HOUSTON – (Special to Digital Sports Desk by The Sports Xchange) – Rarely can a single championship rewrite the history of an entire franchise, but that is surely what the Atlanta Falcons are hoping for in Super Bowl LI. They would like to forget the past. All of it.
Few teams have the miserable history of the Falcons, a franchise that has produced just one Hall of Fame player in a half-century but gave away two others, that fired a coach who produced a .240 winning percentage and then hired him again a decade later. And even when the Falcons did reach a Super Bowl once before, they lost in part because one of their star players was arrested while trolling for prostitutes the night before the game.
Atlanta, which at different times gave the NFL the Grits Blitz defense, the run-and-shoot offense and Jerry Glanville, the run-at-the-mouth coach, now is in the Super Bowl for the second time. The Falcons are among 11 teams added to pro football since the 1960 founding of the American Football League, but that group collectively has managed just five Super Bowl titles — compared to 45 for the 21 teams that existed in 1960.
Defensive end Claude Humphrey, who played 11 seasons for the Falcons, is the only player in the Hall of Fame who spent most of his career with Atlanta, and he did not get voted in until 2014 — 33 years after his final game.
It is not that Atlanta did not have some talent at times. But not enough of that talent was in the coaching staff or front office, which is why the Falcons allowed Deion Sanders to leave as soon as his rookie contract was up and why they traded Brett Favre away without giving him a chance to play. Sanders and Favre are both in the Hall of Fame, of course.
In 1977, with Glanville coaching the defensive backs, the Falcons developed the so-called Grits Blitz, an attacking defense named after the southern food dish. They allowed only 129 points in 14 games, a modern-era record of 9.2 points a game. But without much of an offense, the Falcons finished 7-7 and out of the playoffs.
Three years later, Atlanta was the No. 1 seed in the NFC playoffs but was eliminated in its first postseason game by Dallas, blowing a 10-point lead in the final four minutes. Atlanta led 24-10 after three quarters, but the Cowboys scored 20 points in the fourth to win 30-27.
In the mid-’70s, the Falcons were coached by Marion Campbell, who was known for his grasp of defense and an easy-going manner that enabled him to get along with both his bosses and his players. He was the poster boy for assistant coaches who get promoted over their head. Despite his 6-19 record in Atlanta, he was later hired as head coach to succeed Dick Vermeil in Philadelphia, where his record was 17-29-1 — and after getting fired from that gig, was hired again as the Atlanta coach. The second time around with the Falcons, his record was 11-32.
Atlanta’s only previous trip to the Super Bowl came following the 1998 season, when the Falcons had a 14-2 regular-season record. The 15-1 Minnesota Vikings were on the verge of winning the NFC Championship Game, leading by seven points with 2:07 remaining when kicker Gary Anderson — who to that time had not missed a kick all season, going 51 of 51 in field goals and extra points — missed a 38-yard field-goal attempt that would have made it a 10-point game.
The Falcons scored a tying touchdown in the last minute and then won in overtime when their kicker, Morten Andersen, made a field goal, ironically, 38 yards, the same distance from which Atlanta’s Anderson missed.