Atlanta Falcons, professional football team and one
of four teams in the South Division of the National
Football Conference (NFC) of the National Football
League (NFL). The Falcons play in the Georgia Dome
and wear uniforms of black, red, silver, and white.
The team’s name was inspired by a letter from
schoolteacher Julia Elliott of Griffin, Georgia, who
won a contest in 1965 to name the new franchise, writing:
“The falcon is proud and dignified, with courage
and fight. It is deadly and has a great sporting tradition.”
The date June 30, 1965, always will be remembered
as both a termination and a commencement in the history
of Atlanta sports. For on that day the end came to
the many and disparate struggles to place a professional
football team in the Southeast's key metropolis. At
the same time the Atlanta Falcons were born and began
a storied tenure in the National Football League.
All that had gone before—the successes (an
$18 million stadium to play in) and the near-misses
(aborted attempts to place other franchises in the
city)— was set aside for the immediate business
of fielding a team in little over a year's time.
Prime mover in this task was Rankin Smith, a young
insurance executive who had controlling ownership
of the Falcons.
Rankin Smith, Sr.
Virtually unknown to the general public before that
June day, Smith immediately endeared himself to aficionados
of the sport by asking a choice rhetorical question
at a press conference following his acquisition of
the franchise: "Doesn't every adult male in America
want to own his own football team?" Not every
adult male American has the wherewithal to swing such
a deal, but it was comforting to hear that a man is
capable of dreams like those of any other guy.
The day's proceedings threw the city into a happy
delirium unequaled in the history of football. By
the time Smith got back to his insurance office 24
hours later, there had been over 1,000 phone calls
for tickets. He had to push his way through stacks
of mail. By August, when a contest was completed which
resulted in the nickname Falcons, a few of the avid
fans even had come to blows in defense of what they
believed their adopted team should be called. Several
persons suggested the name "Falcons" in
a contest, but a school teacher from nearby Griffin,
Miss Julia Elliott, was selected winner because of
her reasons: "The falcon is proud and dignified,
with great courage and fight. It never drops prey.
It is deadly and has a great sporting tradition."
By the middle of December, Smith had signed the most
coveted college football player in the nation, Texas
linebacker Tommy Nobis. By Christmas Eve, when the
Falcons cut off a brief 54-day ticket sale requiring
almost no promotion, an NFL record had been established
for season tickets sold by a new club (45,000).
And in January, Smith surprised the entire athletic
fraternity by naming a head coach who never had been
mentioned in the perpetual stream of journalistic
speculation about the job. But Green Bay Packer assistant
Norb Hecker assumed his new post with vigor and immediately
embraced the gigantic job of sifting— along
with Director of Player Personnel Gene Cronin—a
huge list of NFL players made available to the Atlanta
expansion team by other teams in the league.
Finally, three men were chosen from each club and
these 42 formed the nucleus of the roster Hecker had
to work with when he took the team to summer training
camp in Black Mountain, North Carolina in early July.
Added to this group were the drafted rookies, scores
of free agents and a few miscellaneous players obtained
in trades. In all, Hecker and his staff were faced
with evaluating over 130 men from July to September.
Then, on August 27, in Columbia, South Carolina,
the Falcons recorded their first victory, defeating
the San Francisco 49ers, 24-17, in a preseason game.
Once the stadium, Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium,
was built, Atlantans felt the time was ripe to start
pursuing professional football. One independent group
which had been active in NFL preseason promotions
in Atlanta applied for franchises in both the AFL
and the NFL, acting entirely on its own with no guarantee
of stadium rights. Another group reported it had deposited
earnest money for a team in the AFL.
With everyone running in different directions, some
local businessmen worked out a deal and were awarded
an AFL franchise on June 7, 1965, contingent upon
acquiring exclusive stadium rights from city officials.
NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle, who had been moving
deliberately in Atlanta matters, headed on the next
plane down to Atlanta to protect his league's claim
on the city of Atlanta. He forced the city to make
a choice between the two leagues. Of course on that
memorable June 30 Rankin Smith and the NFL were the
The huge void which had been the Southeast without
an NFL team was beginning to close. Fans were looking
now toward Atlanta. The Falcons expect to be filling
that void for a long time.
A new chapter in the history of the Atlanta Falcons
began on December 6, 2001. On that day, Arthur M.
Blank, the co-founder and retired co-chairman on Atlanta-based
Home Depot, reached a preliminary agreement with the
Falcons’ Taylor Smith to purchase the team.
In a special meeting prior to Super Bowl XXXVI in
New Orleans on February 2, 2002, NFL owners voted
unanimously to approve the purchase.
1999 Super Bowl XXXIII Lost to Denver Broncos, 34-19.
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