The Atlanta Falcons saw Deion Sanders and Claude Humphrey head to the Hall of Fame in recent years, finally erasing decades where the franchise had not a single Hall of Famer to its name. While both are great players who deserve to be there, neither spent their entire careers in red and black, and I think it's time to talk about some players who aren't in the Hall despite storied years in Falcons jerseys.
These four players all spent their entire careers in Atlanta, and were widely viewed as some of the finest players at their position during their playing careers, if not well after. All four, I believe, deserve strong consideration for the Hall of Fame, and as time wears on, there are less and less people who either remember them or care strongly enough to push for their candidacies. I'm hoping that in some small way, we can spark renewed interest in all four and, if we're extremely lucky, help to propel at least one of these deserving Falcons into Canton.
I don't know if Kenn is the greatest Falcon in the team's 49 year history, but he's in the discussion. When you consider his place in not just the franchise's history, but the history of the NFL, it's clear we need to make his Hall of Fame argument. Loudly.
Only five linemen in NFL history played in more games than Kenn's 251—which includes 94 straight, or nearly six full seasons—and four of those players are in the Hall of Fame today. Kenn is also remarkable in that he started every single one of those 251 games. He was a five-time Pro Bowler when that meant a little more than it does today, and a five time All-NFL selection over 17 seasons in the NFL. He was the team's rock at tackle, an incredibly effective blocker who started 15 games for the 1994 Falcons at the age of 38 and then promptly retired. Kenn was, in short, a franchise icon who is in the Falcons' Ring of Honor, and one of the greatest tackles who ever played the game of football.
It's hard to figure why Kenn isn't already in Canton, given his fearsome reputation and durability, but I suspect it has a lot to do with toiling away for a chronically lousy and underappreciated Falcons team. He protected nearly a dozen quarterbacks over his 17 seasons in the NFL, and it certainly wasn't Kenn's fault that the teams he worked so hard for were only intermittently relevant.
This case is an easy one for me to make: Kenn deserves to go into the Hall of Fame. I'd argue he's better than at least a couple of the tackles already in there.
The franchise's first overall pick was known as Mr. Falcon during his playing days, and you can mount a fair and reasonable case that he's the greatest player Atlanta has ever known.
What hurts Nobis now is that stat-keeping back then was somewhere between unreliable and non-existent. Nobis holds an NFL record for his 294 (!) tackles as a rookie, and he had 12 career interceptions. Beyond that, good luck trying to figure out Nobis's true impact, because the stats simply aren't there. The NFL didn't even start recording sacks for individual players until 1982, and his tackle numbers are lost to time.
What we have is reputation, and Nobis had one hell of a reputation. Quoth Wikipedia:
In eleven professional seasons he led the Falcons in tackles nine times, went to five Pro Bowls (one in 1972 after two knee surgeries), was named All-Pro twice and was chosen for the NFL's "All-Decade Team" for the 1960s. Miami Dolphins great, running back Larry Csonka commented, "I'd rather play against Dick Butkus than Nobis," and Falcon's coach Norm Van Brocklin once pointed to Nobis' locker and proclaimed, "There's where our football team dresses."
Eleven seasons is a long career for a guy who was known to hit like a train, and the Falcons put the five-time Pro Bowler and 1960's NFL All-Decade team member into the ring of honor because he deserved the honor. Every now and then former players and coaches agitate for Nobis to make the Hall, but he's still languishing. With Claude Humphrey making it in as a truly great player who may not have even been Nobis's equal, it's time to give Mr. Falcon another look.
I'll freely admit to being biased in favor of Tuggle, my all-time favorite Atlanta Falcon. Over 14 seasons in an Atlanta jersey, he piled up 1,640 tackles, 21 sacks, six interceptions, ten forced fumbles and six defensive touchdowns as the anchor of some of the finest defenses in the team's history. The fact that he did so as a former undrafted free agent only serves to make the tale a little more remarkable, and as Caleb Rutherford rightly notes, Tuggle has the NFL record for most tackles in a career.
His nickname, "The Hammer," gives you a sense of precisely how feared and effective Tuggle was throughout his career. In a particular bonkers 1990 as a 25-year-old, Tuggle terrorized opposing offenses to the tune of 201 tackles, 5 sacks and 3 forced fumbles, leaving many an unhappy running back in his wake. From 1990-1999, he had more tackles than anyone else in the NFL. I'm not necessarily the biggest fan of tackles as a stat, but Tuggle was a truly impactful player over his 209 games, and while there's plenty of other deserving linebackers still waiting for their spot in the Hall, you'd have a hard time arguing against The Hammer on his merits.
Jeff Van Note
Think of Todd McClure and how beloved he is in Atlanta. A former undrafted free agent, Mud Duck played in 144 consecutive games, anchored the offensive line for over a decade as the team's starting center and just generally did everything you'd expect a franchise icon to do. For all that, McClure isn't the best center in this team's history.
Van Note is. He played 18 seasons in Atlanta after being drafted in the 11th round, missed just four games and played in 155 straight at one point. He retired in 1986 at the age of 40 having spent his entire career with Atlanta, second only to Kenn with 246 games played, has the most Pro Bowl appearances for any Falcon with six, grabbed an All-Pro berth and was widely recognized as one of the finest centers of his time. There are currently nine centers in Canton, in case you were wondering, and I think you'd be hard-pressed to argue against Van Note as a Top 10 all-timer. He should be there, and again you have to wonder how much playing with the oft-ignored Falcons hurt his cause.
I urge all of you who love and appreciate these players to write to the Hall of Fame, give them a call or send them an email to plead the case for players like Kenn, Nobis, Van Note and Tuggle. They're deserving choices, all, and it's never too late to make the push that gets them where they ought to be.
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