We’re in the dead period of football (you can read about how much I hate this period here), and with it we don’t have much to talk about except for some speculation here and there.
I figured this would be a good time to look back on some moments in Falcons history and maybe re-live them while we wait for football to come back.
That idea has given rise to a new series of “Throwback Thursday” articles I’m planning on writing throughout the dead period. Each week, we’ll re-live and discuss a certain moment in this franchise’s 52-year history.
You can find last week’s Throwback Thursday article, about Tommy Nobis, here.
Big Ben Right
As discussed last week, the city of Atlanta was awarded an NFL franchise in 1966. The problem was that the team which Atlanta fielded just wasn’t very good for a very long time. They entered the 1978 season never having made the playoffs in 12 tries. To be fair, they should’ve made it in 1973, with a 9-5 record, but were unlucky not to.
In 1978, the Falcons finally looked like they would be among the big boys, in the post-season. Despite a rough 2-4 start, they used a win streak to propel themselves into the thick of playoff contention.
Atlanta went into a Week 11 rivalry game against the New Orleans Saints with a 6-4 record, having won four games in a row. The Saints had their own aspirations of making the playoffs for the first time in franchise history, as they entered that game with a 5-5 record.
Things didn’t look good for the birds on that November afternoon: they trailed 17-6 with 2:23 left in the game and the ball on their own 20-yard line. QB Steve Bartkowski led the team on an 80-yard touchdown drive which was capped off by Haskel Stanback’s 1-yard touchdown run to pull the Falcons within four points.
After the Saints failed to salt the game away, Atlanta would end up having the ball on their own 43-yard line with 19 seconds left.
The Falcons lined up with WRs Wallace Francis, Alfred Jenkins and Alfred Jackson in a trips right formation. Bartkowski threw a Hail Mary pass down the right sideline, and it was purposely tipped in the air by Francis and caromed perfectly into the hands of Jackson at around the 10-yard line before he traveled the final few yards to score the touchdown and give Atlanta an unbelievable victory. Over 70,000 Saints fans at the Louisiana Superdome were left dumbfounded.
The Falcons would end up squeaking into the playoffs with a 9-7 record, where they would once again use a 14-point comeback in the dying minutes of the game to shock the favored Philadelphia Eagles on Christmas Eve, in what would be the first playoff win in franchise history.
Atlanta would not have made the playoffs without the victory achieved by “Big Ben Right.” Taking that into account, as well as the excitement of it all combined with the fact that it happened against the Saints makes “Big Ben Right” arguably the single greatest play in Atlanta Falcons history. The Saints would end up missing the playoffs with a 7-9 record, which sounds familiar.
Expect these “Throwback Thursday” article to be recurring throughout the offseason, to reminisce about the team’s history and to give us some stuff to talk about. Don’t expect them to go in order, however. The next one could look back on a moment that occurred in the 90s or even a few years ago. Between you and me, I’m just making it up as I go along.