Wed, 26 Jan 2022

30 years later, 'The Rudest Team' has no regrets

Atlanta Falcons
01 Dec 2021, 17:57 GMT+10

Former Falcons coach Jerry Glanville scoots up in his red couch chair. He is wearing $4,000 cowboy-style black and purple boots - one of the few things he remembers the cost of; he says he hasn't asked the price of anything since 1974 - with a black dress shirt, black shades, and black Levi's jeans held up by a belt with a large shiny gold buckle.

We're in the locker room at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, which Glanville admits looks very different from the one he spent Sundays in at the Georgia Dome and Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, while coaching the Falcons from 1990-1993. He is surrounded by his former players: quarterback Chris Miller, linebackers Jessie Tuggle and Robert Lyles, and wide receiver Michael Haynes, who got together recently to discuss the 1991 Atlanta Falcons.

The 1991 Falcons were called a lot of things. Brash. Arrogant. Fun. And a number of versions of the word "swagger." But a recent 7-part YouTube series titled "The History of the Atlanta Falcons" may have coined the most apt nickname, calling the 1991 squad "the rudest team in NFL history".

The Falcons digital team took a deep dive in that season in the three-part series: 'The Rudest Team': The story of the 1991 Falcons will begin on YouTube with Part One: 'The Attitude' starting Tuesday at 7 p.m. You can watch using this link. The second and third installments will premiere on Wednesday and Thursday, respectively, at 7 p.m.

Seeing these former Falcons interact after all this time brought out some great stories.

One such tale was Tuggle speaking about how the 1991 season was a breakout year for him and what Glanville meant for his career. Just before he wraps up, Glanville interrupts to tell the group what he remembers about when he first met Tuggle, an undrafted linebacker out of Division II Valdosta State.

"I knew you were gonna make it," Glanville, 80, says at the edge of the seat, "when you showed up for camp, and you had on big overalls and no shirt!"

The group bursts into high-pitched laughter. Now Glanville is standing up with a smirk on his face, waiting for the laughter to die down, to ensure that everyone can clearly see and hear what he is about to say.

"This is a 300-pound man on a 5-foot-10-inch frame," Glanville says, "Do you remember that? I says, 'Hell, I gotta push this guy to the front!'"

Everyone bursts into laughter.

And that's Glanville, a man who thrives at the center of attention, is comfortable in his skin and never takes himself too seriously. The 1991 Falcons took on Glanville's persona and became one of the most memorable teams in NFL history. Not only because they were loaded with future All-Pros like Deion Sanders, Andre Rison and Brett Favre, but because of the way they approached every game.

"It wasn't that we were just the most exciting Falcon team," Haynes said. "We were the most exciting team in the NFL."

From a nightclub-like atmosphere in the locker room to a star-studded, celebrity-filled sideline, the 1991 Falcons brought excitement to Atlanta, and the NFL, like no team has since. Thirty years since that memorable season, Glanville and his crew have no regrets - other than not winning the Super Bowl, of course.

Thirty years later, Glanville, Miller, Haynes, Tuggle, and Lyles reunited to reflect on their historic season.

They discussed everything from fights on the second team bus to bulletproof vests on the Falcons' sidelines.

The night before the group gathered in the Falcons Locker room, they were in attendance as the Falcons took on the Carolina Panthers at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. The Falcons lost that game, 19-12, and Glanville left feeling unsatisfied. Not because of the Falcons' loss, but because of the way the teams played.

The Panthers had three drives of at least 15 plays, with only one ending in a touchdown; a far cry from Glanville's famous Red Gun offense that featured no routes shorter than 22 yards and was predicated on the deep ball. He despises long, meticulous drives so much that he famously said he would rather "take a stick in the eye" than watch Bill Walsh's famous West Coast offense that focused on short routes before taking the deep shot.

"These two [Glanville points to Miller and Haynes], I give them one play - we gotta have a score," Glanville said as the room erupted into laughter. "I watch these four or five-yard plays - and they know - if we wanted four or five yards, we're gonna turn around and hand it to [Falcons running back] Mike Rozier, we're not going to go through all this pass protection, make all these freakin' calls."

The defensive side of the ball had its own unique moniker, too, dubbed the "Black Wave."

Led by Deion Sanders and Tuggle, the Falcons defense was known for having all 11 players in on each tackle, blitzing on almost every down, and for pitching the ball to teammates on turnovers to score a touchdown no matter the circumstance.

Against the Saints in the 1991 NFC wild card round, the Falcons had the game wrapped up when defensive back Tim McKyer picked off Saints quarterback Bobby Hebert with two minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, leading 27-20. Most players in that situation would take a knee to end the game, but not on this defense. McKyer crossed the field and pitched the ball to Deion Sanders, who cut through the Saints' offense and launched the ball to defensive back Joe Fishback, who ran it in for a touchdown.

"Two of the stupidest plays I've seen in a long time," commentator Dan Dierdorf said on the broadcast. "I don't mean to be critical, but all he's got to do is fall on the ball, and the game is over. They take two chances like that and end up scoring a touchdown. That's not smart, guys. That's not smart."

The touchdown was called off because Sanders' pass was deemed an illegal forward lateral, but that didn't matter. The Falcons had made their declaration. No matter the situation, they were going to have fun and take risks on the football field.

"Our team was so exciting to watch," Miller said. "When our defense was out there, we would be standing right on the sideline watching our defense work because we knew something's gonna go down that was gonna be special or exciting."

And while the offense and the defense definitely gave reason for the team to stay standing, it would be hard for Falcons players to sit down when surrounded by celebrities like MC Hammer, Evander Holyfield, James Brown and Travis Tritt. Celebrities became a part of the Falcons, joining in on the team planes, giving pre-game and post-game speeches, and in Hammer's case, creating a song in "2 Legit 2 Quit" that Lyles said was embedded into the Falcons culture.

"There were T-shirts made; you would see people all the time in the stands with it," Tuggle said. "My brother and sister had 'em too; everybody had 'em."

"It was our mantra," Miller added. "We beat San Fran on the Hail Mary, came back and beat Green Bay in the second half, and beat New Orleans in overtime on that field goal, so it was kind of a mantra for the season."

The Falcons finished 10-6 that season and won the second playoff game in franchise history, over the Saints, before falling to Washington in the Divisional Round.

Today, Falcons fans still reminisce about that year. Countless people sport Deion Sanders' No. 21 jersey each Sunday, almost 30 years since he took his last snap as a Falcon. Even current Falcons quarterbacks coach and Georgia native Charles London's favorite memory of the Falcons is when Sanders returned a punt against the Rams at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium.

The 1991 Falcons captivated their fans' hearts because of their boastful, brash and unapologetic approach, one that perfectly embodied the feelings of a city on the rise; eager to be recognized among the country's best.

And arguably no team has captivated Atlanta like the 1991 team since.

"We had more fun than everybody," Glanville said. "I try to get excited watching everything going on, but it ain't y'all. It has become corporate. You gotta do what everybody likes. We didn't care if everybody liked us or not."

Part 1 | The Attitude

Chapter One in the story of the 1991 Falcons explores the attitude that made them the 'rudest team' in sports.

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