There can be little argument that Morten Anderson and the 1998 Atlanta Falcons claim the mantle of the organization's most historic play in team history. It almost didn't matter that John Elway and the Broncos shut the Dirty Bird party down two weeks after The Kick: a 74-year-old Anderson had finally pushed Atlanta through to a Super Bowl.
And yet within that same stratosphere of ebullient, raucous celebration floats Wallace Francis, Steve Bartkowski, and the chaotic wonder of Big Ben Right. Certainly for sheer dramatic effect the Hail-Mary-tip-then-catch-for-TD registers high in the pantheon of Falcons memories. And for Wallace Francis, the 1978 season presented two clutch moments that earned Atlanta its first ever playoff win.
November 12, 1978: The Falcons (7-4) met Archie Manning and the Saints (5-6) in the Superdome for the first of a home-and-home set that season. On their own 43, Atlanta trailed 17-13 with 19 seconds left in the game. As planned, Bartkowski lobbed a prayer down the right sideline where -- also as planned -- Francis batted the ball up. Enter Alfred Jackson, who hauled in the mess and ran the last 10 yards into the endzone. Just like they drew it up, Big Ben Right had somehow worked. Tim Mazzetti sealed the PAT to notch the 20-17 win, and Leeman Bennett and company flew home happy.
A Christmas Eve Miracle
December 24, 1978: After finishing the regular season 9-7, the Falcons found themselves in their first ever playoff game: a wild-card matchup against the Philadelphia Eagles. Ron Jaworski turned in a relatively pedestrian 1978 season -- by Jaws standards -- with 206-of-398 completions for 2,487 yards and 16 touchdowns.
Atlanta was again down, 13-0, at the start of the fourth quarter, until Jim Mitchell hauled in a 20-yard touchdown pass to pull within a score. With time winding down, and with temperatures dropping into the low 40s at old Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, Bartkowski zipped a 37-yard touchdown pass to Francis, who by his own telling hadn't even broken on his route yet. All the same, there the ball was, and there was Wallace Francis. And there were the Falcons, squeaking out a precarious win in their first playoff game.
The Dirty Birds went on to lose to Dallas in the NFC West Division title game, 27-20, but Francis made the most of those playoffs with 12 catches for 201 yards and two touchdowns.
The 1978 season was only Wallace's third-best receiving year in Atlanta, though. He caught 45 passes for 695 yards and three touchdowns that season. The following year's campaign saw him better with 74 catches for 1,013 yards and eight touchdowns, and in 1980 he brought down 54 balls for 862 yards and 7 scores. Francis' 3,695 career receiving yards on 244 catches ranks him 10th among the Falcons' all-time earners.
Here's to Wallace Francis, then, diminutive receiver and linchpin of the 1978 season. You just barely snuck past fellow wideout Charlie Brown, who never made a field goal in his six NFL seasons.