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Revisiting the 1966 Atlanta Falcons training camp

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Looking back at where it all began.

On June 30, 1965, the National Football League awarded the city of Atlanta an NFL franchise, making them the 15th team in the league.

The 1966 season would be the Atlanta Falcons’ inaugural season, but before it could all begin, training camp had to occur. The first ever training camp in franchise history started on July 2, 1966 at the Blue Ridge Assembly in Black Mountain, North Carolina. A total of 130 players would show up to Falcons training camp, including 42 players that they added in the 1966 NFL Supplemental Draft. According to the LA Times, legendary head coach Vince Lombardi, expressed interest in becoming the Falcons first head coach, but he also wanted part ownership. Owner Rankin Smith turned him down, and instead hired Lombardi’s defensive backfield coach, Norb Hecker.

“No, the facilities certainly aren’t ideal. The boys have been very good about adjusting to the situation, though,” Falcons head coach Norb Hecker told the Charlotte News according to the book Tales from the Atlanta Falcons sideline by Matt Winkeljohn. “There are no gripes, and the spirit has been very good.”

That was certainly putting it mildly. The practice field reportedly had uncut grass, awful food, and a lot of mosquitoes.

“There were no screens on the windows and the mosquitoes were as big as birds,” Al Thomy of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution said. “We almost had the first NFL players’ strike over the food. The hamburgers bounced off the floor. The players threatened to go on strike if they didn’t improve the food.”

It wasn’t just the field itself having problems, there was an apparent issue of players consuming alcohol. Newly acquired running back Alex Hawkins was expected to play a leadership role on the Falcons. At 5 a.m. one morning, head coach Norb Hecker found Hawkins on the back of a watermelon truck.

“Do you want to say anything on your behalf?” Norb Hecker asked.

“Would you believe I was kidnapped?” Alex Hawkins responded.

Following the 1966 training camp, the Atlanta Falcons would never return to Black Mountain, and the following year training camp was held at East Tennessee State University. The facility the Falcons used in Black Mountain is still around today, serving as a YMCA and and training center.

Falcons legend Tommy Nobis summed up the 1966 training camp perfectly, in saying “Black Mountain – it was pretty rough.”