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Forgotten Falcons: James “Cannonball” Butler

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Fact: Cannonball Butler cracked walnuts with his pinkie toes

Lots of NFL players have nicknames. Beast Mode, Megatron, and The Fridge come to mind. But as nicknames go, James “Cannonball” Butler really had a leg up. Butler joined the Falcons in 1968 after three seasons with the Steelers, the team that drafted him out of Edward Waters College in Jacksonville, Florida.

Standing 5’9 and weighing less than 200 pounds, Butler wasn’t the biggest guy on the field. But what he lacked in size, Butler made up for with his speed and strength. Kinda like, ya know, a cannonball. At the end of his second season with the Falcons, Butler made a Pro Bowl appearance. (He racked up 655 rushing yards and averaged 31.2 yards/kickoff return that year.) Butler played four seasons with the Falcons and still ranks 12th all-time among Falcons alums in rushing yards (2,250).

If you’ve been a Falcons fan since the early 1970s, you might remember Butler’s epic, 82 yard kickoff return during a Monday Night Football game against the Packers on November 23, 1971. The Falcons won that game by a touchdown, their first Monday Night Football win in franchise history.

Butler died in 2014 following a battle with dementia. After his playing career ended in 1972, Butler coached at Carver High in Atlanta and worked for the city. Butler stands out as an exceptional player that helped buoy the Falcons in their infancy.

What say you about this Falcons legend, Falcoholics?