Most of the players on the Falcons career top 10 for rushing yardage are household names for this fanbase, from Gerald Riggs to William Andrews to Jamal Anderson to Warrick Dunn to Michael Vick to Michael Turner. Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman, of course, were just here a few years ago. If you’re a newer fan Dave Hampton might be a less familiar name, but I’m willing to wager the only name that will elicit a huh? from a sizeable portion of the fanbase is Haskel Stanback.
That’s a bit of a shame, because he had a great name and a solid player who held down the position between Hampton’s prime and Andrews’ addition to the team. He’s 9th all-time in rushing yards, 8th in rushing touchdowns, and was a major contributor during Atlanta’s 1978 postseason run. Oh, and his only career pass was a touchdown.
Let’s remember Haskel Stanback.
Time in Atlanta: 1974-1979
Statistics as a Falcon: 83 games, 52 starts, 728 rushing attempts, 2,662 rushing yards, 25 rushing touchdowns, 3.7 yards per carry, 24 fumbles; 98 receptions, 786 yards, 1 receiving touchdown, 1 passing attempt, 1 completion, 41 yards, 1 touchdown pass
Stanback was a standout at Tennessee, breaking a school single season record for rushing yards that would last a decade and eventually landing in the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame. That earned him a fifth round selection in the 1974 NFL Draft by the Cincinnati Bengals, who held on to him for a few months before swapping him along with offensive lineman Tom DeLeone, who Atlanta stupidly put on waivers after he was injured and let him go to the Browns, where he became a cornerstone of some terrific Cleveland teams over the next decade. While that mistake would linger, Stanback turned out to be a fine acquisition for th Falcons backfield, contributing to a slowly improving offense over the course of six seasons.
Stanback found himself third in the pecking order in the Atlanta backfield behind Dave Hampton and Art Malone, managing 235 yards and a touchdown on 57 carries. He pushed his way into a larger role in his second season in 1975, finishing second on the team in carries behind Dave Hampton (who enjoyed a 1,002 yard year) with 440 yards and 5 touchdowns on 105 carries. He was also somehow 5th on the team with 14 receptions in a year where the Falcons passing game was awful.
With Hampton gone in 1976, Stanback once again found himself in a timeshare in the backfield, finishing second on the team to Bubba Bean with 324 yards and 3 touchdowns. It wasn’t until Marion Campbell was mercifully fired and Leeman Bennett took over in 1977 that Stanback got the opportunity to be a true starter, and he enjoyed his best season with Bennett in town. That year, he had a career-high 247 carries for 873 yards and 6 touchdowns, chipping in 30 catches (second on the team that year) for 261 yards. It’s no exaggeration to say a shaky offense largely ran through Stanback that year.
The next year, he once again split time with Bubba Bean, finishing second on the team in carries, yardage and leading the backfield in touchdown runs. He did his best work in the postseason, carrying the load in a win against the Eagles and putting up a crisp 62 yards on 9 carries in a narrow loss to the Cowboys. At that point, he was only going to be 27 years old, and his future as a solid piece of the Atlanta backfield must have seemed secure.
It wasn’t to be, because the Falcons added William Andrews and Lynn Cain to the backfield in 1979, and Stanback wound up fifth on the team in carries behind those two, Bean again, and James Mayberry. He put up a tidy 202 yards and 5 touchdowns on 36 carries, but Andrews and Cain were terrific right off the bat, and that pushed him off the roster following the 1979 season. His NFL career would end, and unfortunately for Stanback, he didn’t get to be a part of that terrific 1980 Falcons team.
He landed on his feet in his post-playing career, turning his transportation and logistics degree into a job with the Norfolk Southern railroad. He told the Salisbury Post he made more money there than he did playing for the Falcons, and spent 30 years there pushing his way all the way to superintendent of the company’s Virginia Division before retiring. He still lives in Georgia.
Stanback wasn’t a standout for Atlanta, though that 1977 season was stone solid and he was a contributor for an unsettled Falcons backfield that needed his help over six seasons. He still has his place on the team’s all-time rushing leaderboard and put together a fine career for a fifth rounder who wasn’t even drafted by Atlanta in the first place. If you didn’t know much about his career before today, hopefully this increases your appreciation for Stanback the running back.