The Atlanta Falcons were founded on June 30, 1965, when the NFL awarded an NFL franchise to a group controlled by a young insurance executive named Rankin Smith. At the ensuing press conference, Smith remarked, "Doesn't every adult male in America want to own his own football team?"
In January of 1966, majority owner Rankin Smith surprised everyone by naming Green Bay Packers assistant Norb Hecker the first head coach of the Atlanta Falcons. Although many potential candidates had been mentioned in the press, no one had considered Hecker. In retrospect, maybe Smith should have gone with one of those other candidates. In three seasons (1966-68), Hecker compiled a miserable record of 4 wins, 26 losses, and 1 tie for a winning percentage of just .145. He was replaced in 1968 by Norm Van Brocklin.
On November 27, 1965, Texas linebacker Tommy Nobis, the most coveted college football player in the nation, became the first player ever drafted by the expansion Atlanta Falcons. Drafted #1 overall by the Falcons, Nobis was also drafted by the Houston Oilers in the AFL Draft. The resulting debate over where he should sign reached as far as outer space when astronaut Frank Borman sent word back from Gemini 7, "Tell Nobis to sign with Houston." He didn't. Tommy Nobis signed with the Falcons and quickly proved worthy of the #1 selection earning NFL Rookie of the Year honors in 1966 as well as his first Pro Bowl selection. Nobis recorded an amazing 294 combined tackles that year, an all-time Falcons single-season record that still stands today. Over the course of his 11 year NFL career, he would make 4 more Pro Bowl appearances and would lead the Falcons in tackles nine times. He also intercepted 11 passes and returned two of them for touchdowns. Tommy Nobis is a member of the Atlanta Falcons' Ring of Honor and his #60 was the first number retired by the team. He is commonly referred to as "Mr. Falcon".
In 1982, Leeman Bennett became the first Atlanta Falcons head coach to retire with a winning record. In six seasons (1977-82), Bennett won 47 games and lost 44, giving him a .516 winning percentage. He earned NFC Coach of the Year honors in 1977 and 1980. His best season was arguably 1980 when the Falcons went 12-4 and advanced to the playoffs. (They were knocked out of the playoffs that year by the Dallas Cowboys who scored 3 touchdowns in a fourth quarter come-from-behind victory.)
Terance Mathis was the first Atlanta Falcon to amass more than 500 career receptions. Mathis made 573 receptions as a Falcon (1994-2001) for 7,349 yards and 57 touchdowns. His best season was 1994 when he caught 111 passes for 1,342 yards and 11 TDs.
The Atlanta Falcons drafted Virginia Tech QB Michael Vick with the #1 overall selection of the 2001 NFL Draft. In order to secure the #1 selection, the Falcons traded their first round pick (#5 overall), their third round pick (#67 overall), their second round pick in 2002 (#48 overall), and WR Tim Dwight to San Diego. Michael Vick would quickly become one of the most exciting players in the NFL and is considered by many experts to be the best rushing QB in the history of the league. In only his second season (first year as a starter), Vick led the Falcons to a 9-6-1 record and one postseason victory before being defeated by the Philadelphia Eagles in a 6-20 NFC Divisional Playoff loss.
Atlanta Falcons runningback Jamal Anderson rushed for a team-record 1,846 yards in 1998 and led the Falcons to Super Bowl XXXIII only to suffer a season-ending knee injury in the second game of the 1999 season. Atlanta finished the 1999 season 5-11. Anderson recovered from his ACL injury sufficiently to post a 1,000-yard season (1,024 to be exact) in 2000, but never regained his 1998 form. In 2001, he tore the ACL in his other knee, effectively ending his career.
DE Claude Humphrey was the first Atlanta Falcon to register more than 90 career sacks. Voted NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year in 1968, Humphrey would go on to record 94.5 sacks in his 10-year stint with the Falcons. He appeared in six Pro Bowls, including five consecutive Pro Bowls from 1970-74. He was traded to the the Philadelphia Eagles in 1979 and played several more years, bringing his total number of career sacks to 122. He also had two interceptions, a fumble recovery for a TD, and two safeties.