Just the Falcons.”


Misery began early for the Black-White-Red-and Gold (a combination of the colors of Georgia and Georgia Tech) clad team.  One fall day in 1966, the Birds lined up in old Atlanta Stadium to kick the South into the NFL.  It was the first ever preseason game – the opponents were the Philadelphia Eagles.  Falcon kicker Wade Traynam approached the ball for the opening kickoff – and missed.


Perhaps Traynam should have paid more attention to Falcon’s play-by-play man Jack Hurst. His sig-out on his WQXI sports show was “Keep your eye on the ball.”


After a miserable first season, the Falcons had great hopes for their second year draft.  But not a single pick made the pitiful 1967 team.  Look at who they chose.  One Falcon draftee was a guy named Ray Jeffords.  If you don’t associate him with football, you’re not alone – he didn’t either.  Jeffords was a forward on the University of Georgia basketball team – and hadn’t played football since grammar school.  He never answered the Falcons’ phone calls.


Leo Carroll was once a first round pick.  He was supposed to help the offensive line.  But he disappeared one night during his first week of training camp, leaving behind only a Tiny Tim “Tiptoe Through The Tulips” record.


Quarterback Randy Johnson was once sacked so many times in a game that he repeatedly lined up behind a guard.


The first time the Falcons had a shot at the playoffs was in 1973.  They won seven straight games, but fell out of the race when they lost the final two games of the season.  O.J. Simpson had an all-pro performance slicing down the field and leading the Buffalo Bills over the Falcons – then the St. Louis Cardinals dusted off the wishbone and rammed the ball down the Falcons’ throats.  Ever eloquent Falcon coach Norm Van Brocklin blamed the losses on “Peachtree Street whores and bartenders.”


During one otherwise commonplace loss, Falcon running back Art Malone and tight end Jim Mitchell got into a fist-fight while still in the huddle. 


The Falcons also made some memorable trades – in one they gave Minnesota their top quarterback, Bob Berry and their number one draft choice.  In return they got Minnesota’s number two quarterback, Bob Lee, and a second string linebacker, Lonnie Warwick.  The Vikings used that draft choice to pick a running back named Chuck Foreman. 

In the final game of the 1972 season vs. Kansas City, the Falcons Dave Hampton became the first Falcon in history to rush for more than 1000 yards in a season. On the next play, Hampton lost six yards. On final play of the game, he gained one - ending the year with 995 yards.

He came closer in 1973 - he gained 997 yards. In 1975, Hampton finally made it - he gained 61 yards against Green Bay to finish the season with 1002 yards.


In the mid-70s, Falcons owner Rankin Smith fired Coach Marion Campbell halfway through the season – and put in his place General Manager Pat Peppler.  Peppler had coached fewer football games than Ray Jeffords had played.


After a particularly woeful loss in Houston, Smith agreed to a post-game radio interview with color analyst Billy Lothridge.  Lothridge had been an All-American quarterback at Georgia Tech and had played safety and punted for the Falcons.  Lothridge asked Smith why he hadn’t hired a football coach rather than Peppler.  Smith claimed he couldn’t find any knowledgeable football coach who would take on the miserable Falcons.  Lothridge volunteered.  And Billy’s football good luck held – Smith refused to hire him.


The Falcons’ misery also set records.  They are the only team in NFL history to lose back-to-back games by having blocked field goal attempts run back for touchdowns.  Fred Steinfort was the Falcons’ pitiable place kicker.


Other Falcons’ misery ranges from the day running great William Andrews suffered a career ending knee injury - in practice - to the game in the Gator Bowl in which kicker Morton Anderson missed what would have been a winning field goal on the last play of the game.  That slip by Anderson propelled the Jaguars into their first ever playoff appearance.


Atlanta sports losses were so frequent in the 1970s that the late Lewis Grizzard  and the other sports writers for the lying Atlanta newspaper dubbed the city “Loserville.”  Lewis had to leave town, finding work in Chicago for a few years.  The Falcons stayed.


So, football fans, celebrate the Jets, Broncos and Vikings, but be especially joyful this week as the Falcons prepare to play for their first championship.  Only a Cubs or Red Sox World Series win could equal a Falcons victory on Sunday.


Tales and Humor  

(c)1968- today j.e. simmons or michael warren