When Arthur Blank bought the Falcons in 2002, it was just a matter of time before Mike Vick’s dog-fighting lifestyle came to light. It did, and 2007 became one of the worst years any NFL franchise has ever endured.
The depths Blank’s team experienced a decade ago make the current state of the team even more impressive, and surely gratifying.
The year began with the abrupt termination of coach Jim Mora, who had been reasonably successful but who had foolishly mused about leaving the NFL in an instant if he had a chance to coach the University of Washington. Then came the April discovery of a dog-fighting operation at Vick’s rural property in Virginia, which sparked a multi-week media rollercoaster that resulted in Vick facing federal charges, going to prison, and never playing for the Falcons again.
It got worse, if that was even possible. Coach Bobby Petrino bolted without warning late in the season, leaving the team without a franchise quarterback, without a coach, without a direction, and without much hope.
Things changed quickly, with Blank hiring G.M. Thomas Dimitroff and coach Mike Smith — and drafting franchise quarterback Matt Ryan. A team that never had consecutive winning seasons would have five in a row, and an NFC championship appearance to cap the 2012 season.
The next dip for the franchise came during that game. Up 17-0 over the 49ers, the Falcons fell apart, lost, and then missed the playoffs each of the next two seasons. Blank then decided to make a change at head coach. He hired Dan Quinn away from the Seahawks and, less than two years later, the Falcons are back in the Super Bowl, for the first time in a generation.
“My goal initially [as owner] was to have a sustainable winning organization, one that would be important in the NFL conversation every year,” Blank said Thursday during a meeting with the media, via the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “In my opinion, I think we have reached that level this year.
“We have an opportunity now to play in the final game of the year and hopefully get the positive outcome we’re looking for. But the bigger goal is that I think we’ll . . . be back in this room having this conversation a number of times in the years to come.”
In 2007, it seemed unthinkable that Blank’s reeling franchise would ever emerge from the morass. The climb started almost immediately, and it now culminates in a shot at the first NFL championship for the Falcons.
A win in nine days would set the stage for an ideal opening of the team’s state-of-the-art new stadium. As the Super Bowl winners, the Falcons would have christen the venue on the first Thursday of the season, hanging a brand-new banner in the brand-new rafters and continuing to build on the kind of success that would have been unthinkable 10 years earlier.