Welcome to Forgotten Falcons, a 2019 offseason series where we remember some quality players who have been largely forgotten by the fanbase over the years. Today, we’ll take a look back at one of the first decent quarterbacks in team history, Bob Berry.
Time in Atlanta: 1968-1972
Stats: 8,489 yards, 57% completion percentage, 57 touchdowns, 56 interceptions, 8.1 yards per attempt, 127 sacks
In the year 1969, when Bob Berry enjoyed his best run on paper with the Atlanta Falcons, the game of football was a very different one than it is today. Even the worst quarterbacks in the year 2018 were putting up numbers that would have seemed eye-popping in 1991, but 1969 football may as well have been played on a different planet.
Just nine of 16 NFL teams threw more touchdowns than interceptions that year, and the league high for passing touchdowns was 25. The league high for passing yardage was 3,158 yards, and and the league high completion percentage for a team was 56%, both managed by the San Francisco 49ers. If you could throw more touchdowns than interceptions, much less a lot more, you were doing pretty well. It makes a season like Roman Gabriel’s 1969 MVP campaign, where he threw for 24 touchdowns and 7 interceptions, look insanely impressive.
And that’s where we enter Bob Berry. Steve Bartkowski was the first borderline great quarterback the Falcons had, Michael Vick was the most exciting, and Matt Ryan is pretty much agreed to be the best in team history at this point, the advantages of his era notwithstanding. But Berry was the first good, capable quarterback the Falcons had, and really the only one who consistently played at even a reasonably high level before Bart came along, with a live arm and good ball placement for his era.
That 1969 season stands out because he tossed 10 touchdowns versus two interceptions, going 4-3 in a year that also saw the immortal Randy Johnson managed 8/5 and Bruce Lemmerman managed 1/4. Berry had two lackluster seasons and a quality 1970 (16/13 with a nice 58% completion percentage) and a very solid 1971 that saw the Falcons earn a winning season for the first time in franchise history, as partially chronicled in the extremely cool video below. The Falcons wouldn’t be that successful again until 1977 with Bartkowski at the helm, and while Berry can’t take sole or even primary credit for that success, it was his pass to Ken Burrow in the team’s final game against the Saints that pushed them over the top.
A guy like Berry is worth remembering because he played for a Falcons team that was legitimately bad, riddled with the kind of crippling holes that we take for granted the Falcons will at least partially fix in the modern era but were just part of this team’s identity in the early years. Despite the very real odds against him and having to mostly share time with a revolving door of lousy quarterbacks, Berry did solid work and is one of only a handful of quarterbacks to achieve even moderate success for the Falcons. He’s been justifiably overshadowed by Bartkowski, Vick, Ryan and even Chris Chandler and Chris Miller, but he’s worth remembering.
I wasn’t around to watch Berry play, but I’m hoping that those of you who were will share your favorite memories and long-lost clips of him with the rest of us.