It was 50 years ago when the Atlanta Falcons played their first season in the National Football League (NFL). They were granted an expansion team in June 1965 and played their first game on September 11, 1966 losing to the Los Angeles Rams 19-14.
The Falcons lost their first nine games until beating the New York Giants 27-16 for their first win in franchise history. They would end up winning three games in their first season to finish 3-11 for seventh place in the NFL’s Eastern Conference.
The first head coach was Norb Hecker who had been the defensive backs coach for the Green Bay Packers. Hecker continued coaching in various positions and retired after coaching the Amsterdam Admirals of the World League of American Football in 1995.
Randy Johnson started 11 of the 14 games at quarterback for the Falcons. He passed for 1,795 yards with 12 touchdowns and 21 interceptions. Johnson played for the Falcons until 1970. He also played for the New York Giants, Honolulu Hawaiians of the World Football League, Washington Redskins and Green Bay Packers.
Junior Coffey was the team’s leading rusher with 722 yards and scored four touchdowns. Coffey finished his career with 2,037 yards and 10 touchdowns. After football, Coffey became a racehorse trainer.
Linebacker Tommy Nobis won the NFL Rookie of the Year Award and became the first Falcon named to the Pro Bowl. Nobis played for the Falcons for 10 seasons before retiring after the 1976 season. Today Nobis is a co-founder and board of directors member of the Tommy Nobis Center which helps to develop and provide job training, employment and vocational support for youth and adults with disabilities.
The Falcons would not have their first winning season until 1971 when they finished 7-6-1. Their first playoff appearance came in 1978.