It’s been nearly fifteen months since the world lost a legend. When Falcons alumnus Tommy “Mr. Falcon” Nobis passed away, I was sad. I was sad because he’s one of the greatest football players to ever wear a Falcons jersey. I was sad because I knew they’d find evidence of CTE in his brain given all the concussions he quietly endured during his playing days. (And they did.) But the fact that Nobis would never get to personally experience his Pro Football Hall of Fame induction? Man, that was the hardest thing to swallow.
The Falcons chose Nobis (first overall in the 1966 NFL draft), but Nobis also chose the Falcons, too. You see, he was also drafted by the Houston Oilers, then a member of the now-defunct American Football League. Nobis took a couple weeks and ultimately decided to roll the dice with an unproven expansion team. A newspaper article describing the day he signed referenced “a grinning Rankin Smith.” And come on, if you were Rankin, grinning was the natural response?
Nobis was the NFL’s rookie of the year in 1966. (His 294 tackles that season would be an NFL record if the statistic wasn’t considered “unofficial.”) He made the Pro Bowl during his first three years as a pro, then again in 1970 and 1972. He earned All Pro honors twice. At the end of the 1960s, the Pro Football Hall of Fame voters named him to their All-Decade team. During Nobis’ 11 years as a professional football player, he racked up 12 interceptions and recovered 13 fumbles. Nobis got injured and missed most of the 1971 season, but he’d only miss 2 other games during his entire career. He started 132 of the 133 NFL games he played in.
So why isn’t Nobis in the Pro Football Hall of Fame? Six words: Because he played for the Falcons. Nobis played on a lot of bad teams in a fledgling market. I’m sure he had some sense of what he was getting himself into, but that shouldn’t be held against him. Because he’s been out of the league for 25 years, if Nobis were to make it in, he’d have to first get nominated by what is referred to as the Senior Finalists Selection Committee. Of the 18 finalists named each year, either one or two are nominated by that committee. That means Nobis would have to be the non-modern era player or one of two non-modern era players named each season. That doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence going forward, does it?
In short, absent a fundamental change in the process or a miracle, Nobis likely won’t get inducted anytime soon. Maybe we need to start a petition or organize a rally. Or maybe, if I’m being brutally honest, Canton just needs to get their act together. So get your act together, Canton, because this is an injustice you need to address.