‘The History of the Atlanta Falcons’ is context for why 28-3 hurt so bad

Former Falcons owner Rankin Smith (from left), Julia Elliott, former Georgia Bulldogs coach Vince Dooley and former Atlanta Constitution sports editor Jesse Outlar before a game in 1966. Elliott was credited with selection of Falcons as the name for the new franchise.

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Former Falcons owner Rankin Smith (from left), Julia Elliott, former Georgia Bulldogs coach Vince Dooley and former Atlanta Constitution sports editor Jesse Outlar before a game in 1966. Elliott was credited with selection of Falcons as the name for the new franchise.

There is near-universal agreement that the Falcons never were so high as when they led the Patriots 28-3 in the Super Bowl during the 2016 season. Jon Bois wasn’t buying it.

He’d seen his Chiefs, almost as long-suffering as the Falcons, blow a 38-10 lead in a 2013 playoff game. Bois couldn’t relax until the Patriots chewed up clock with a long touchdown drive, missed the extra point and then botched an onside kick even though the Falcons didn’t appear to be ready for it.

For Bois, 28-3 was the apex for the Falcons.

“That sealed the deal for me,” Bois wrote in an email. “Too much time had fallen off the clock for me, even me, to have a shred of worry.”

Everybody knows what happened from there. The Falcons blew the biggest lead in Super Bowl history. They’ve never come close to being that good again. The franchise is just now moving on from that era, so it’s good timing for Bois’ “The History of the Atlanta Falcons” documentary series, available on YouTube.

Bois directed, co-wrote and co-narrates the project that’s produced by SB Nation’s “Secret Base” studio. The idea is that truly understanding the collective trauma of 28-3 requires examining the team’s history of incompetence and disappointments before that night. The first installment of the seven-part series begins with the Super Bowl collapse before circling back to the franchise’s first season in 1966.

Part 1 is titled: “Does anyone know how to throw a football?” Bois answers the question by using an array of statistical charts to detail the terrible play of early Falcons quarterbacks as the team’s losses rapidly accumulated. However, as an example of the generous spirit of the project, Bois notes that the team’s problems then were much bigger than their bad QBs. Such is the fate of everyone who’s ever played for or coached the Falcons.

The episode mines humor from how bad the Falcons were back then, but it doesn’t mock them. It sympathizes with the pain of Falcons fans who saw 28-3 on the scoreboard and thought their loyalty to the star-struck franchise would finally pay off with the biggest prize. For those fans, “The History of the Atlanta Falcons” may be therapeutic if it doesn’t make them question their allegiance.

I submitted some questions about the documentary series to Bois via email. Here are some of his (lightly edited) answers:

Q. What about the Falcons made you believe they’d make a compelling subject for a documentary?

A: The night they lost the 2016 Super Bowl, I knew I wanted to make some kind of project about the game itself, but I felt like I required some distance from it. In late 2019, my producer Alex Rubenstein and I started work on our documentary series, “The History of the Seattle Mariners.” We had a gut feeling that hitching our wagons to one particular team, for better or worse, would pay off because just about every team has magic in them. We realized our Falcons project couldn’t only be about one game or one season. We wanted to back up as far as we needed to genuinely understand the gravity of that night, and that meant telling the story of the entire franchise.

Q. Are you a fan of the Falcons? If not, do you see the documentary as a dispassionate examination of their history?

A: I’m a Kansas City native who moved to Atlanta when I was 9 years old, and I was already so bought in as a Chiefs fan for life that I couldn’t switch allegiances. That afforded me a really interesting perspective on the Falcons, I think. I saw them up close, but I could see them more objectively, even as a kid. I was really fond of them. I should also note that I read the AJC religiously as a kid. I came to understand the Falcons in large part through what Steve Hummer or Mark Bradley or Terence Moore had to say about them. At the end of the column I could at least say, “I’m glad that team’s not my problem.” So while I’m not a registered Falcons fan first and foremost, I can at least say I was well-embedded.

Q. I was struck by your balanced portrayal of former Falcons coach Norm Van Brocklin, who had a famously cantankerous public persona. What made you sympathize with him?

A: Everyone on the “Secret Base” team shares an impulse to find the humanity in people, no matter the person or the sport or the story. The versions of human beings we read about or hear about are not reflective of their true selves. Anyone who’s ever had a quiet moment to themselves, when they put on a favorite song or dwell on a favorite memory, should know that the public figure they resent the most has also had that moment and has them all the time. Maybe the person in question does deserve to be resented, maybe they don’t. But in that tiny sliver of time, you may as well be them, and they may as well be you.

Q. Much of the franchise’s history is well-documented, but did you discover anything surprising while digging into it?

A: The first moment that stands out is the Falcons’ attempted multi-lateral play at the end of their 1991 playoff victory against the Saints. The second is Matt Bosher’s unfortunate squib kick in the 2012 playoffs against the Seahawks. I’m certain I watched that game, but because it didn’t affect its outcome, I just forgot all about it. It went into the books as an onside kick, so both on paper and in practical terms, they really tried an onside kick in the final minute of a playoff game when they had a two-point lead. It really could have cost them the game. It’s astounding.

Q. What are some of your favorite highlights of episodes to come?

A: There are so many incredible moments ahead, but I’ll limit it to three that mean a lot to me. In the 2002 playoffs, Michael Vick practicing jiu-jitsu against Packers defender Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila with his one free hand should be shown in schools. As someone who’s spent half my life in Louisville, the entire Bobby Petrino saga is so near and dear to me. And Jacquizz Rodgers trucking the absolute hell out of Earl Thomas in the 2012 playoffs will stick with me forever.

Q. You called the Falcons and Saints “The NFL’s Beavis and Butt-Head.” As a big fan of Beavis and Butt-Head, it’s important for me to know which team you consider to be which lovable moron?

A: This is a great question, and one I honestly have thought about ever since I wrote that line. Like Beavis and Butt-Head, I think the Saints and Falcons are so similar in nature, and so yoked together until the end of time, that it’s impossible to say which is which.

“The History of the Atlanta Falcons” series is available at Secret Base’s YouTube channel. New episodes are to post every Tuesdays and Saturday leading up to the NFL season.

Directed by Jon Bois.

Written by Bois and Alex Rubenstein.

Contributions by Joe Ali, Kofie Yeboah, Steven Godfrey.