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First Falcons Team Pioneers

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  • First Falcons Team Pioneers

    It’s time to honor the past this weekend as the Falcons play gracious hosts for their annual “Alumni Day” at the Georgia Dome. This year is even more special than normal as they’ve invited members of the first team from 1966 to the game against the Carolina Panthers. Twenty players from the original team are slated to be back in town for the festivities.

    Falcons fans of all ages should stand up and applaud these players when they are announced at halftime. The ’66 Falcons were the first professional football team in the Southeast. The Falcons were the 15th NFL team and the 23rd pro team at any level. (There were eight teams in the old American Football League prior to merging together in 1970.) These ’66 birds filled a huge void in the sports landscape in the Southern region of the United States at the time.

    The new birds of prey that descended upon Atlanta gave the city, the state and the region prestige and civic pride. It enhanced their reputation nationwide as a big-time player in the sports world. It placed Atlanta among the upper echelon in the sports psyche in the minds of people throughout the country. No amount of money could buy those kinds of footprints implanted on a community.

    You could call these first Falcons pioneers for being part of history and bringing the burgeoning, popular sport of pro football to life in the South’s key city of Atlanta.

    When you hear the names of players such as Hawkins, Calland, Coffey, Nobis, Riggle, Reaves and Barnes recognized at halftime on Sunday, think about the impact these players had on Atlanta, not only just on the field, but off it as well.

    Here are some interesting facts about the Falcons first team in 1966.
    • The $8.5 million franchise fee paid by Rankin Smith on June 30, 1965 was the largest sum at that time paid for an NFL team.
    • At training camp in Black Mountain, North Carolina, 130 players showed up to try to make the first team.
    • One of the training camp’s first visitors was famous Reverend Billy Graham.
    • A Randy Johnson to Gary Barnes touchdown strike of 53 yards in the second quarter in the season opener at old Fulton County Stadium was the first official Falcons six-pointer. Barnes will be in attendance at Sunday’s game.
    • Nine players who started in that first game ever in team history will also be on hand on Sunday.
    • On December 11, 1966, the birds tied an NFL record for an expansion team by winning their third game of the season (vs. St. Louis).
    • The ’66 team became the first expansion team to not finish in last place. Atlanta ended up in seventh place in a field of eight teams in the NFL’s Eastern Conference.
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