Falcons’ greatest moment, No. 4: ‘Mr. Falcon’

Tommy Nobis, Atlanta Falcons
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As a rookie, Falcons linebacker Tommy Nobis set the unofficial record for most tackles in a season at 294. (AJC File)
Tommy Nobis, Atlanta Falcons

As a rookie, Falcons linebacker Tommy Nobis set the unofficial record for most tackles in a season at 294. (AJC File)

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution is counting down the Top 10 moments in Atlanta Falcons history during the franchise’s 50th anniversary season. No. 4 takes us to the 1966 NFL Draft, when Atlanta introduced Tommy Nobis as the first building block of the newly-formed franchise.

Date: Nov. 27, 1965

The significance: As Atlanta faced the challenge of fielding its inaugural team, they had the first pick in every round along with an extra compensatory pick at the end of each of the first five rounds. With the first pick franchise history, the team selected two-time All-American, Outland and Maxwell award winning linebacker Tommy Nobis from the University of Texas. Nobis was also the first pick in the AFL Draft, taken by the Houston Oilers. Houston pushed hard for Nobis as astronaut Frank Borman, in space on Gemini 7, send a message back to earth saying, “tell Nobis to sign with Houston.”

Immediate impact: It did not take long for the Falcons to get their first Pro Bowl selection as Nobis was elected his rookie season after being named Rookie of the Year and setting the unofficial record for most tackles in a season with a staggering and untouchable 294, which still stands today. Even more impressive, Nobis accomplished that feat in just a fourteen game season, meaning he averaged close to 18 tackles a game. In his 11-season career, Nobis made the Pro Bowl five teams and was selected to the NFL’s 1960’s All-decade team.

Tommy Nobis, Atlanta Falcons

Fifty years ago, the Falcons drafted Texas linebacker Tommy Nobis as the cornerstone of Atlanta’s NFL franchise. (AJC File)

Mr. Falcon: The Falcons franchise was built around Nobis, which led to his nickname “Mr. Falcon”. Falcons coach Norm Van Brocklin once pointed to Nobis’ locker and proclaimed, “There’s where our football team dresses.’’ This tale continues to get passed down through the franchise’s history as Nobis set the standard for each guy to ever put on the uniform behind him.

George Kunz on Nobis: Kunz, who drafted in 1969 by the Falcons, was a teammate of Nobis for six seasons and described Tommy as the perfect building piece of a professional football franchise. “If you are going to start a franchise, you are going to start with a defense,” explained Kunz. “And if you are going to start with a defense, you are going to start with a signal caller and Tommy was all of that. Tommy is the epitome of the type of person a franchise could build on. I do not know if you can actually give anybody a bigger compliment than that.”

Ring of Honor: After his playing career was over Nobis was inducted into the Falcons Ring of Honor in the 2004 inaugural class. Both the University of Texas and the Falcons retired his number (60), making him the first and last Falcon to ever wear the now legendary number.

Hall of Fame push: Many believe Nobis should be in the Hall of Fame and one of his big supporters was the late Furman Bisher of the Journal-Constitution, who wrote:
“There isn’t much more one can say about Tommy Nobis. In the glow of a winning team, where he would have been a star on the isolated camera, he would already have been residing in Canton. It’s not a Falcons thing, it’s a Nobis thing, and here is a man who lives up to all the ideals I would establish for admission to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.”

Greatness off the Field: Although Tommy is known for his excellent play on the field and helping the Falcons become who they are today, his efforts off the field were also unparalleled. He is the founder and a Board of Directors member of the Tommy Nobis Center that began in 1975 and “provides youth and adults, with disabilities, job training and employment services.’’ Nobis won the Joseph P. Kennedy Jr. award for his activism and work with the Georgia Special Olympics and he also was named the NFL Man of the Year.

Where he is now: Nobis, now 72, lives in Atlanta and is currently retired after spending over 40 years as a member of the Falcons organization.

Catch a new Top 10 play in Falcons history every week through the end of the season.

No. 10: Too Legit to Quit; First playoff win on the road
No. 9: Claude Humphrey gets call to Canton
No. 8: Playoff win in the ‘Frozen Tundra’
No. 7: Matt Ryan’s first NFL pass
No. 6: Hail Mary pass known as’Big Ben II’
No. 5: The Trade to get ‘Bart’
No. 4: Nobis is Falcons’ first-ever draft choice


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