What is the best jersey number in Atlanta sports history?
That simple question led me on a journey through time to find the answer. Icons can come packaged in every feasible way. Whether it be in a crisp clean single digit like No. 7 (Michael Vick), a classic like No. 21 (Deion Sanders, Dominique Wilkins) or a relatively unassuming numeral like 31 (Greg Maddux), each of these numbers means something in Atlanta sports lore.
Jersey History series: Nos. 1-5 | Nos. 6-10 | Nos. 11-15 | Nos. 16-20 | Nos. 21-25 | Nos. 26-30 | Nos. 31-35 | Nos. 36-40 | Nos. 41-45 | Nos. 46-50 | Nos. 51-55 | Nos. 56-60 | Nos. 61-65 | Nos. 66-70 | Nos. 71-75
Over the coming weeks, I’ll be unveiling my findings five jersey numbers at a time. I looked at each of the major sports franchises in the city’s history, from the Falcons, Braves, Hawks, Dream, United, Thrashers and Flames, all in order to catalog the definitive list of jersey numbers and whose worn them.
Before we get to the list, a few rules: A player had to play multiple seasons in Atlanta to be considered. I did not include any player who played for a franchise while it was located in another city; they had to have played in Atlanta.
To determine value and talent, I used a value-related stat for each sport such as Wins Above Replacement (baseball) or Point Share (hockey). Sometimes, I will make a subjective call. You may disagree, but that’s the fun of all of this, right? So, feel free to debate in the comments and let’s have a fun walk down memory lane. Let’s go!
Jersey No. 76
Best player: Falcons DE Mike Gann (1985-93)
Honorable mentions: Falcons OT Kaleb McGary (2019-present)
Total number of Atlanta athletes to wear No. 76: 13
Summary: Mike Gann had a long career in Atlanta as one of the team’s starting defensive ends. A second-round draft pick in 1985, Gann missed just five starts during his first six years in the league. Injuries impacted his final few years, but Gann played in 118 games during a nine-year run with the Falcons. He wasn’t known for his pass-rush prowess and Gann finished with only 23.5 sacks for his career, but he impacted the game in a variety of ways and scored two defensive touchdowns.
Depending on how Kaleb McGary’s career turns out in Atlanta, he could challenge Gann for this top spot. Right now, though, the former Falcons defender owns the number.
Jersey No. 77
Best player: Falcons OT Tyson Clabo (2006-12)
Honorable mentions: Falcons DE Rick Bryan (1984-93)
Total number of Atlanta athletes to wear No. 77: 15
Summary: Looking back through each team’s history for this project, I’ve been surprised as the number of quality offensive linemen who have played for the Falcons. I don’t think we can say that they’ve really lacked at the position too many times in the history of the franchise. Tyson Clabo is a perfect example of the type of player who may not have been a star, but was more often than not an above-average player. Put enough of those guys on the offensive line, and the aggregate of the unit will be good. Clabo started 101 games during his seven-year stretch in Atlanta, and he made his one and only Pro Bowl during the 2010 season.
Rick Bryan was the ninth overall pick in the 1984 draft and slotted right in as a starting defensive tackle as a rookie. The Falcons kicked him out to defensive end starting in his second year, and it proved to be a good decision as Bryan registered 14.5 sacks over the next two seasons. Bryan continued to move around the defensive line during his nine-year career and ended up with 29 sacks in that time.
Jersey No. 78
Best player: Falcons OT Mike Kenn (1978-1994)
Honorable mentions: None
Total number of Atlanta athletes to wear No. 78: 9
Summary: Only seven Falcons players have worn No. 78, and that’s all because of Mike Kenn. A member of the team’s Ring of Honor, Kenn started and played in 251 games, which are both franchise records, and his 17 seasons played in Atlanta rank second.
According to the team’s 1981 media guide, Legendary coach Bill Walsh once said of Kenn, “I’ve never seen any offensive tackle with his agility and quickness.” Kenn was extremely disciplined and once had a 26-game stretch without recording a penalty. Kenn was a two-time first-team All-Pro, and he made five straight Pro Bowls from 1980-84. If consistency is among the most important qualities for an offensive lineman then Kenn should undoubtedly be considered one of the best to ever play the game. He was a Pro Football Hall of Fame semifinalist in 2015 and didn’t make it, but it’s obvious that he should be in Canton.
Jersey No. 79
Best player: Falcons OG Bill Fralic (1985-92)
Honorable mentions: DE Jeff Yeates (1976-84)
Total number of Atlanta athletes to wear No. 79: 13
Summary: Remember what I said about Tyson Clabo? Well, the same applies here for Bill Fralic. Fralic was a terrific guard for Atlanta over an eight-year stretch and made four straight Pro Bowls from 1986-89; he was a two-time first-team All-Pro during that time as well. Fralic never missed more than four games in a single season, proving to be yet another durable offensive lineman. Known as a dominant run blocker, Fralic set the tone up front for Atlanta’s offense throughout his career. Although he ended up in Detroit – Fralic was one of the first players to use free agency to change destinations – he is remembered fondly as a Falcon for good reason.
After arriving in Atlanta during the 1976 season, Yeates, who had barely started in Buffalo, developed into a full-time starter for the Falcons by 1978 when Claude Humphrey left the team. Playing in a 3-4 defense for much of his time, Yeates didn’t exactly rack up the sacks but did finish with 21.5 during his run with Atlanta.
Jersey No. 80
Best player: Falcons WR Andre Rison
Total number of Atlanta athletes to wear No. 80: 24
Summary: We’ve mercifully crossed the dessert of offensive linemen – no offense to offensive linemen – and arrived at the ocean of wide receivers (shouts to the movie Hidalgo). Andre Rison belongs in the storied lineage of star wide receivers who have passed through Atlanta.
He was originally traded to the Falcons by the Indianapolis Colts after his rookie season and immediately made his presence felt. Rison caught 82 passes for 1,208 yards and 10 touchdowns in his first season with the Falcons, making the Pro Bowl and earning first-team All-Pro Status for his efforts. Rison topped 1,000 yards and eight touchdowns in four of his five seasons with Atlanta and made four straight Pro Bowls. Rison led the league with 15 touchdowns during the 1993 season, and he totaled an insane 56 touchdowns for the Falcons. While his run with the Falcons wasn’t entirely long, it was absolutely memorable.
Next up: Nos. 81-85
Who is the best player to wear No. 76-80
This poll is closed