Monday, January 30, 2017

Super Bowl LI: Who Are the Falcons?

Posted By on Mon, Jan 30, 2017 at 10:27 AM

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Let’s play a game of association. In historical terms, who is the face of the Atlanta Falcons franchise?

Gotta be a quick and easy answer.

New York Jets: Joe Namath. Miami Dolphins: Dan Marino. Detroit Lions: Barry Sanders.

Some answers stir debate. Chicago Bears: Walter Payton or Dick Butkus? San Francisco 49ers: Jerry Rice or Joe Montana? Buffalo Bills: O.J. Simpson or Jim Kelly?

Now back to the original question: Who is the face of the Atlanta Falcons?

This Sunday in Houston, a franchise born the same season we first had a Super Bowl (1966) will play in the big game for just the second time. The most memorable Falcon moment from Super Bowl XXXIII actually happened the night before kickoff: safety Eugene Robinson’s arrest for soliciting prostitution. Denver demolished Atlanta, 34-19.

The Falcons have played more than half a century of football, yet have precisely one former player in the Pro Football Hall of Fame who can be identified indisputably as a Falcon. Defensive end Claude Humphrey played 11 years with Atlanta (1968-78) and was a two-time All-Pro pass rusher. Humphrey didn’t gain enshrinement in the Hall of Fame until 2014, 33 years after he played his final game (with the Philadelphia Eagles). If you identified Claude Humphrey as the face of the Falcons franchise, you do your football homework better than Phil Simms, Troy Aikman, or any other analyst you see this time of year.

The truth, of course, is that the Falcons’ current quarterback, Matt Ryan, is fast becoming the answer to this barstool question. And Ryan will lock up the tag if he’s named MVP for the 2016 season, as many expect he will be. In leading the top-scoring team in the NFL, the 31-year-old Ryan passed for 4,944 yards and 38 touchdowns, with only seven interceptions. Making Ryan’s Super Bowl debut even juicier, of course, is his counterpart with the New England Patriots.

Tom Brady, it can be carved in stone, is the easiest, most definitive “face of the franchise” for any of the NFL’s 32 teams. The two-time MVP is Ryan’s chief competition for this year’s honor, having passed for 3,554 yards with 28 touchdowns and but two interceptions despite missing the Pats’ first four games while serving his suspension for “Deflategate.” (If you don’t know, look it up. It’s now a miserably distracting part of NFL history. No more on it here.)

Brady will start his seventh Super Bowl, as many as Joe Montana and Troy Aikman did combined. He aims to become the first signal-caller with five Super Bowl rings (Montana and Terry Bradshaw have four each). He’s as Boston as Beacon Hill, as New England as maple syrup. Fact is, if we had to name a “face of the Super Bowl,” Tom Brady would be the guy.

I lived three years of my early childhood in Atlanta. (My sister was born there, ten days before Hank Aaron broke Babe Ruth’s career home run record.) I lived nine years in New England, my college days in Boston during a time Steve Grogan was remembered as the quarterbacking standard and Sundays had entertainment options besides football. (Faneuil Hall anyone?) Those days are long gone; so say the Patriots’ trophy case and the color of my whiskers. I’ll be torn come kickoff Sunday, but will likely lean toward the team still trying — after half a century — to make a face for itself in the gallery of pro football history.

The Pick

The most points scored by a Super Bowl loser are 31 (Dallas in Super Bowl XIII and San Francisco in Super Bowl XLVII). That could change Sunday. The Falcons scored more points (540) than any of the 50 Super Bowl winners. The Patriots finished third in the league in scoring (27.6 points per game). The trouble for Atlanta is the Patriot defense. Not packed with stars — Devin McCourty? Dont’a Hightower? — New England allowed the fewest points in the NFL (15.6 per game). There will be some irony when Brady becomes the first quarterback to win five Super Bowls . . . and has his defense to thank.

Patriots 35, Falcons 27

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