As the Falcons uniform history series continues, the offensive and defensive linemen portion has arrived. The number 63 is less noticeable than most numbers within the sixties. Many of the linemen only played with Atlanta for a few seasons. One lineman ended up becoming a memorable name within the pro wrestling industry. From a football perspective, the number 63 was worn by one excellent player.
Despite being drafted in a dreadful draft class under Rich McKay, which ended up being his last year as a general manager. This player developed into a reliable left guard and became one of the most consistent Falcons over the past decade. Here are the players that have worn number 63 throughout history of the Atlanta Falcons.
LT: Nick Bebout
The former sixth round pick of the 1973 draft put together a respectable career. Bebout managed to play three seasons in Atlanta, despite only starting four games. Eventually, he signed with Seattle in 1976 and became an efficient starter. Bebout’s play teetered off in 1979 and Seattle chose not to re-sign him. His career ended in 1980 playing for Minnesota. Whenever a sixth round pick can play eight seasons in the NFL, it demonstrates that more later round picks can persevere.
LG: Justin Blalock
The 2006 All-American left guard lived up to expectations in Atlanta. Despite never making a Pro Bowl appearance, Blalock was an excellent run blocker and fairly consistent at pass blocking. It wasn't all positive early on, as the former Longhorn was a healthy scratch through the last few games of the 2007 season. Whenever a rookie lineman struggles with penalties and assignments, it's a wise move to sit the player down, regardless of their draft status.
The former second round pick excelled in 2008, as the entire offensive line exceeded expectations blocking for Michael Turner. Blalock infamously recovered a Matt Ryan fumble for a touchdown in Atlanta's 24-17 victory over Minnesota. That memorable touchdown helped clinch a playoff berth for the cinderella 2008 team. From 2010 to 2014, Blalock proved to be an asset through various positive and negative situations amongst the offensive line.
Consistency can be difficult to find at the guard position. When you consistently play well and start 125 out of 128 games over eight seasons, those accomplishments signify an excellent career. Blalock wasn't the mauler that Harvey Dahl was or leader that Todd McClure became throughout the 2000's. He was simply reliable, which proved to be vital within a horrendous 2007 draft class. After being deemed as a poor fit for Kyle Shanahan's zone blocking scheme, Blalock was released in February and retired in June. That decision made him one of the rare Falcon players to never play for another team.
LG: Dick Enderle
Enderle was another late-round pick (seventh round) that defied the odds by playing eight seasons. Although he never proved to be a consistent starter, Enderle was versatile by having the ability to play both guard positions. Atlanta selected him in the 1969 draft and kept him for three seasons. The New York Giants signed him to start at left guard for two seasons. Eventually, Enderle was demoted to a backup role once again. The former Minnesota Gopher managed to play until 1976. After failed stints at Green Bay and San Francisco, he wasn’t given another opportunity.
LG/RG: Roberto Garza
Based on looking at some players' respective careers, Atlanta has a tendency of not re-signing offensive linemen that end up becoming starters on other teams. Garza was mostly a backup in Atlanta from 2001 to 2004. He always proved to be a competent player, when called upon to start for an injured lineman. Atlanta decided not to re-sign him, which led to Chicago giving him a one-year contract. Garza ended up starting at right guard and center through a ten-year span in Chicago.
Pass-blocking always remained an issue for him against bigger linemen. What propelled Garza’s successful career was from being a superb run blocker and willingness to play multiple positions. The former fourth round pick will always be remembered as a team-first player. It’s unfortunate that his best years came in Chicago, when Atlanta could have utilized him at left guard over Matt Lehr in the mid 2000’s. Garza was released by Chicago last April. It’s highly unlikely that another team will sign him, which marks the end of a solid 14-year career.
LG: Jeff Kiewel
Kiewel started for Atlanta in 1985, before a serious knee injury kept him from playing in 1986. The former Arizona Wildcat was unable to fully recover from that injury. Kiewel played one more season for Atlanta. His career ended in 1987, when no other team decided to give him an opportunity in training camp.
RG: Greg Kindle
Despite being selected in the second round of the 1973 draft, Kindle failed to prosper with St. Louis. He started only two games in two seasons for them. Atlanta gave him an opportunity in 1976 to start at right guard. After two injury-plagued seasons, Kindle wasn’t re-signed and had to play in the CFL to continue his career. The Winnipeg Blue Bombers was the last team he played for in 1978. It’s usually rare to see an NFL player’s career end in the CFL. Players usually look to build themselves up from having a few productive seasons within that respective league.
LG/C: Evan Pilgrim
Unlike most journeymen offensive lineman, Pilgrim is somewhat well-recognized. The "Pancake Maker" was his moniker at BYU for his absurd strength and putting opposing defensive linemen on their back. His monstrous qualities didn’t translate on a professional level. After investing a third-round pick on him in the 1995 draft, Chicago decided to cut him after two seasons.
Injuries plagued his stints at Tennessee and Denver. Atlanta gave him one final opportunity and Pilgrim managed to play two more seasons. After being a backup center for two seasons, Pilgrim retired in 2001. This has to be considered as an overall disappointing career for the well-acclaimed offensive lineman.
RT: Jim Wilson
The controversial figure only played seven games for the Falcons. Wilson was drafted by the San Francisco 49ers in the 1965 draft. The former All-American offensive tackle had two excellent seasons, including being placed on the all-rookie team. As the Atlanta Falcons franchise was being created, Wilson demanded to play for his hometown team. San Francisco reluctantly obliged to his demands of becoming a Falcon. Wilson had the desire to pro wrestle during the off-season, as Georgia wrester and promoter Ray Gunkel was interested in booking him for future events.
Atlanta was furious with his decision, as wrestling was considered too dangerous at the time. They traded him to the Los Angeles Rams, where Wilson played for three seasons. His career ended in 1971. due to injuries and wanting to pursue professional wrestling full-time. That ended up to becoming a poor decision, as Wilson ended up becoming outraged with the industry. His volatile experience led him towards wanting to start a union for professional wrestlers.
It failed to prosper, although Wilson’s crusade lasted over 30 years. In 2007, he went to the extent of going to Congress to hold hearings about the wrongdoings of the professional wrestling industry. From being unfairly excluded by promoters to writing a book in 2003 called Chokehold, Wilson’s off-the-field career was memorable to say the least. Unfortunately, he passed away in 2009 due to cancer.
NT: Mike Zele
Zele was a career-backup through his five seasons with Atlanta. After being drafted in the fifth round of the 1979 draft, the coaching staff exclusively inserted him into a run-stuffing role. His career never amounted into having a substantial role. Zele wasn’t re-signed following the 1983 season, which marked the end of his career.
The verdict doesn't need much of an explanation. Blalock was clearly the most efficient player amongst this list. His eight years in Atlanta surpasses every player on this list. As time wore on, Blalock was finally given the respect that he always deserved. It sadly came at the expense of an offensive line that self-destructed, due to injuries and disappointing high draft picks being overwhelmed.
It's a bittersweet moment for Blalock from looking at both perspectives. He can claim to retiring at a time, when he was still playing at a high level. Unfortunately, the last game of his professional football career will be from being part of an offensive line that was manhandled by the Carolina Panthers in a humiliating defeat. In such a rigorous sport, health is the most vital thing and Blalock has left the sport without suffering any severe injuries.