Tommy Nobis never received recognition or Hall call he deserved

Former Falcons linebacker Tommy Nobis, who set a single-season record for tackles that still stands today, passed away Wednesday.

Former Falcons linebacker Tommy Nobis, who set a single-season record for tackles that still stands today, passed away Wednesday.

Tommy Nobis wasn’t merely the first Falcon. Some would argue he was the greatest Falcon. But when you play an ugly position for lousy teams in a black-and-white era, not nearly enough people notice. Or remember. Or care.

Remember Tommy Nobis.

“Had he been in New York or played on more successful teams, I think he’d already be in the Hall of Fame,” said longtime NFL writer Ron Borges, who has a Hall of Fame vote. “But every time his name came up, it just seemed like there wasn’t enough to get him over the hump.”

The former 11-year linebacker may never be given the honor and plaque he deserves in Canton, Ohio, unless he's recognized by the "Senior Committee." But recognize his greatness on this day. The player known as "Mr. Falcon" died Wednesday after an extended illness.

Some will never understand how good Nobis was, not without the benefit of a darkened room, an old projector and a reel of film.

He was a first-team All-Pro. He made it to five Pro Bowl in 11 years (1966-76) on teams that never made the playoffs and had a combined record of 50-100-4.

He had major knee surgeries in 1969 and 1971. This came at a time when knee surgery was a relative career death sentence.

“In those days, when you got a knee injury, it wasn’t like it is today,” said Borges, who believes Nobis belongs in the Hall of Fame. “They opened you up with a chainsaw, and it was a miracle if you could ever walk again. You were not going to be the same player, and he was a speed guy. Also, he didn’t have any help.”

Former Falcons owner Taylor Smith, speaking to the Journal-Constitition's Steve Hummer, said of Nobis in 2013, "I never heard him complain one time about anything. Not about the pain. Not about the lack of recognition."

A wrong should be righted. Honor the man. Nobis co-captains the All-Snub Team for Atlanta sports with Dale Murphy.

Ex-Falcons Brett Favre and Deion Sanders are in the Hall of Fame, but they won their Super Bowls for other teams. Claude Humphrey also is in the Hall of Fame. He played nine and a half years in Atlanta, but left the team and then played on three playoff teams in Philadelphia. Kicker Morten Andersen finally made it into the Hall of Fame after a 25-year career. Eight of those seasons came in Atlanta and included an overtime field goal against Minnesota that kicked the Falcons into the Super Bowl.

Nobis never had postseason glory to fall back on and therefore the post-career talking points for others to mold narratives.

That shouldn't prevent somebody from getting into the Hall of Fame. He made the Pro Bowl each of his first three seasons and, as long-time NFL writer Rick Gosselin pointed out for the Talk Of Fame Network, which debates Hall of Fame candidates and includes Borges: "In his second season, the first official year of the AFL-NFL merger in 1967 when the All-Pro team included the talent pool of both leagues, Nobis was voted first-team middle linebacker ahead of Hall of Famers Dick Butkus, Ray Nitschke, Sam Huff, Willie Lanier and Nick Buoniconti."


Nobis was an inaugural inductee into the Falcons’ Ring of Honor. He has been honored by various Halls, including the College Football Hall of Fame and the Georgia and Texas sports halls. He’s is a member of the NFL’s all-decade team for the 1960s and Sports Illustrated’s All-Century team (1869-1969).

But how many football fans today – even young Falcons’ fans – would recognize his name?

Do they know that he was a Rookie of the Year and in his first pro season he was credited with 296 tackles -- which still stands as the team’s single-season record?

But he didn’t throw passes, or make acrobatic catches, or run for touchdowns. He just leveled everybody who ran in his direction and did it at a time before the proliferation of games on television or social media.  Maybe one day the voters of the Hall will recognize that.

Speaking of Hall of Fame snubs: Catch the latest "We Never Played The Game" podcast with Dale Murphy.

Subscribe to the, "We Never Played The Game" on iTunes or on the new AJC sports podcasts page.