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Throwback Thursday Series: Too Legit to Quit

An unforgettable season, after a decade of mediocrity.

Jerry Glanville

fWe’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 Thomas Dimitroff here

The Atlanta Falcons entered the 1990s as a perennial loser franchise, for all intents and purposes: since their inception in 1966 and through 1990 they had achieved a total of five winning seasons, one division title and had one playoff win.

The team entered the 1991 season having finished below .500 in the previous 10 years, consecutively. Under second-year head coach Jerry Glanville, along with superstar CB Deion Sanders entering his third season, there was hope that the Falcons could find themselves on the upswing sooner rather than later.

The start to the season, however, was less than ideal. The team lost its first two games, and after a home blowout loss to the New Orleans Saints to drop to 2-3 going into the week 6 bye, it looked to be more of the same for the seemingly snake-bit franchise.

An exciting week 7 win against the San Francisco 49ers, who had a history of slapping Atlanta around, completely swung the pendulum of what could’ve been just another forgettable season. The birds would beat the Niners again in week 10, using a double-digit fourth quarter comeback to cap off a run of three wins in four weeks following the bye.

The Falcons would use five straight wins from November 17 through December 15 to punch their ticket to the playoffs. This included back to back fourth-quarter comeback wins against the Saints and Green Bay Packers in weeks 13 and 14.

The team was led by the aforementioned Deion Sanders, who totaled six interceptions, two forced fumbles and two total touchdowns en route to his first ever pro bowl appearance. This version of the Falcons had a flair for both the dramatic and the exciting, with fellow defensive backs often looking to lateral the ball to Sanders after every interception.

Joining Sanders on defense was star LB Jessie Tuggle, who had an NFL-best 207 total tackles.

QB Chris Miller also made it to the pro bowl (his only career appearance), after throwing for 3103 passing yards, and a TD/INT ratio of 26/18 in 14 games played. His weapons of choice were pro bowler Andre Rison and Michael Haynes, who combined for 2098 receiving yards and 23 receiving touchdowns. This trio led the Falcons to the playoffs as the fifth best offense in the NFL, statistically.

In the playoffs, Atlanta would have to travel to Louisiana for a third meeting with the New Orleans Saints that season. The Saints had just won the division for the first time in franchise history.

Led by Miller’s 291 passing yards and 3 touchdowns, however, the Falcons emerged victorious at the Superdome, in what is still the only playoff meeting in franchise history between the rivals. Miller completed a game-winning 61-yard touchdown pass to Louisiana native Haynes (144 receiving yards, two touchdowns) with 2:41 left.

This would be Atlanta’s first ever road playoff victory, and it gave Falcons fans tremendous bragging rights in the rivalry, even to this day.

The Falcons would go on to lose to the eventual Super Bowl Champion Washington Redskins in the next round, but that wouldn’t dampen this incredible season.

The impact of the 1991 season went far beyond just a playoff appearance and road playoff victory. The swag that this Falcons team played with went hand in hand with the city’s erupting music culture. Even the nickname “too legit to quit” came from an MC Hammer, who could be seen next to Deion Sanders on the sidelines all season, tribute to the Falcons.

This great season couldn’t have come at a better for the birds, as the Georgia Dome made its grand opening the next season. Atlanta was a perennial loser city in sports throughout its history until the ‘90s. 1991 signaled a changing of the guard in regards to Atlanta’s sports fortune: it would be the start of 14 straight division titles for the Braves, the city would host the Olympics in 1996 and the Falcons would have more success than they ever had before.

The city of Atlanta identified with this Falcons team, and even if they didn’t get farther than the divisional round, they’ll be remembered not only in Atlanta sports history but also Atlanta folklore in general, for a long time to come.

Expect these “Throwback Thursday” articles 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.