There's no doubt that, for many of our readers, 2013 was the worst season you could remember. For other readers it's the gut punch that was 2007. We also have plenty of readers who were following the Falcons back in 1989 and probably prefer to not remember the season, to be honest. Despite drafting one of the best players in franchise history, Deion Sanders, with their first round pick prior to the season, the year was just a struggle from start to finish for Atlanta, not just on the field, but off the field as well.
Prior to the draft, the team had traded away running back Gerald Riggs, who at the time was the most prolific rusher in franchise history. During the season the team suffered two devastating losses. Offensive tackle Ralph Norwood was killed in a car accident in November, and backup tight end Brad Beckman was killed in a car accident just before Christmas. It's hard to imagine two such losses in such short order. The team had not been performing well on the field prior to losing two teammates within the span of a month, and they finished the season with a seven-game losing streak.
Head coach Marion Campbell retired after the 12th game of the season, making his record as Atlanta's two-time head coach an underwhelming 17-51. Offensive line coach and assistant head coach Jim Hanifan agreed to accept a promotion to interim head coach allegedly after being assured that any losses would be credited to Campbell's (already poor) head coaching record. The assurance was a lie, and I'm sure Hanifan wasn't thrilled to learn that after the team went 0-4 under his leadership.
It wasn't for a lack of effort on Hanifan's part, however. According to Matt Winkeljohn in Tales From the Atlanta Falcons Sideline, he gathered the team in the locker room and held up a stick of dynamite to illustrate that the team was going to blow up the 49ers that week. While they fought valiantly and had a 10-6 at one point, they couldn't sustain it and ended up losing 23-10.
Prior to taking on Minnesota the next week, Hanifan presented the team with three disarmed grenades to represent the offense, defense, and special teams blowing up the Minnesota Vikings. That backfired, pun intended, as the Falcons fell to the Vikings 43-17.
Hanifan was not deterred. The third week that he was in charge a World War II-era bomb painted red and black featuring the words "No More Mr. Nice Guys" showed up at team headquarters. Len Pasquarelli, the AJC beat writer at the time, quoted an anonymous player as saying, "Hell, if we lose to Washington on Sunday, [Hanifan's] liable to show up for that last game with something nuclear." This was the week that Brad Beckman was killed, and the team did lose to Washington, and lost to Detroit in week 16 as well.
Just 7,792 fans were on hand to watch that final game in Fulton County Stadium. The fans and the players had definitely had enough of a heartbreaking and disappointing season. Pasquarelli summed it up by saying, "It's hard to put into words how bad that season was."
Were you following the Falcons in 1989? What are your memories of that season?