Fans of the Atlanta Falcons probably wish that every day were Sunday, and honestly, who can blame them? When the time comes for gridiron gladiators to do battle, the atmosphere in and around the Georgia Dome becomes electric. At Falcons Landing, the designated pre-game party zone, diehards young and old psych one another up. They wave flags, exchange high fives, and most importantly, march together toward the coliseum. The unified front serves as a reminder to opponents that visitors have to fight for every inch once they arrive in the ATL.
Professional football debuted in the Peach State prior to the start of the 1966 season. As an expansion franchise, the Falcons made an early impression by becoming the first rookie club in history to not finish in last place during their inaugural campaign. However, it wouldn’t be until ‘71 that Atlanta finished a season with more wins than losses, and supporters would have to wait another seven years before seeing the Falcons compete in the playoffs. While the club would capture a divisional title in ‘80 and notch another postseason appearance in ‘82, Atlanta didn’t become a national attraction until ‘89, when two-sport phenom Deion Sanders arrived. “Prime Time” won over fans across the country in September of ‘89 when he hit a home run as a member of the New York Yankees and then scored a touchdown that following Sunday for the Falcons.
As Sanders emerged as one of the game’s most dynamic talents, the Falcons soared to a record of 10-6 in ‘91 and found themselves in the playoffs once again. The Georgia Dome opened the following fall, and it appeared that a new era of Falcons football was about to arrive. It didn’t happen overnight, but by 1998, everyone was talking about Atlanta. Running back Jamal Anderson galloped to 1,846 rushing yards that year and taught fans a new celebration with the introduction of the “Dirty Bird,” a spirited touchdown dance. Anderson’s flashy moves powered the Falcons to a record of 14-2 and the franchise’s first-ever appearance in the Super Bowl. While they’d lose to the Denver Broncos on the national stage, the Birds had established themselves as contenders.
Quarterback Michael Vick arrived in ‘01 and captivated spectators with his dazzling abilities as both a runner and a passer. While Vick was a three-time Pro Bowler for the Falcons, the quarterback most synonymous with success for Atlanta has to be Matt Ryan, who took over in ‘08. “Matty Ice” piloted the team to the postseason in his rookie year and then guided the crew to 9 victories in ‘09 to give fans back-to-back winning seasons for the first time in club history.
Through thick and thin, diehards have stuck with the franchise, waiting for just the right moment to rise up. The Black and Red masses are hungry for not just a shot at the world championship, but an opportunity to dust off the “Dirty Bird” for another dance in the spotlight.