The Atlanta Falcons are a professional American football team based in Atlanta. The Falcons compete in the National Football League (NFL) as a member club of the league’s National Football Conference (NFC) South division. The Falcons joined the NFL in 1965 as an expansion team, after the NFL offered then-owner Rankin Smith a franchise to keep him from joining the rival American Football League (AFL).
In their 54 years of existence, the Falcons have compiled a record of 375–475–6 (365–461–6 in the regular season and 10–14 in the playoffs), winning division championships in 1980, 1998, 2004, 2010, 2012, and 2016. The Falcons have appeared in two Super Bowls, the first during the 1998 season in Super Bowl XXXIII, where they lost to the Denver Broncos 34–19, and the second was 18 years later, a 34–28 overtime loss to the New England Patriots in Super Bowl LI.
The Falcons’ current home field is Mercedes-Benz Stadium, which opened for the 2017 season; the team’s headquarters and practice facilities are located at a 50-acre (20 ha) site in Flowery Branch, northeast of Atlanta in Hall County.
Professional football first came to Atlanta in 1962, when the American Football League (AFL) staged two preseason contests, with one featuring the Denver Broncos vs. the Houston Oilers and the second pitting the Dallas Texans against the Oakland Raiders. Two years later, the AFL held another exhibition, this time with the New York Jets taking on the San Diego Chargers.
In 1965, after the Atlanta–Fulton County Stadium (then known simply as Atlanta Stadium) was built, the city of Atlanta felt the time was right to start pursuing professional football. One independent group which had been active in NFL exhibition promotions in Atlanta applied for franchises in both the AFL and NFL, acting entirely on its own with no guarantee of stadium rights. Another group reported it had deposited earnest money for a team in the AFL.
With everyone running in different directions, some local businessmen (Cox Broadcasting) worked out a deal and were awarded an AFL franchise on June 8, contingent upon acquiring exclusive stadium rights from city officials. NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle, who had been moving slowly in Atlanta matters, was spurred by the AFL interest and headed on the next plane down to Atlanta to block the rival league’s claim on the city of Atlanta. He forced the city to make a choice between the two leagues; by June 30, the city picked Rankin Smith and the NFL.
The AFL’s original expansion plans in June 1965 were for two new teams in 1966, in Atlanta and Philadelphia. It later evolved into the Miami Dolphins in 1966 and the Cincinnati Bengals in 1968. The NFL had planned to add two teams in 1967; the competition with the AFL for Atlanta forced the first to be added a year early in 1966. The odd number of teams (15) resulted in one idle team (bye) each week, with each team playing 14 games over 15 weeks (similar to 1960: 12 games over 13 weeks). The second expansion team, the New Orleans Saints, joined the NFL as planned in 1967 as its 16th franchise.
The Atlanta Falcons franchise began on June 30, 1965, when Rozelle granted ownership to 40-year-old Rankin Smith Sr., an Executive Vice President of Life Insurance Company of Georgia. He paid $8.5 million, the highest price in NFL history at the time for a franchise. Rozelle and Smith made the deal in about five minutes and the Atlanta Falcons brought the largest and most popular sport to the city of Atlanta. The Atlanta expansion team became the 15th NFL franchise, and they were awarded the first overall pick in the 1966 NFL Draft as well as the final pick in each of the first five rounds. They selected consensus All-American linebacker Tommy Nobis from the University of Texas, making him the first-ever Falcon. The league also held the expansion draft six weeks later in which Atlanta selected unprotected players from the 14 existing franchises. Although the Falcons selected many good players in those drafts, they still were not able to win right away.
The Atlanta team received its nickname on August 29, 1965. Miss Julia Elliott, a school teacher from Griffin, was singled out from many people who suggested “Falcons” as the nickname for the new franchise. She wrote: “the Falcon is proud and dignified, with great courage and fight. It never drops its prey. It is deadly and has a great sporting tradition.”