Top 50 Falcons: No. 27, John James

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution is counting down the Top 50 players in Atlanta Falcons history during the franchise’s 50th anniversary season. No. 27 is punter John James.

Years played for Falcons: From 1972-81, John James was the punter for the Falcons and had one of the top legs in the NFL, getting plenty of opportunities to boot the ball while the Atlanta offense suffered. He garnered Pro Bowl honors three years in a row from 1975-77. He enjoyed a brief stint in Detroit before finishing his career with three seasons in Houston, retiring at the age of 35 after the 1984 season. The former Florida Gator began his kicking career coming on as a walk-on in 1969 and going undrafted in 1972 before the Falcons picked him up.

Jersey No.: 6

His impact on the team: Falcon fans saw more of James then they probably wanted to over his career, but he was a reliable factor in the special teams’ game. From 1976-79, he punted over 100 times each season with an astronomical 109 in ’79, five off the NFL all-time record of 114 set by Bob Parsons in 1981. James finished his career with an average of 40.6 yards per kick and led the league in both punts and yards four times.

On walking-on to Florida: “I watched the Gator Bowl game after the 1969 season and knew that (incoming) coach (Doug) Dickey was going to be needing a punter. I had tried out for the Gator golf team as a freshman, but that was the year of [Bob] Murphy, [Steve] Melynk, [John] Darr and company, which went on to win the national title. I always felt I could punt the football and the way I looked at it, I’d always regret it if I didn’t make at least a try.”

On playing the Cowboys in the playoffs in 1980: “He [Jerry Glanville] put [linebacker] Robert Pennywell and someone else on Randy White just to lay him out on every punt. So my first punt, I hit a great punt and I’m kind of watching it and here comes Ed “Too Tall” Jones. He just blindsides me – a legal hit, after the punt was gone and I was taking two steps to go down the field. And he’s standing over me and he says, ‘You guys lay off Danny White and we’ll lay off of you.’ I didn’t tell the coaches. I said, ‘I’ll just be ready next time.’ ”

Where he is now: James, 66, is the father of four children; Helen, Scott, Matthew and Susanna, and a grandfather of five. In 1986, he held the position of executive director of Gator Boosters Inc., at the University of Florida and oversaw the booster fund-raising operation to fund athletic scholarships for Gator athletes. He stepped down from the position in 2012.

The countdown to the Top 50 players in Falcons history runs through the end of the season.

Top 50 Falcons Countdown

50: Chuck Smith

49: Michael Haynes

48: Jonathan Babineaux

47: John Zook

46: Ken Reaves

45: Lynn Cain

44: Justin Blalock

43: Bobby Butler

42: Tim Mazzetti

41: Buddy Curry

40: Scott Case

39: Jeff Merrow

38: Elbert Shelley

37: Matt Bryant

36: Alge Crumpler

35: Michael Turner

34: Ray Buchanan

33: Chris Hinton

32: Terance Mathis

31: Devin Hester

30: Don Smith

29: Greg Brezina

28: Chris Miller

27: John James

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