Founded in 1966, the Atlanta Falcons have only relatively recently become a consistently competitive team, and the Atlanta fan base waited a good four decades until the team finally enjoyed its golden age. And before their success in the 21st century, the Falcons peak lasted essentially one season, namely a fluky 1998 in which an easy schedule got them to 14-2 and a classic Minnesota Vikings choke job let them through to the Super Bowl.
The Falcons’ formation for the 1966 season was the second-to-last in professional football’s expansion into the somehow inexplicably empty southern U.S. The Falcons were part of this new NFL south gang, which included the Dallas Cowboys, Miami Dolphins and New Orleans Saints. Like all of their mates in expansion, the Falcons enjoyed steady attendance for years; and much like the Saints, decent gate did not translate into on-field results so often.
In 1978, Atlanta finally cracked the playoffs; these Falcons, coached by Leeman Bennett and quarterbacked by Steve Bartkowski, would make the postseason twice more in the next four years, but could not manage a single playoff win in the three trips. Following the ’91 season, the Falcons finally scored their first playoff win, but were stopped in the divisional round by the eventual champion, Washington. Likewise, in ’95 did the 9-7 Falcons drop the wild-card game to the Green Bay Packers.
But all the pieces came together for one magical season in 1998. A favorable schedule based on the fourth-place finish of ’97 made for a season-ending nine-game winning streak and a 14-2 regular-season record. Thanks to a characteristic self-immolation by the Vikings, the Falcons triumphed in overtime in the NFC championship game and were into their first Super Bowl. Unfortunately, John Elway.
In 2002, Michael Vick became the Falcons starting quarterback. Though utterly outstanding and clearly the team’s most exciting player ever, Vick’s heroics were limited to single games and the Falcons could not get past the Philadelphia Eagles following the ’04 season in that incarnation of the team’s best shot.
Since perpetually-underrated Boston College grad Matt Ryan took the helm in Atlanta, the team has remained competitive. Following 2012, these Falcons got to the NFC championship again and got their second shot at a Lombardi Trophy in Super Bowl LI. In what was certainly not any sort of portent of doom for this franchise going forward, Atlanta amassed a 28-3 lead over *those* New England Patriots midway through the third quarter and … ah, you know the rest.
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