Since the inception of the franchise five decades ago, the Super Bowl trophy has eluded the Falcons.
The Falcons have reached the Super Bowl once and have played in the NFC Championship game, a step away, only two other times, after the 2004 and 2012 regular seasons.
With the players set to report to training camp Wednesday, the Falcons are still searching for that championship-winning formula.
Coach Dan Quinn, who’s set to enter his second season, won a title in Seattle as a defensive coordinator. President Rich McKay helped to turn Tampa Bay in a Super Bowl winner. General manager Thomas Dimitroff and assistant general manager Scott Pioli spent major parts of their careers helping to build the New England Patriots into a perennial title contender.
The Falcons, who haven’t made the playoffs over the past three seasons, hope to turn things around in 2016, return to the playoffs and win that elusive title trophy.
Quinn reflected on the notion of great teams and all of the offseason training, OTAs and minicamp.
“All that is important, but probably the most important thing is the players,” Quinn said. “Let’s face it, the best teams are player-led in professional sports. We make calls for them, but it’s that pure-to-pure accountability. Just when it gets really hard, and they are the ones (to say) ‘I got this.’ That’s player-led.”
Quinn did several things this offseason with hopes of forming that championship mentality and bond between the players. He re-arranged the locker room and is hopeful that the move will break up the natural position-group cliques.
Quinn also had the players go through a week of Navy SEAL-like training, which included carrying long poles of lumber around the fields.
By restructuring things and putting the players in some tough spots, Quinn expect those leaders to emerge.
“That player-led leadership, that’s where it’s at,” Quinn said. “I’ve been really pumped for the guys to see where they are trying to take it to.”
Former NFL coach Tony Dungy, who’s set to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Aug. 6, was taught the pro game by Chuck Noll, who won four Super Bowls.
He was on the Steelers’ Super Bowl XIII team and won Super Bowl XLI as coach of the Indianapolis coach.
“(Coach Noll) talked about a way to do things,” Dungy said. “One of his great lines was that champions don’t do extraordinary things, they do the ordinary things better than everyone else. That’s what he was all about in Pittsburgh, and that’s what I tried to do during my career as the head coach.”
The teachings of Noll were from another era of the NFL, but Dungy believes they still apply today.
“You get great players and you get those type of highlight plays, and that obviously helps,” Dungy said. “But the backbone of a champion, the foundation of a champion, is doing the little things, doing the fundamentals right. Not beating yourself. Becoming a team and not just 53 individuals.”
That togetherness Quinn is trying to foster is important, too.
“That heart and that desire to sacrifice for each other, to me, that’s what wins championships,” Dungy said. “That’s what I’ve seen from the broadcast booth. That’s what I saw as a coach, and I don’t think it changes. I think those fundamentals are still there and still very much what it takes to win.”
Dungy also had the privilege to play under Bill Walsh, a three-time Super Bowl champion as a head coach, for a season (1979) in San Francisco. He studied Joe Montana, winner of four Super Bowls, during the Notre Dame product’s rookie season.
“What you saw with Joe and that was his rookie year, you saw the confidence, the calmness and the coolness which ended up being his trademark over the years,” Dungy said. “You saw that innate ability. We weren’t winning. We weren’t at that championship level at that point, not yet, but you saw the confidence. …
“What I learned from coach Walsh and Joe (Montana) that year was if you play to people’s strengths and tailor your offensive and defensive systems to what your players can do, they can perform at a high level. That was a big learning experience for me.”
Also, Dungy believes the coach and general manager must be in sync. He cited his relationship with Bill Polian when they were in Indianapolis together as an example.
“We had the same philosophy in terms of character and the type of guys we wanted,” Dungy said. “We never had any disputes about talent trumping character. That was great to see eye-to-eye on that.”
When Quinn was hired, it was pointed out that while Dimitroff would remain the general manager, the coach had final say over the 53-man roster.
“We were both just committed to win as much as possible and not worrying about who got the credit or who was in charge or who had the final say,” Dungy said. “I read so much now about who has control of the 53-man roster. Who has control of this decision and that decision; that was something that neither of us really never worried about. We were both just committed to winning.”
Ed DeBartolo Jr., who will be inducted along with Dungy, was the owner of the 49ers from 1977-2000. They won five Super Bowls and went to the playoffs 16 times over his tenure.
He admitted that hiring Walsh was his best move and then creating a family-like atmosphere helped the 49ers to thrive.
“I tried to instill that family atmosphere with the front office and throughout the entire organization and with the players that we had,” DeBartolo said. “Throughout the successes that we had over the years it just became like a family. That’s the way I tried to run the team.”
The Falcons were in the playoff race until late over the past two seasons. They were 6-1 last season before collapsing and finishing 8-8.
While Quinn is confident in his moves, he knows that winning is needed to return to the playoffs and cement that championship bond.
“We feel like we have a good group here, and they’ve worked their tails off to put themselves in position to play really well,” Quinn said. “Now, is the good part, let’s go find out.”
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