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.
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. 61
Best player: Falcons OL Robbie Tobeck (1994-99)
Honorable mentions: Falcons G John Scully (1981-90), Falcons OT Bill Sandeman (1967-73)
Total number of Atlanta athletes to wear No. 61: 27
Summary: This was a close call between Robbie Tobeck and John Scully. Scully played his entire career in Atlanta, where he spent nearly a decade, but he only twice started a full season and missed at least four games five times. On the flipside, Tobeck was a member of the Falcons for six seasons and started at least 15 games in five of them. Plus, there’s also the little matter of Tobeck starting every single game at center during Atlanta’s run to the Super Bowl in 1998. Although he earned his lone Pro Bowl appearance as a Seattle Seahawk, Tobeck was rock solid for the Falcons.
No. 61 belongs to Matt Hennessy now, so let’s see if he can shake up these rankings when all is said and done.
Jersey No. 62
Best player: C Todd McClure (2000-12)
Honorable mentions: None
Total number of Atlanta athletes to wear No. 62: 16
Summary: One of the most beloved members of the Falcons during the first decade of this century, Todd McClure should one day be part of the team’s Ring of Honor. Why he isn’t yet still remains a mystery as owner Arthur Blank promised he would be at the time of his retirement, but McClure’s resume is undeniable.
He missed just 13 started during his 12-year career in Atlanta, and nine of those missed starts came in his rookie year. In his final 10 seasons, McClure played in all but three games. He anchored a line that enabled one of the best running games in the NFL at one point and helped bridge the gap from Michael Vick to Matt Ryan. Before Alex Mack arrived, the absence of McClure was felt more acutely than perhaps any other player no longer on the team.
Jersey No. 63
Best player: Falcons G Justin Blalock (2007-14)
Honorable mentions: Falcons G Roberto Garza (2001-2004)
Total number of Atlanta athletes to wear No. 63: 19
Summary: It’s kind of crazy how underrated Justin Blalock was. As a second-round pick in 2007 – an infamous Falcons year, mind you – Blalock stepped into the lineup and started 14 games as a rookie. He then started every single game over the next six seasons before missing just one start in 2014, his final year with the Falcons. That’s absolutely everything you can ask from a second-round pick, and Blalock was a really consistent player who contributed to the early success of the Matt Ryan era. As an offensive lineman, it’s usually a good thing when people aren’t talking about you. Well, now’s a good time we all talk more about Blalock’s contributions to this team.
It’s hilarious to me to have Chicago Bears legend Roberto Garza on this list, but he did get drafted by Atlanta and spent four seasons with the Falcons. Still, when people think of his No. 63, it’s not a Bears jersey that comes to mind.
Also of note: Chris Lindstrom could really make a strong push to upend Blalock when all is said and done. He’s that good.
Jersey No. 64
Best player: Falcons C Jamie Dukes (1986-93)
Honorable mentions: Falcons G Andy Maurer (1970-73)
Total number of Atlanta athletes to wear No. 64: 20
Summary: Perhaps known to a younger audience because of his run as a host on 92.9 The Game, Jamie Dukes was a solid center for the Falcons for much of his time in Atlanta before turning on the mic. Interestingly, Dukes was originally given No. 74 as an undrafted rookie in 1986. He switched to No. 64 the year after and eventually made a more meaningful change – transitioning from guard to center.
Once he slid to the midpoint of the offensive line in 1989, Dukes started every single game for Atlanta during his remaining five years with the team. Following his time on the field, Dukes has become a big health advocate and is the national spokesman for the NFL’s Healthy Heart Campaign.
Jersey No. 65
Best player: Falcons G Kynan Forney (2001-07)
Honorable mentions: Falcons DL Don Smith (1979-84)
Total number of Atlanta athletes to wear No. 65: 18
Summary: Though quite not to the same extent as Justin Blalock, I often think Kynan Forney gets overlooked on the list of quality Falcons linemen from the last 25 years. He was a staple of Atlanta’s starting lineup during the Michael Vick era, and he also contributed to the Falcons having one of the best run games in the league during that time. As a seventh-round pick, Forney definitely defied the odds to become one of the key Falcons players from that time. He was twice a Pro Bowl alternate and started a total of 89 games over seven seasons for Atlanta. It’s a shame he didn’t make it on that 2008 roster, but Forney had a great run.
On the other side of the ball, Don Smith is absolutely a notable player in Falcons history. For starters, the versatile defensive lineman was the team’s first-round pick in 1979 and proceeded to have a career-high nine sacks as a rookie. Even after moving inside to nose tackle, Smith managed to get 16.5 sacks over a three-year period. Wherever they moved Smith on the line, he found ways to get to the quarterback and ended up with 37.5 sacks during his six seasons in Atlanta. It’s not exactly what you’d hope for with the 17th-overall pick, but Smith was a solid contributor for several years.
Next up: Nos. 66-70
Who is the best player to wear No. 61-65?
This poll is closed