Atlanta Falcons’ History – Part 1 (1966-1989)

In their 51 seasons, the Atlanta Falcons have had the third-worst record in the NFL – with only Arizona and Tampa Bay having worse records.  They face the New England Patriots, who have had the fifth best NFL win percentage as a franchise, in Super Bowl LI.

In Part 1, we cover the first two and half decades of the franchise (1966-1989) where they amassed a 129-218-5 (.366) record and a 1-3 playoff record.  They ended the 1980’s with their seventh straight losing season and had four wins or less for the 11th time in 24 years.

In Part 2, we cover the 1990’s where the Falcons had only three winning seasons but did make it to Super Bowl XXXIII.

In Part 3, we cover the Falcons in this new century where they have had their best stretch yet and managed to have consecutive winning seasons for the first time ever.

1965: NFL Scoops Atlanta From AFL

Atlanta, one of the first major cities of the sunbelt, emerged as a major city in the 1960’s as its population grew by 47% in the prior decade.  In 1961, Ivan Allen, Jr. was elected mayor promising to build a stadium to attract a baseball team.  The stadium lured the Milwaukee Braves to move and the AFL awarded a franchise to Atlanta contingent on acquiring stadium rights from the city.  NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle swooped in the next day  and persuaded the city to go with the NFL. The AFL chose Miami to fill the Atlanta spot.

1960’s

12-43-1 (.223)/No Playoffs

The Falcons debuted at home in 1966, losing to the Los Angeles Rams 19-14 before 54,418.

Their first win came in Week 10 in Yankee Stadium against the New York Giants  27-16.

The Falcons’ first draft pick was Outland Trophy Winner Linebacker Tommy Nobis from Texas.  He went on to be the Defensive Rookie of the Year and five-time Pro Bowler.

The Sixties were not a great decade for the Falcons, who won 6 games their first three years and finished the decade 12-43-1 (.223).  In contrast, the New England Patriots were only marginally better at 19-34-3 9 (.366).

The standout players during this period included Nobis and future Hall of Famer Defensive End Claude Humphreys.

1970’s

60-81-3 (.427) / 1-1 in Playoffs

The Falcons were 60-81-3 (.427) during this decade compared to the Patriots 66-78.  Highlights included the team’s first winning season and a streak of non-losing seasons from 1971-1973 powered by running back Dave Hampton.

The Falcons fell to 3-11 the next season which enabled them to get the top pick in the 1975 draft where they claimed their first marque quarterback – Steve Bartowski.  By 1978, the Falcons were 9-7 and made the playoffs for the first time as a wild card.  Bartowski led the Falcons back from a 13-0 deficit to their first playoff win 14-13 over the Ron Jaworski-led Philadelphia Eagles.  This game remains the only playoff game featuring two Polish-born starting quarterbacks.

After beating the Eagles, the Falcons  jumped to a 20-13 lead over the Dallas Cowboys and knocked out the Cowboys’ star quarterback — Roger Staubach.  The Cowboys came back to win 27-20.

1980’s

57-94-1 (.378) /  0-2 Playoffs

The Falcons were 57-94-1 (.378) in the 1980’s compared to 78-74 (.513) for the Patriots.The decade began with promise, with the Falcons posting their then-best record of 12-4, winning their first division title and hosting their first playoff game against the Dallas Cowboys.  Once again, Atlanta led 24-10 going into the fourth quarter, but the Cowboys rallied back to win 30-27.

The Falcon’s only other winning season that decade was when they went 5-4 in the strike shortened 1982 season.  The Falcons traveled to the Metrodome to play the Vikings in the first-round.  They had a 21-13 lead in the third quarter, only to fall 30-24.

Team Records, Leaders, and League Ranks Table
Points Off Rank Def Rank Overall Rank
Year W L T Div. Finish Playoffs PF PA Coaches Pts Yds Pts Yds out of
1989 3 13 0 4th of 4 279 437 Campbell,Hanifan 22 24 28 28 28
1988 5 11 0 4th of 4 244 315 Campbell 25 25 11 25 28
1987 3 12 0 4th of 4 205 436 Campbell 28 28 28 28 28
1986 7 8 1 3rd of 4 280 280 Henning 21 17 6 7 28
1985 4 12 0 4th of 4 282 452 Henning 26 20 28 25 28
1984 4 12 0 4th of 4 281 382 Henning 22 19 22 15 28
1983 7 9 0 4th of 4 370 389 Henning 10 8 23 25 28
1982 5 4 0 1st of 4 Lost WC 183 199 Bennett 14 9 21 14 28
1981 7 9 0 2nd of 4 426 355 Bennett 2 7 18 14 28
1980 12 4 0 1st of 4 Lost Div 405 272 Bennett 5 3 5 16 28
1979 6 10 0 3rd of 4 300 388 Bennett 19 17 26 25 28
1978 9 7 0 2nd of 4 Lost Div 240 290 Bennett 26 26 14 5 28
1977 7 7 0 2nd of 4 179 129 Bennett 25 25 1 2 28
1976 4 10 0 3rd of 5 172 312 Peppler,Campbell 24 27 22 20 28
1975 4 10 0 3rd of 4 240 289 Campbell 19 20 15 22 26
1974 3 11 0 4th of 4 111 271 Van Brocklin,Campbell 26 26 16 15 26
1973 9 5 0 2nd of 4 318 224 Van Brocklin 7 15 9 6 26
1972 7 7 0 2nd of 4 269 274 Van Brocklin 16 16 14 7 26
1971 7 6 1 3rd of 4 274 277 Van Brocklin 13 15 13 8 26
1970 4 8 2 3rd of 4 206 261 Van Brocklin 22 23 10 11 26
1969 6 8 0 3rd of 4 276 268 Van Brocklin 11 13 6 9 16
1968 2 12 0 4th of 4 170 389 Van Brocklin,Hecker 16 16 15 16 16
1967 1 12 1 4th of 4 175 422 Hecker 16 16 16 16 16
1966 3 11 0 7th of 8 204 437 Hecker 15 14 14 15 15
Provided by Pro-Football-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 1/26/2017.
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