When the Atlanta Falcons and the New England Patriots take to the field Feb. 5 for a chance to claim the title of Super Bowl champion, more than 100 million people around the United States will be watching.
While most people are familiar with the Patriots due to their record-breaking ninth Super Bowl appearance, many might not know much about the Falcons. In honor of the Atlanta’s second appearance at the Super Bowl and its attempt to bring home its first championship, here are 10 facts about the franchise the average fan may not know.
1. The Atlanta NFL team was established in June 1965, but it didn’t have a name yet. The franchise held a contest a year before the team played its first game to name the NFL team. Suggestions came pouring in, including the Rebels, Bombers, Fireballs, Knights, Goobers and others.
Although several people suggested the Falcons, a teacher named Julia Elliott was deemed the winner because in her essay she wrote, “The falcon is proud and dignified, with great courage and fight. It never drops its prey. It’s deadly and has a great sporting tradition.”
2. The Falcons are expected to play in a new location called the Mercedes-Benz Stadium at the start of 2017 season. The 75,000-seat stadium boasted an estimated total cost of $1.5 billion. Replacing the Georgia Dome, the new stadium will feature a retractable roof that can open or close in less than seven minutes and will have the largest LED video display in all of sports.
3. In 1966, the Falcons used a live falcon as a mascot. However, during one practice, the falcon escaped the Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium after getting scared off. It was found a few days later perched on top of a Kraft Food plant in nearby Decatur around 12 miles east of downtown.
4. The owner of the Atlanta Falcons is Arthur Blank, who has a net worth of about $3.3 billion. He made much of his fortune from founding The Home Depot with Bernard Marcus in 1978. He officially bought the Falcons for $545 million after the other owners unanimously approved the purchase.
5. A tie game is a rare occurrence in the NFL that happens when the score is still tied at the end of overtime. However, in 1970, the Atlanta Falcons recorded two ties in one season. By comparison, the Falcons have only tied a game twice since 1974.
6. The Falcons have always worn black or red helmets. But in 1974, a white helmet design was unveiled by the team and a prototype was made. The plans were ultimately scrapped.
7. The most successful season in the history of the franchise so far came in 1998. The team won the NFC West and surprised the league with to its 14-2 record. After winning the NFC championship against the heavily favored Minnesota Vikings, the team went on to Super Bowl XXXIII where it lost in embarrassing fashion to the Denver Broncos. Despite the loss, fans still cherish the year for its accomplishments like the franchise record for points scored and most wins.
8. The team has had mixed success over the years. Although the team’s first season was in 1966, it didn’t post its first winning season until 1971. In the first 40 years of the franchise, the team had never posted back-to-back winning seasons.
9. In 1998, Steve DeBerg joined the Atlanta Falcons as a backup quarterback after taking five years off from football. When Chris Chandler was unable to play against the New York Giants on Oct. 25, DeBerg led the team to a win and became the oldest quarterback to ever start a game at 45 years and 12 days. Even though he didn’t play, DeBerg was also the oldest player to ever be included on a roster for the Super Bowl when the Falcons advanced later that season.
10. According to Matt Winkeljohn’s book “Tales from the Atlanta Falcons Sideline,” the team spent their first training camp in 1966 in a poorly maintained facility in the mountains of North Carolina. The food was so bad that many of the players suffered food poisoning. To figure out what caused the illness, the medical staff sent legendary linebacker Tommy Nobis to the hospital where he had to “crap into a pot or whatever.”