History of The Atlanta Falcons - 1965–1969


On June 30, 1965, the Atlanta Falcons were born. The NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle granted ownership to Rankin M. Smith, Sr., the executive vice president of Life Insurance Company of Georgia. The name Falcons was suggested by Julia Elliott (1909–1990) a high school teacher from Griffin, Georgia who won a contest in 1965. Though 40 other contestants had also suggested the name, Elliott wrote in an essay, "The falcon is proud and dignified, with great courage and fight. It never drops its prey. It's deadly and has a great sporting tradition." Among the many suggested names were the Knights, Bombers, Rebels, Crackers, Thrashers (which would later be the name of the city's second NHL team), Lancers, Firebirds, Fireballs and Thunderbirds.”

Rankin M.Smith Sr. would draft Tommy Nobis, LB, University of Texas with the first pick of the 1966 NFL Draft held on November 27, 1965, making him the first ever Falcon. Early speculation on the team's first head coach focused on a host of tutors: former University of Oklahoma head coach Bud Wilkinson; University of Arkansas head coach Frank Broyles; former San Francisco 49ers head coach Red Hickey; and former Cleveland Browns head coach Paul Brown; and Green Bay Packers head coach Vince Lombardi were all considered or courted. In the end, Smith selected Lombardi's assistant Norb Hecker on January 26, 1966.

The Atlanta Falcons began their first NFL season in the NFL Eastern Conference, playing a "swing schedule", consisting of playing every other team once, in order to make up for the disparity of an odd number of teams. Their first game (preseason) was on August 1, 1966 against the Philadelphia Eagles before a crowd of 26,072 at the Atlanta Stadium. The Falcons would lose against the Eagles and would lose their first nine games in the regular season before finally getting their first franchise win on the road against the New York Giants, 27–16. Former Giant Ernie Wheelwright scored two TD's receiving and ran for 51 more yards as QB Randy Johnson hit for a trio of TD's. Their first ever home victory was against the St. Louis Cardinals, 16–10 to a crowd of 57,169. The Falcons ended their inaugural season at 3–11, yet Nobis won the NFL Rookie of the Year Award and became the first Falcon named to the Pro Bowl.

The 1967 season was no better as the Falcons exited their second season with only 1 win and a 1–12–1 season. After a dreadful 0–3 start in the 1968 season, Norm Van Brocklin, formerly head coach of the Minnesota Vikings, was named to replace Norb Hecker on October 1. Two weeks later, his Falcons beat New York 24–21, in the first meeting between Van Brocklin and his former QB, Fran Tarkenton. Despite the win, the Falcons would still finish with an abysmal 2–12 record. Although the first three seasons for the Falcons were dreadful, the Falcons turned things around in the 1969 season. On September 21, the Falcons won their first season opener ever, beating the San Francisco 49ers, 24–12, before their home fans. Rookie Tight End Jim Mitchell scored two TD's and club set a team record with 229 yards rushing. On December 7, Harmon Wages threw for a TD in the first quarter (16 yards to Paul Flatley), caught a pass for a TD in the second quarter (88 yards), and then ran for a TD in the fourth quarter (66 yards) in a 45–17 rout of the Saints. The Falcons finished the year with a vastly improved 6–8 record.

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