The Atlanta Falcons were never the most glamorous franchise. They were among the worst teams in the league for a majority of the 1970’s. Not many players were well recognized or adored. They had to work their way into the spotlight in the 1990’s through entertaining gimmicks like “Too Legit To Quit” and the “Dirty Bird” dance.
Now for the last five years, they’ve been highlighted as one of the top teams in football. While last year was a major debacle, there have been players that stepped up and have become true icons. The Mount Rushmore of the Atlanta Falcons is a combination of present players with former players that were beloved for their toughness.
The Mount Rushmore was determined by consistency, durability, the impact they had on the franchise, and being with the team. Deion Sanders wasn’t included for not being with the Falcons for a major part of his career. That last spot belongs to someone, who has remained loyal and consistently dependable.
The ultimate original Falcon should always be included on any top Falcons related list. Nobis was only the second ever linebacker to be picked first overall, along with being the first ever draft pick got the Falcons. He showed his worth by winning the NFL rookie of the year. The most glaring stat from his first season was by having 296 tackles, which is an NFL record that won’t be touched.
His accolades are impeccable, as he went to the Pro Bowl five times and was named inyo the NFL-All Decade Team for the 1960’s. While reading his achievements, it makes me want to watch at least 30 minutes of his highlight reel. Unfortunately the Falcons weren’t winning many games and his outstanding play was overlooked by the main stream media at the time. That was part of the reason behind his exclusion from the Hall Of Fame. It’s frustrating to realize how naïve the Hall Of Fame committee can be, but nothing can take away the impact that Nobis had on the Falcons.
Some fans would still choose Steve Bartkowski as the best Falcons quarterback of all time. While he was surely productive and brought excitement to a Falcons team that needed it, he has been surpassed. Matt Ryan has been the model of consistency and already achieved numerous Falcon records. From having the most career wins as a starter to most passing yards in franchise history, Ryan has already proven to be an icon as a Falcon starter.
Fans can complain about his playoff record (1-4 overall) and not having the athleticism of an Aaron Rodgers or Andrew Luck. There will always be things to nitpick on a quarterback, who doesn’t live up to lofty expectations. They sadly forget about how resilient Ryan was and how he’s a true professional. In such a cruel season, he never put down his offensive line for taking so many hits. He took it on the chin and put the Falcons in position to win on many occasions. Numbers are great to embrace, but it’s character along with the stats that justifies a position for being known as a franchise icon.
There is always room to improve, especially coming off a 4-12 season. Ryan has still proven to be a top ten quarterback that has instilled faith within the fan base. Bartkowski only had really three good seasons, before injuries took a toll on him. Ryan has been far more durable and has arguably had five good seasons entering his prime. When Atlanta was at a crossroads following Michael Vick’s debacle, he brought back leadership and trust to an organization that desperately needed it from the quarterback position. That’s what signifies his spot on Mount Rushmore.
Another hard-nosed linebacker that had to be added to the Mount Rushmore. While he played the same position as Nobis, his road to glory was far different. He was un-drafted and considered too small to succeed as a linebacker. At 5’11 and just 230 pounds, many critics believed that fullbacks would overwhelm him at the point of attack. That never came to fruition, as he became a five time Pro Bowler and led the NFL in tackles between 1990-1999.
Tuggle was so explosive as a linebacker that it caught opposing teams by surprise. His ability to be efficient in both a 3-4 and 4-3 scheme is something not many linebackers can say they accomplished. There was no doubt in Tuggle, whether he was hunting down an opposing running back or covering the middle of the field. From 1988 to 1996, Tuggle reached 100 tackles or more every season. Consistency and durability are two major factors into becoming a star. Tuggle was the epitome of that and will always be beloved by all Falcon fans.
His twitter account may make you shake your head in disgust. I’ll never sit here and write about Roddy White being a possible valedictorian candidate. What he has proven is that his work ethic is tremendous, which propelled him to success. White didn’t have freak athleticism like Calvin Johnson or blazing speed like DeSean Jackson. He was considered fast, but it was being a well-rounded receiver that drove him to being picked in the first round.
White embraced contact from his high school days of wrestling. He knew how to get the upper hand to catch passes in traffic. Physicality was never an issue, it was the adjustment period from going to college to the pro's. It took two years to get his head right, before hitting that infamous “third year breakout season”. After not having a reliable number one receiver since Terrence Mathis, the Falcons finally found their new star receiver. White has been a model of consistency by having over 1100 yards from 2007 to 2012.
There is no denying that he’s started controversy and had a terrible work ethic in the early stages of his career. The player that he’s turned into now has been remarkable. Along with Ryan, he played a massive role in the 2008 revival season. He’s proven that he can go from being a deep threat to a possession receiver that can help move the chains instantly as well. Besides last year, he’s been as durable as they come at the wide receiver position. White’s loyalty and contributions deserve to be placed amongst the greatest Falcons. He will certainly go down as the best Falcons receiver ever for now, although Julio Jones may very well take his spot down the road.