Falcons alumnus Jeff Van Note had an extraordinary career. And yet, notwithstanding his accomplishments, Van Note isn’t in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. What gives?
An 11th round pick in the 1969 NFL Draft, Van Note played center for the Falcons for parts of three decades (1969-1986). Over 18 seasons, he made the Pro Bowl 6 times (including a three-year stretch when he was 34, 35, and 36 years old) and earned All Pro honors twice.
Interestingly Van Note didn’t start out as a center. He played defensive end and running back in college. During Van Note’s first practice with the Falcons, Tommy Nobis famously laid him out. The Falcons drafted him with an eye towards getting him snaps at linebacker, but he apparently didn’t have a future on defense.
Cranky McCrankypants Norm Van Brocklin saw something in Van Note, shipping him off to play in a semi-pro, developmental league after one game as a pro.
At 6’2, 247 pounds, Van Note didn’t wow you with his size. Even so, he played 246 games for the Falcons during an era that took an incredible physical toll on its players. His durability and longevity were truly remarkable, given that context, and that has to count for something. Van Note still ranks 6th all-time among NFL OL in games played, one spot behind fellow Falcons legend Mike Kenn. Between 1969 and Van Note’s retirement, the Falcons drafted another 38 offensive linemen, and he outlasted them all. The man started 226 games, 32nd all-time.
So why does Van Note deserve to be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame? Because few former NFL greats had the same longevity and fortitude. He’s literally one of the best centers to ever play the game. If he played in a bigger market, we wouldn’t be having this conversation. And that’s a fact.