Interested in rooting for one of the NFL's 32 teams -- but don't know where to start? Adam Rank has you covered with this series, which will present a handy guide to becoming an instantly rabid fan of each organization in the league. Below, find out why you should root for the Atlanta Falcons.
What you need to know so you don't sound stupid
Never talk about March 28. Trust me. And don't Bing it, either. Nothing major in Falcons history happened on March 28. (Wait, hold on, let me check -- nope, nothing major.) Rather, the date was used to mock the Falcons for blowing a 28-3 lead in Super Bowl LI. But I don't know why you're laughing,Panthers. At least the Falcons were competitive in the Super Bowl. You lost to a team that essentially had its quarterback take a knee for three quarters, like it was the plot of "The Waterboy" or something. Like the NFL version of "Weekend at Bernie's" -- Weekend at Peyton's, if you will. So why don't you knock that stuff off?
The team was founded in 1965 for the same reason most NFL teams were founded in the 1960s: The AFL threatened to move into the market, and then-Commissioner Pete Rozelle was all, "Not on my watch, fools!" So, boom, you had a team. And then not a lot happened.
The Falcons made the playoffs for the first time in 1978 and beat the Eagles -- then lost to the Cowboys. Blew a lead to the Cowboys in the playoffs in 1980. Beat the hated Saints in a 1991 wild-card matchup -- then lost to the Redskins. Made the Super Bowl in 1998. Lost. And then lost last year. That's pretty much it in a nutshell. (Oh, and, yes -- pun intended. You know, peanuts? Georgia? Is it just me? OK, moving on.)
The fun times
The Falcons were excellent last year, obviously. I don't think of them as super fun, though. The Dirty Birds of the late '90s, however? Now that was a fun time. Crazy to think Dan Reeves would be the leader of a fun club, but it really was one, thanks to a cast of characters like Jamal Anderson (among others) who did the "Dirty Bird" touchdown dance. They went 14-2 in 1998 and beat the Vikings to advance to Super Bowl XXXIII.
I know that Vikings team is lauded for being a juggernaut that just missed, even getting some love on "How I Met Your Mother" and a spotlight in NFL Network's "America's Game: The Missing Rings" series. But for (expletive) sake, the Falcons won 14 games. It's not like they were some 9-7 curtain-jerkers who got lucky in the playoffs (�� la the Giants and Eli Manning in 2011). That Atlanta squad was great. So quit acting like the Vikings were robbed. The Falcons were just a better team that year. Deal with it.
The Glanville years
There was another fun team in the early 1990s, when Jerry Glanville took over as coach. Glanville was a certified G. He changed the Falcons' color scheme from red to black to match his own personal attire. He wore a cowboy hat. Left tix at Will Call for Elvis. Rode a motorcycle. In short, he was kind of awesome. He also gave the Falcons an identity and helped foster the budding career of Deion Sanders. Man, you can only imagine how great this team could have been had Brett Favre blossomed in Atlanta. But this was a fun time. MC Hammer would hang out with the team. Deion would dance down the sideline. There was a time when the Falcons were the IT team.
Wait, the Falcons had Brett Favre?
But don't act like Favre would have had the same Hall of Fame career with the Falcons. Glanville was worried because Favre partied to a point that Ken Stabler would have found excessive. Shoot, Favre still had some troubles in Green Bay. What would have happened in a party town like Atlanta? Glanville probably prevented a tragic "30 for 30" and instead helped indirectly spark a Hall of Fame career. Don't give the Falcons crap for that.
So who roots for this team?
Atlanta is a hotbed for college football. Obviously, it is in the middle -- and is perhaps the capital -- of SEC country. But the Falcons have some ardent fans who really haven't been given much to root for over the years. Save one thing.
I'm still convinced there is a sizable percentage of Falcons fans who became fans because of Michael Vick -- and not just Vick, but the "Madden NFL 2004" Michael Vick, the greatest video game character of all time. He was like a combination of "Super Tecmo Bowl" Bo Jackson and Ryu from "Street Fighter". Vick had a 95 speed rating, which was fine, but his acceleration was 97. NINETY-FREAKING-SEVEN. You couldn't stop this dude. I remember my friends and I had to make an agreement that nobody could use the Falcons, lest fistfights erupt. And then my buddy Anderson all of a sudden showed up to the house in Falcons gear, saying he was a fan in an effort to justify using Atlanta. What a flipping cheater. But dude's still a Falcons fan to this day. Sorry for the fat lip. And dating Angela. But that's in the past. Let's move forward.
How do we feel about Vick?
That's completely up to you. The story of Vick's incarceration on dogfighting charges and return to the NFL is going to be debated long after we're gone. And I would submit the "what-ifs" surrounding him are much more significant than those surrounding Favre. But yeah, let your conscience be your guide on all of that.
Speaking of quarterbacks ...
The Falcons used the first overall selection of the 1975 NFL Draft on Steve Bartkowski, who had a fine career. Pro Bowls and the like. Hell, he was once thought to be the savior of the Los Angeles Rams. But the Falcons selected Bartkowski over Randy White and some other dude ... What was his name? He was a running back. Oh, yeah. WALTER PAYTON.
Imagine if the Falcons had drafted the G.O.A.T. first and then, say, Steve Grogan or Pat Haden later. Yes, we could do this with just about every team (hey, maybe we will!), but Payton was the fourth overall pick. So it's actually conceivable Atlanta could have taken him.
Speaking of missing out on running backs ...
About the new stadium
The Falconswill open Mercedes-Benz Stadium this year. I know, looks cool. State of the art. Blah, blah, blah. The big news is, you won't get shaken down at the concession stand. Hot dog? Two bucks. Pretzel? Two bucks. Coke? Two bucks. (This is Atlanta, after all.) Listen, I spend a large part of my life at Angel Stadium, home of the $4.50 Coors/Bud Light, and even I'm jealous. Falcons owner Arthur Blank should be a frontrunner for TIME's Person of the Year. This is amazing.
And Matt Ryan will strike down upon thee ...
"I've been a Falcons fan since the team started," Samuel L. Jackson said in an interview on NFL Network's "Thursday Night Football." "I used to work in the old Atlanta Fulton stadium, selling french fries in the top, when Tommy Nobis and Ernie Wheelwright, Bartkowski, all those guys were playing. So I've been a Falcons fan forever."
If that doesn't get you fired up, then I'm afraid you might not have a pulse.
The franchise's best
I'm going to go with Tommy Nobis. The team's first ever draft pick, first Rookie of the Year and pretty much the epitome of Mr. Falcon. He made 294 tackles in his rookie season, which still stands as an unofficial single-season record. He played in an era with Dick Butkus, Ray Nitschke and Willie Lanier and held his own. The fact the Falcons had just two winning seasons in those early days is probably the only reason he's not in the Hall of Fame. The Falcons might have had better players over the years, but Nobis was the first true Falcon.
Not enough credit
I truly don't believe Michael Vick gets enough credit for being a good quarterback. Obviously, I might be blinded by "Madden NFL 2004". I get that. But he was a good quarterback -- maybe not in the traditional sense, but the dude could bring it. (What a stupid phrase. Sorry. I need to be better.) Vick was magic on the field. (Another clich��!) Vick was better than most. (Let's go with that.) He was also the first opposing QB to win a playoff game at Lambeau Field, and he beat Favre. So there you go.
Go to eBay right now and purchase your Brian Finneran jersey. Again, I'm biased because I remember him from high school. (He went to Rancho Santa Margarita. I didn't, but I remember Finneran and his twin brother being Orange County heroes. Also, Carson Palmerdid go there, but not at the same time as Finneran. But whatever.) Finneran played 10 years in the NFL. TEN. Which is also the total number of jerseys he sold in his career. *I kid, Brian. I kid. *
If you really want to go old school, pick up a William Andrews jersey.
Closing fun fact
The Falcons were the 15th team added to the NFL. This gave the NFL an uneven number of teams, meaning bye weeks had to be used during the 1966 season. And it should be further noted, Atlanta nearly had a team a few years earlier, when the nomadic St. Louis (n��e Chicago) Cardinalsalmost moved there. But St. Louis put up the money for Busch Stadium to keep the Birds -- until they left in the 1980s, that is. Seriously, St. Louis: Stop building stadiums.
Forgive me, that took a weird turn.
There is little to no risk of being labeled a bandwagon fan. I mean, it was so painful watching that Super Bowl thing play out. I remember being in the tunnel as Arthur Blank made his way to the field in the final moments, right after Devonta Freemancaught that swing pass and raced toward midfield with the Falcons leading by eight. I thought they were going to win it. But that's beside the point. You wouldn't be a bandwagon fan if you joined right now. So you're good. And really, with an owner who will offer you cheap concessions, I almost feel pulled to support such an endeavor.