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Atlanta Falcons | People | Team History

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Team History

Atlanta Falcons

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

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."

Tommy Nobis

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.

Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium

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 choice.

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.

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