It's Falcons Week everyone. The New Orleans Saints and Atlanta Falcons are preparing to meet each other for the 97th time this Thursday night in Atlanta. The Falcons lead the series, 51-45, including a 26-22 record against the Saints at home. The two have been divisional rivals since 1970, first in the NFC West, and since 2002 the NFC South. This isn't necessarily about series history, however, if you have been a Saints fan then you certainly know about the Falcons. Two franchises, fanbases, and even cities whose hatred for one another go back generations. The Hatfields and McCoys of professional football.
There are plenty of reasons to hate the Falcons. The classless and despicable human being Roddy White, the "Big Ben" play of 1978, the playoff loss of 1991, their fans, Matt Ryan. Every Saints fan knows of these, and undoubtedly you have your own list. I say let's stop the hate. There comes a time to just look at who opposes you, and you realize that all they deserve is to be laughed at. Here are some of the reasons to point and laugh at the Atlanta Falcons.
Reason #7 — The Dirty Bird
The 1998 Atlanta Falcons took the league by surprise with a 14-2 record, and upset an offensive powerhouse Minnesota Vikings squad on their way to Super Bowl XXXIII. During that season, Falcons running back Jamal Anderson started a touchdown celebration called "The Dirty Bird", perhaps the ugliest football celebration in NFL history. The team's success caused the celebration to gain in popularity, to the point that the entire team did it on the podium after winning the NFC Championship, including head coach Dan Reeves. Oh, the humanity....
Reason #6 — Arthur Blank
Blank is the Droopy Dog of NFL owners. A caricature of this man isn't necessary, it wouldn't do justice to the real thing.
Reason #5 — Eugene Robinson
Back to the 1998 Falcons. Advancing to the first Super Bowl in team history, they were led defensively by safety Eugene Robinson, who was signed as a free agent from Green Bay that previous offseason. Robinson earned All-Pro honors that year, intercepting 4 passes, scoring 2 defensive touchdowns, and pacing an inexperienced team with his leadership. He also earned the NFL Bart Starr Man of the Year award, given to the player that best exemplifies outstanding character in the home, on the field, and in the community.
Late on the eve of Super Bowl XXXIII, played in Miami, Fla., coach Dan Reeves received a phone call that his star safety had been arrested for solicitation of a prostitute. Reeves, some coaches, and key teammates brought Robinson back to team facilities, and he would play in the game. Certainly an unnecessary distraction for a team on the big stage for the first time. The Denver Broncos routed the Falcons, 34-19, as Robinson and his defense allowed 336 passing yards to Super Bowl MVP John Elway. The turning point in the game occurred midway through the 2nd quarter, with Atlanta trailing by just a 10-3 score. Elway hit wide receiver Rod Smith on an 80-yd. touchdown pass that swung the game's momentum for good. The defensive back responsible for deep coverage on the play? Well, none other than 1998 Bart Starr Man of the Year, Eugene Robinson. Perhaps he needed a relaxing hobby the night before the big game.
Reason #4 — Atlanta's "homefield advantage"
Atlanta's original home, Fulton-County Stadium, closely resembled a giant dirt pit, but was a house of horrors for the New Orleans Saints for years. Atlanta won the first 5, and 11 of the first 13 games played there against the Saints. New Orleans would rebound, and would win 4 of the last 5 games between the two at Fulton-County, including a 27-6 win in the final game played there during this rivalry in 1991. The following year the Falcons moved into their new stadium, the Georgia Dome, where they would remain until the conclusion of last season. Atlanta's new stadium quickly became a home away from home for the Saints, who won their first 3 contests against the Falcons there. New Orleans would wind up with a 13-12 overall record in the Georgia Dome, and oftentimes the cheers of Saints fans drowned out the sound of the hometown fans. Absolutely inexcusable against most any opponent, let alone one who is a bitter rival. More embarrassing than that, the NFL revealed that the Falcons were pumping in fake crowd noise through it's P.A. systems from 2013-14. Thank goodness the Falcons opened a new stadium, New Orleans needed an extra home game each season, and a change of scenary is always refreshing.
Reason #3 — If you can't beat 'em, join 'em?
If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then the Falcons have a secret crush on the Saints franchise. Bobby Hebert, Morten Anderson, and Joe Horn are examples of Saints icons that were scooped up by the Falcons well past their prime. The Falcons even signed Lance Moore to a contract in 2016, but after just a few days at the team's facility, Lance decided to retire. One could almost sense that Moore had a hard time containing laughter at the press conference. Atlanta even employed Saints offspring, Jim Mora Jr. as a head coach for three seasons. Mora's father of course, was one of the greatest coaches in New Orleans history, and Jr. himself was a Saints secondary coach for five seasons. Hebert, Anderson, Horn, Moore, and Mora are all key figures in New Orleans Saints history, but it was nice of Atlanta to show so much envy.
Oh, and the name of Atlanta's new stadium? Well, it's Mercedes-Benz Stadium, of course. Is there such a thing as a pity sponsor?
Reason #2 — Bobby Petrino
Bobby Petrino has arguably been one of the most repulsive figures in recent college or pro football memory. Petrino has had success as a college coach, but to say that he's had questionable character issues is an understatement. Petrino was hired by Atlanta as a head coach in 2007, less than 6 months after he had signed a 10-yr "lifetime" contract at the University of Louisville. While still at Louisville, Petrino had reportedly been in secret negotiations with other schools for coaching positions. (Perhaps those red flags should have been recognized?) After just 13 games in 2007, including two losses to the Saints, Petrino left the Falcons to accept the head coaching position at Arkansas. True to his nature, Petrino informed his players with a "Dear John" letter, a four sentence note left at each of his players lockers to inform them of his decision.
Keep it classy, Bobby.
Reason #1 — 28-3
Sometimes no words are needed, just numbers. Just point and laugh, ladies and gentlemen.