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100 Things Falcons Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die
By Ray Glier, Knox Bardeen
Triumph BooksCopyright © 2012 Ray Glier and Knox Bardeen
All rights reserved.
Finally, a Super Day
OK, it didn't end so super. The Falcons got to the Super Bowl and were drubbed 34–19 by the Denver Broncos.
So what's worse, never getting to the big stage, or having a bad day when the lights come on? Never getting there is much worse, of course.
The game in south Florida was a bar-raising event for the franchise, which had been stuck in a rut of ridicule for most of its 33 seasons. Until, that is, this 1998 team went 16–3 with a physical style of football that was to run first and knock opponents silly on defense.
The Falcons lost the Super Bowl but still had a parade. Hell, yeah. Why not have a parade? The team was 8–0 at home in the Georgia Dome and 14–2 overall in the regular season, which were firsts for the franchise. Dan Reeves, the head coach, had heart surgery in the middle of the season and then returned to coach the club to the NFC title.
It was a team that controlled the ball and took the ball from the other team. They scored a team-record 442 points and led the NFL with 44 takeaways.
"If the ball is not on the ground, we will knock the [stuff] out of somebody," said defensive end Chuck Smith. "We are not prima donnas. We will get after people. You get hit hard enough, believe me, you will let go of the ball. There's nobody in this game that can't be shaken up, nobody who can't be hurt, nobody who cannot lose the ball."
The team had an effervescent star in running back Jamal Anderson, with his gleaming smile and legs that moved like a sewing machine as he cut through the line. Anderson rushed for 1,846 yards and had an NFL-high 12 100-yard rushing games.
Anderson also had the best footwork in the team's trademark dance, the Dirty Bird, which became a symbol of the team's fun style. One of the highlights of the season was Reeves, the old-school coach, dancing the Dirty Bird with Anderson as the team was presented the NFC championship trophy following the win over the Vikings.
Reeves was named Coach of the Year for taking the team to just its second division title in 33 years and living to tell about it following his heart episode.
But the Falcons could not finish the drill in the Super Bowl. They had their chances with four possessions inside the Denver 30-yard line in the first half but scored just six points. This was an offense that knew how to finish in the other team's territory. Quarterback Chris Chandler, inside an opponent's 20-yard line, had zero interceptions during the regular season. He had 16 touchdown passes, but he could not make the big throw that would get the Falcons some early traction.
The Broncos crossed up the Atlanta defense with an empty-set backfield. The Birds were spread out, and quarterback John Elway picked them apart, but he also made deep throws to beat ambitious Atlanta safeties who were trying to make the big play on the big stage.
"I'm going to keep my head up no matter what," said cornerback Ray Buchanan, who had guaranteed that the Falcons would win. "The Lord blessed this football team to come from ground zero to play in the Super Bowl. ... I'm not going to apologize. I had the guarantee and the confidence that this football team could win. There was no doubt in my mind. I'll never take that back."
The loss was a sour end to the biggest week in franchise history. It was made worse when safety Eugene Robinson, who had preached that his team needed to take a business -style approach to the Super Bowl, was arrested for offering an undercover officer $40 for sex. Robinson had received the Bart Starr Award for community service during Super Bowl week, only to be caught on a Miami street soliciting sex.
The next day, the game was played and the Falcons were humbled. But they had gotten there. They had millions of eyeballs on them. Cher sang and Stevie Wonder danced, and all the glory was around the Dirty Birds.
The stage was theirs. The spotlights were wheeled in. It didn't end well, but at least there is a story to tell.CHAPTER 2
A Super Kick
Morten Andersen was walking through the Falcons' parking lot at the team's complex in Suwanee on a Monday afternoon when a reporter (me) approached.
"Nice kick," I said, referring to the field goal that beat Minnesota in the NFC Championship Game.
"Thanks," Andersen said.
"Nice paycheck," I said.
Then a smile creased his face. "How did you hear about it?" he asked. A moment later, he said, "That's between me and the club."
Then he smiled again.
That field goal was a hole in one ... with a broken club, in a stiff wind, in pouring rain. That was the kick of a career, and that's saying something when you consider the peaks in Mort's career.
When Andersen kicked the 38-yard field goal in overtime that beat the Minnesota Vikings on January 17, 1999, he immediately became $300,000 richer, due to a stipulation in his contract written in by him and agent Greg Campbell. In 1999 $300 grand for a kick was a really sweet deal, but in order for the rider in the contract to kick in, so to speak, it had to be in a conference championship game and it had to be a game-winner.
In other words, the kick had to have substance. Getting the Falcons into the Super Bowl had substance. Andersen actually made $332,500 that day because a winner's share of playoff money for that game was $32,500. Peanuts.
Andersen called it the biggest kick he had made in 17 years. Well, yeah.
I haven't seen the contract, but I'm wondering if the kick clause was written in the margins, in red ink, with a smiley face where the period should have been: "By the way, if Morten Andersen, kicker, ever boots this franchise into the Super Bowl (fat chance) he gets an additional $300,000."
"I actually forgot about the clause in the contract," Andersen said in December 2011. "It was the Santa Clause."
The Falcons' Andersen got a chance at the huge payday because his pal on the Vikings, Gary Anderson, missed a fourth-quarter field goal in the NFC Championship Game that would have pushed the Vikings out to a 10-point lead in the fourth quarter. As it was, a limping Chris Chandler took the Falcons downfield for a tying touchdown, and then Gary Anderson missed and Morten Andersen made, and there was a party on the field.
Ten years later, Gary Anderson, who was still kicking in the NFL, raised an eyebrow when told about the bonus. "I didn't know that," he said.
"You made it possible," I said.
"Don't remind me," Gary said. He smiled. He was happy for Mort.
Andersen and Anderson shared more than similar last names. They came from abroad — Andersen from Denmark, Anderson from South Africa — to have sensational NFL careers as soccer-style kickers. They battled each other the last several years of their career to see who would be the all-time leading scorer in NFL history. Mort leads with 2,544. Gary is second with 2,434.
"The Great Dane," as Andersen is called, made 79.7 percent of his field goals. He was brought back to the Falcons in 2007 and was more than a stopgap. He made 25 of 28 field goals.
Just as impressive as a near 80 percent mark is the fact that Andersen is the all-time leading scorer for two teams: the Saints and the Falcons. Andersen was looking for one more contract in 2008 and would have become the oldest player ever in the NFL if a team had signed him, but he retired in December 2008 without a deal.
Everybody who has ever kicked a football in the NFL would be happy for Mort. So many games in the NFL are decided by a late field goal, and kickers do not get their just due. Matt Bryant, the current Falcons kicker — and as clutch a kicker as there is in football these days — just had one word for Andersen's $300,000 boot: "Nice."
Getting His Kicks
Morten Andersen was around long enough to influence all kinds of Falcons records for a kicker. Here are some statistics he is a part of and some he is not.
The most points in Falcons history: Morten Andersen leads with 806, way ahead of Mick Luckhurst, who has 558. Jay Feely, another kicker, comes in at 436. Then there's Terance Mathis, the wide receiver, at 354. Then comes Andre Rison at 338.
Here are some lists of other Mort stats. He could kick for average, he could kick for distance. He could just plain kick. All you had to do was look at Mort's legs as he ran out to attempt a kick. They were thick, like a cannon's tube.
Most FGs Made, Career
184 Morten Andersen (1995–2000, 2006–07)
115 Mick Luckhurst (1981–87)
98 Jay Feely (2001–04)
Most FGs Made, Season
32 Jay Feely (2002)
31 Morten Andersen (1995)
29 Jason Elam (2008)
29 Jay Feely (2001)
Most FGs Made, Game
6 Norm Johnson (11/13/94)
6 Morten Andersen (10/1/06)
Most FGs Attempted, Career
224 Morten Andersen (1995–2000, 2006–07)
164 Mick Luckhurst (1981–87)
127 Jay Feely (2001–04)
Best FG Percentage, Career (Min. 35)
.866 Norm Johnson (84 of 97) (1991–94)
.853 Matt Bryant (35 of 41) (2009–10)
.821 Morten Andersen (184 of 224) (1995–2000, 2006–07)
.772 Jay Feely (98 of 127) (2001–04)
The 1998 Season: The Games That Led to the Super Bowl Run
When Falcons fans get together and talk about the history of their team — the ups and downs, the brightest and darkest days — one year is sure to stand out in everyone's mind: 1998. Sure there have been several memorable periods throughout Atlanta's past. The first playoff appearance is 1978 was a groundbreaking moment for everyone involved with or a fan of the organization. The Gritz Blitz squad of 1977 was another team that will always be recognized, along with more recent seasons under the new regime of Mike Smith and Matt Ryan. No matter where you go or who you talk to, though, you'll always hear a reference to the 1998 season, the most successful year in the history of the Falcons franchise.
Overall, the 1990s were quite a bipolar stage for the Falcons. In 1991 they finished 10–6 and went on to reach the NFC divisional playoffs. Next came three consecutive years of records below .500, followed by another playoff appearance in 1995. In 1996 Atlanta completely fell of the map, dropping 13 games in the regular season to mark the worst performance since 1989. The team was 7–9 in 1997, nothing extremely dreadful but nothing to write home about either. But what transpired the following season completely baffled everyone but proved the most pleasant surprise Falcons fans could ever receive. Dan Reeves was in his second year as head coach. Quarterback Chris Chandler was coming off a Pro Bowl season despite the team's unimpressive record. Jamal Anderson had rushed for 1,002 yards in 1997, but his 3.5 yards per carry didn't really blow anyone away. In other words, nothing had radically changed from 1997. There was talent on the roster, undoubtedly, but no one could have anticipated a Super Bowl run. That's right, the Falcons defied all odds in 1998 and made it to the team's first-ever Super Bowl, but it was anything but a simple task to get there.
Atlanta opened up the season on the road against Kerry Collins and the Carolina Panthers. They edged out a tight contest and came away with a 1–0 start to the year, defeating the recent expansion team 19–14. The following week was the first home game for the Falcons, and yet again they managed to stick out a close one, besting Philadelphia with a final of 17–12. The defense appeared to be solid in the opening weeks, but nothing about the team screamed "Super Bowl contender."
Week 3 was a bye week, and a Week 4 divisional trip to San Francisco set the Falcons back to 2–1, as Steve Young and the 49ers offense put up 31 points and looked just as good as their 13–3 team from the season prior.
Week 5 changed things a bit, however, as Atlanta took on Carolina again and completely tore apart the young squad, winning 51–23. The Falcons offense looked impressive, and they did not disappoint very often, going forward. Atlanta won the next two contests and found itself with a 5–1 record.
Just when things were starting to pick up, a setback occurred before the Falcons' October 25 matchup against the New York Jets. Chandler was unable to play due to injury, leaving the Falcons to depend on backup Steve DeBerg to lead the offense. The end result was not pretty. Atlanta dropped its second game of the year 28–3, faltering entirely without the likes of Chandler running the show.
Chandler wasn't out for long, fortunately for Atlanta, and things were back on track the next week. A 37–15 victory over St. Louis put the team at 6–2, and they were on a course to take on the New England Patriots the next week. The Falcons truly looked like a team capable of a playoff run against the Patriots, sparking one of the most electrifying games they played all year. Chandler and Anderson piled on the points, the defense refused to budge, and when it was all said and done, the Falcons walked away with a remarkable 41–10 victory. From there on out there was no stopping the Dirty Birds.
Jamal Anderson did the Dirty Bird dance often in 1998, as he rushed for 14 touchdowns for the year. With their young running back dancing all over the place and a veteran quarterback looking sharper than ever, the Falcons managed to defeat every opponent they faced after that second loss to the Jets. They won nine games to close out the regular season, and the city of Atlanta had no idea how to feel, for all of Georgia had never seen any kind of success like this as far as professional football went.
If you lived in Atlanta during the finest run in Falcons history, you know just how ecstatic the entire region was. One couldn't travel anywhere in Georgia without seeing Falcons logos, flags, jerseys, and myriad other items bearing the team's iconography. The fan base had been awaiting a season like this one for quite some time — 32 years, to be exact.
The Falcons forged ahead into the playoffs. With a first-round bye, they took on none other than the 49ers in the divisional round of the playoffs. One of Atlanta's two losses had been to San Francisco, but they avenged that initial defeat in Week 11. This was the rubber match of the season series, and how fitting it was.
Jamal Anderson led the way once again, assaulting the Niners defense for 113 rushing yards and two touchdowns. Steve Young and Jerry Rice attempted to finish the game with some last-minute heroics, but they came up short. Atlanta came away on top 20–18 and headed to the NFC Championship Game, the first conference championship the Falcons had ever been involved in.
Despite all the success the Dirty Birds had seen in 1998, there were very few souls on this earth who expected them to beat the 16–1 Minnesota Vikings to go to the Super Bowl. Randall Cunningham piloted one of the most powerful offenses in all of football, with Cris Carter, Randy Moss, and Robert Smith backing him up. All four players were Pro Bowlers that year, and the Vikings had 10 players total on the Pro Bowl roster, just to give an idea of what the Falcons were up against.
Minnesota jumped out to an early lead at home in the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome. The Vikings led 20–7 in the second quarter, but Chandler managed to put his team right back in the mix. Terance Mathis caught a touchdown pass to make it 20–14 heading into halftime.
Morten Andersen kicked a 27-yard field goal with 5:36 left in the third quarter, putting Atlanta just three points behind in the never-ending uphill battle. The Vikings remained indifferent to any comeback attempt and marched right back 82 yards in 15 plays for a Matthew Hatchette touchdown catch, putting the score at 27–17.
Chandler followed up that drive with a 70-yard completion to Tony Martin, and Andersen booted a 35-yarder to bring the Falcons within seven. The ensuing possession from the Vikings, though, provided one of the most unbelievable moments of the entire season.
Excerpted from 100 Things Falcons Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die by Ray Glier, Knox Bardeen. Copyright © 2012 Ray Glier and Knox Bardeen. Excerpted by permission of Triumph Books.
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