Harmon Wages: ‘God gave me a break’

The three touchdowns that Harmon Wages threw for, ran for and caught in a 1969 game against New Orleans were hardly a fluke.

It was all planned.

Norm Van Brocklin was the Falcons coach and both teams were headed into the final game of the season when the NFL still played only 14 games. Both teams were 5-8.

Wages was very close with his father Leon and Van Brocklin, who was never a gentle type, knew this. He also knew that due to Leon Wages’ delicate medical condition, this would probably be the last time the father would get to see his son play in person.

The record-setting game was played at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium and Wages, then in his second season with the Falcons, said, “Van Brocklin told the team on Monday, ‘Let’s put in a game plan for ol’ Leon.’’’

While Wages was mostly a backup at the University of Florida behind Heisman Trophy quarterback Steve Spurrier, he had a reputation of being able to throw the ball, run and catch it.

“I prayed my butt off before that game,’’ he said. “I had been adopted and grew up in a grocery store. This game was for my dad.’’

Wages threw his touchdown pass in the first quarter, a 16-yard bullet to Paul Flatley to give the Falcons a 14-0 lead.

In the second quarter, he scored on an 88-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Bob Berry, a Falcons record that stood for 23 years and is now fifth-longest ever (Bobby Hebert to Michael Haynes for 98 yards in 1993 is No. 1). The Falcons led 21-3.

In the fourth quarter, Wages scored on a 66-yard run, another record, this one standing for 21 years (90 yards by Warrick Dunn in 2006 is the record) and the Falcons would win 45-17.

After the game, Leon approached him on the bench.

“He had that old man shuffle when he was coming up to me,” Wages said, “and leaned over and said, ‘Son, I didn’t know you could do that.’’’

The trifecta has only been accomplished seven times and Wages was the fourth one to do it. It was also performed by former Falcons head coach Dan Reeves when he played for Dallas in 1967. The first to do it was John Henry Johnson for Pittsburgh (1960) and the last was San Diego’s LaDainian Tomlinson (2005). The others include San Diego’s Keith Lincoln (1965), Chicago’s Walter Payton (1979) and New England’s David Patten (2001).

Said Wages, “God gave me a break and my father is buried with that game ball.’’

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