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Throwback Thursday Series: Bobby Petrino quits

The snake slithered out of Atlanta in the middle of the night, and was in Arkansas the next day.

Atlanta Falcons v Minnesota Vikings Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

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 Deion Sanders, here.

Well, not all of them were going to be good moments.

Following a two-year run in 2005 and 2006 where the Atlanta Falcons went a combined 15-17, without finishing above .500 either year, the birds decided to go in a different direction than Jim Mora Jr. at the head coaching position. This was Atlanta’s window under star QB Michael Vick, after all, and they needed a new head coach who would get the team over the hump.

Owner Arthur Blank and GM Rich McKay turned to the college ranks, where they poached Bobby Petrino from the University of Louisville. Just six months earlier, Petrino signed a 10-year contract extension to remain the coach of the Cardinals indefinitely, but he slipped away (a sign of things to come) for a chance to coach the explosive Vick in Atlanta.

Petrino was a gifted offensive mind, and he was going to wreck havoc on the NFL with Vick at his disposal. The Falcons’ brass was so convinced of this that they gave him a five-year, $24 million contract.

Then everything went up in smoke. Prior to the start of the 2007 season, Vick was arrested and plead guilty for his involvement in a dogfighting ring. He would end up serving 21 months in federal prison and would miss the 2007 and 2008 seasons. Vick’s days with the Falcons were over.

Atlanta had to hand the keys to a QB triumvirate of Joey Harrington, Byron Leftwich and Chris Redman, and the results were as expected. The team was blindsided after losing their best player and the face of the franchise so suddenly and unexpectedly.

Thirteen games into the season, sitting on a record of 3-10, Petrino would deliver a blindside hit to the franchise of his own. He would resign following a 34-14 loss to the New Orleans Saints on Monday Night Football, and he would accept the head coaching job at the University of Arkansas just a few hours later. Because the team had an off day the next day, they didn’t even know about this until that Wednesday.

There are so many more layers to this than just a resignation. Only two weeks earlier, Petrino dismissed any reports of him looking to leave the Falcons: “I haven’t given it one bit of thought. I certainly don’t want to get into any speculation and rumors and having to deal with that. I’m focused on our football team here.”

In the ultimate act of cowardice, Petrino wouldn’t say this to any of his players, the way you would expect a leader to do. Instead, he would leave a 78-word laminated note in each player’s locker:

Arthur Blank said: “The best way to describe the way we feel is betrayal.”

QB Joey Harrington: “To have him talk about family, about team, about commitment, then come in here and have a form letter at your locker, that’s not a man’s act. That’s how a coward acts.”

Grady Jackson: “For him to quit like that shows his true colors, like a coward with a yellow stripe down his back.”

Lawyer Milloy would write the word “coward” in red sharpie on the note and showed it to reporters.

Mike Zimmer, the current head coach of the Minnesota Vikings who was Petrino’s defensive coordinator in Atlanta, would tear into his former boss three years later: “He’s a coward, he ruined a bunch of people’s lives, a bunch of families, kids, because he didn’t have enough (guts) to stay there and finish the job. And that’s the truth. Most people in football have enough courage about him and enough fight to stick it out and not quit halfway through the year. It’s cowardly.”

Petrino would end up getting fired from Arkansas in 2012, following a motorcycle crash where he lied and told the team he was alone before the police report revealed that former Arkansas Volleyball player Jessica Dorrell was with him during the incident. He would admit that he was having an inappropriate and adulterous relationship with Dorrell as well.

Milloy, speaking for Falcons fans everywhere, would say: “That’s karma... Just because he knows X’s and O’s doesn’t mean he’s a nice person.”

Petrino is currently back at Louisville as their head coach, always getting another chance no matter how slimy he proves to be. The Falcons, meanwhile, bounced back and have ushered in the greatest period in franchise history following his departure. Fans still haven’t forgotten how that coward pulled the rug from under the franchise’s feet and, as a result, Bobby Petrino is still public enemy number 1 in Falcon country.

I’m not one to wish harm on anyone, but since it turned out okay in the end, I’m not afraid to say I’ll also never get tired of watching that glorious neck brace press conference following the motorcycle incident.

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.