How the Packers "seeded" the Falcons.


Sep 4, 2008
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In 1966 the Atlanta Falcons were a first year expansion franchise in the National Football League. The Dallas Cowboys in 1960 and Minnesota Vikings in 1961 were the first two and the New Orleans Saints in 1967 the last prior to the merger with the American Football League in 1970.

The Falcons first owner Rankin Smith Sr. wanted to acquire the best in building his new football team and in those days that meant the Green Bay Packers of coach Vince Lombardi. Smith apparently even had a brief fantasy of luring Lombardi himself to Atlanta but for several and obvious reasons that wasn't going to happen. So he looked instead to Lombardi's coaching staff in Green Bay; settling in on Norb Hecker, a former NFL player who had been a Lombardi assistant since his arrival to the Packers in 1959.

Lombardi didn't think Hecker was ready to be an NFL head coach but Atlanta went ahead with the hire anyway. Time and results would prove Lombardi's judgment correct.

Hecker brought with him to Atlanta another long time Green Bay assistant Tom Fears, who a year later would be coaching his own expansion team in New Orleans. He also hired a former player Johnny Symank, who had been a hardnosed cornerback on Lombardi's early title teams. Lombardi said of Symank in his book RUN TO DAYLIGHT, "If I had 35 more like him I would have a better football team than I have."

The Falcons also hoped to bring fullback Jim Taylor to their team. He had already indicated he would play out his option year with GReenBay, disgruntled over the huge contracts paid out to rookies Donny Anderson and Jim Grabowski in the bidding war with the AFL for college talent. But Taylor would have to wait to the next year to join an expansion team and then it would be the Saints.

Still the Falcons went after Green Bay players in the expansion draft. The other clubs had to provide a list of unprotected players the new Atlanta club could take to begin stocking their roster. The Falcons took 16 players with Green Bay ties or backgrounds; but since these were reserve or "scrub" players they only got a couple who paid off for them.

Guard Dan Grimm couldn't place on the Packers' line that had Jerry Kramer, Fuzzy Thurston and Gale Gillingham at the position. But he was a four year starter in Atlanta. Back Junior Coffey had no place in the Packers' stable of Jim Taylor, Paul Hornung, Elijah Pitts, Donny Anderson and Jim Grabowski. But he became Atlanta's leading rusher during the club's early years. A few years later another back who didn't fit in Green Bay was traded to Atlanta and Dave Hampton would become the Falcons first thousand yard rusher.

The Falcons went through the usual trials and tribulations of a new expansion team in '66. They lost their first 9 games, usually be lopsided margins. When they traveled to Milwaukee to play the Packers just past midseason the world champions trounced the infant team in a 56-3 laugher. But they did manage to win 3 games and avoided a last place finish in their division thanks to the awful Giants who went 1-12-1 that season.

The Packers dominated the Falcons for the first 5 years of meetings and only one game was even close. In the 1970's neither team was very good very often and Atlanta moved slightly ahead with 4 wins in 6 meetings. In the final game of the 1976 season, with both teams closing out losing seasons, the Packers went to Atlanta with the Falcons' original qb Randy Johnson leading their offense while the Falcons played with ex-Packer Scott Hunter. The Packers won 24-20.

The Falcons edged out the Packers by a half game for a wild card playoff berth in 1978, although they did not play each other that season. In the 1980's Packers-Falcons games did start to take on more direct playoff implications.

In 1981 the Falcons came into Lambeau as a favorite in the NFC for the Super Bowl. The Packers built a 17-0 lead thru 3 quarters but then Atlanta exploded for 31 points in the fourth period to win by 14. The Packers ended up falling one game short of making the playoffs at the end of that season.

The next year the Packers visited Atlanta. 1982 was the year a two month strike by players shortened and altered the NFL season. The Packer season, which began very promisingly, seemed on the verge of unraveling and the Falcons were favored as both were driving for the playoffs. The Pack played their best game of the year in winning 38-7 to clinch their first playoff berth in ten years.

The Falcons would give payback for that rout in 1983 when the Packers visited again. In a game that saw the two teams combine for 945 yds of offense the Falcons win 47-41. Corner Kenny Johnson returned two Lynn ****ey interceptions for td's. The first sent the game into overtime and the second won it in sudden death. Again the Packers would miss the playoffs by just one game.

In 1994, in their last game in Milwaukee, the Packers would finally beat the Falcons to clinch a playoff berth. QB Brett Favre's 9 yd. diving scramble with 14 seconds left gave the Packers a 21-17 win. That was also the game where all-pro wr Sterling Sharpe sustained the neck injury that prematurely ended his career on a hit by Atlanta lb Jesse Tuggle.

In 1995 the Packers and Falcons would begin to form a playoff rivalry. They met in the Wild Card Playoff at Lambeau. The Packers won handily 37-20 despite Atlanta outgaining them and qb Jeff George throwing for 366 yds.

In 2002 the Falcons again visited Lambeau for a Wild Card playoff, this time led by a dynamic rookie qb Michael Vick. In the season opener the Packers had everything they could handle with Vick in a 37-34 overtime survival. But on the "frozen tundra" in January where the Packers had never in their history lost a home playoff game the Southern dome team with the rookie qb figured to become toast.

But, of course, the Falcons stunned the flat Packers 27-7 to destroy the legend of home field postseason invincibility ever since. The Packers have managed just a .500 record in home playoff games since that night.

Eight years later it would be the Packers' turn to throw a playoff upset at the Falcons in their dome home. Aaron Rodgers played a flawless game, completing 31 of 36 passes in leading the sixth "seed" Packers to a 48-21 win over the "top seed" Falcons and going on to win the Super Bowl themselves.

Monday night's meeting will be the 30th between these two clubs in the 48 years the Falcons have been around. With wins in the last two meetings since the 2010 playoff the Packers have pulled ahead 16-13 on the all-time record as well as 2-1 in playoff meetings. Green Bay has a commanding 10-5 lead in games played at Lambeau or in Milwaukee.
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