History of the Atlanta jersey: Hall of Fame players and one Hall of Fame player in numbers 86-90
What’s the best jersey number in Atlanta sports history?
This simple question took me on a journey through time to find the answer. Icons can be wrapped in any way possible. Whether in a single, crisp number like # 7 (Michael Vick), a classic like # 21 (Deion Sanders, Dominique Wilkins), or a relatively modest number like 31 (Greg Maddux), each of these numbers means something in Atlanta Sports History.
Jersey History Series: n ° 1-5 | Nos 6-10 | Nos 11-15 | No. 16-20 | Nos 21-25 | Nos 26-30 | Nos 31-35 | Nos 36-40 | Nos 41-45 | Nos 46-50 | Nos 51-55 | Nos 56-60 | Nos 61-65 | Nos 66-70 | No. 71-75 | Nos 76-80
Over the next few weeks, I’ll be revealing my finds five jersey numbers at a time. I have looked at each of the major sports franchises in city history, the Falcons, Braves, Hawks, Dream, United, Thrashers and Flames, to come up with the definitive list of jersey numbers and who has worn them.
Before we get to the list, a few rules: a player had to play several seasons in Atlanta to be considered. I did not include any player who played for a franchise while it was located in another city; they must have played in Atlanta.
To determine value and talent, I used a stat related to value for each sport, such as Wins Above Replacement (baseball) or Point Share (hockey). Sometimes I’ll make a subjective call. You might not agree, but that’s the fun of it all, isn’t it? So, feel free to debate in the comments and let’s have fun in the past. Let’s go!
Shirt n ° 86
Best player: Falcons TE Jim Mitchell (1969-79)
Honorable mentions: Falcons WR Brian Finneran (2000-10)
Total Atlanta Athletes To Wear No.86: 14
Summary: I don’t blame you if you think I should have swapped the two players listed here; Brian Finneran was # 86 for most of my childhood. But I’m afraid there is a recency bias at work here. Jim Mitchell was the first big tight end in Falcons history, and he was a very good player at a time when tight fins were used in very different ways. A fourth-round pick in 1969, Mitchell made the Pro Bowl as a rookie after starting every game. Mitchell followed suit with the best season of his career, capturing 44 passes for 650 yards and six touchdowns. He made the Pro Bowl for the second and final time in 1972 when he gained nearly 500 yards and scored four touchdowns. Mitchell played in Atlanta for 11 years and finished with 155 starts. During that time, he caught 305 passes for 4,358 yards and 28 touchdowns.
Finneran is a true fan favorite. He was one of the most reliable receivers early in Michael Vick’s career and a good threat in the red zone. Although he’s only been a full-time starter twice in his nine years with the Falcons, Finneran has been a key part of the receiver rotation. As a holder in 2002, Finneran had his best season: 56 receptions for 838 yards and six touchdowns. When he finished his time in Atlanta, Finneran totaled 3,072 yards and 19 touchdowns.
Shirt n ° 87
Best player: Falcons BY Claude Humphrey (1968-78)
Honorable mentions: Falcons WR Bert Emanuel (1994-97)
Total Atlanta Athletes To Wear No.87: 22
Summary: Claude Humphrey is without a doubt one of the greatest Falcons defensemen to play for Atlanta, and he is perhaps the best. A quick story: Back in the middle of the 2018 offseason, I started researching historical pieces that I was writing for the coming season. This research led me to discover the historical archives in the team’s office at Flowery Branch. Within that archive (really just a cramped little room), there were books filled with clippings from newspaper articles dating back to the early days of the franchise. I met several on Humphrey, one even mentioning that he was on track for north of 20 sacks that season.
Sacks weren’t an official NFL stat until 1982, so that was my first real idea of how good he was as a passer. Every post mentioned Humphrey, and it was really eye-opening to see how much he was respected while he was playing. The Hall of Famer left Atlanta after registering 94.5 unofficial sacks and had already had 15 in one season. A member of the Falcons Ring of Honor, Humphrey was as good as he gets.
Shirt n ° 88
Best player: Falcons TE Tony Gonzalez (2009-13)
Honorable mentions: Nothing
Total Atlanta Athletes To Wear No.88: 18
Summary: I started the Alge Crumpler part of this series by saying that Tony Gonzalez’s arrival in Atlanta could have been the worst thing that could have happened to his legacy. It might also be the best thing that can happen to Matt Ryan. The Falcons franchise quarterback has said on several occasions that Gonzalez has been instrumental in his development as a young player on and off the pitch. Ryan had one of the best safety blankets in the league during his professional training years, and he made the most of it.
Gonzalez has made the Pro Bowl in the last four of his five years with the Falcons, and he was named to the All-Pro First Team in 2012. He has caught 409 passes for 4,187 yards and 35 touchdowns during those years. five seasons, and he’s been in the Hall of Fame representing the Falcons just as much as the Kansas City Chiefs. Now that means something.
Shirt n ° 89
Best player: Falcons WR Wallace Francis (1975-81)
Honorable mentions: Nothing
Total Atlanta Athletes To Wear # 89: 15
Summary: Wallace Francis is not exactly on the same level as Claude Humphrey or Tony Gonzalez but hey, who is? Francis was in Atlanta for seven seasons and was a full-time starter for five of them. His best season came in 1979 when he caught 74 passes for 1,013 yards and eight touchdowns. Francis is perhaps known for his role in the famous play “Big Ben Right”, where he deliberately flipped the ball to fellow receiver Alfred Jackson, who scored a 57-yard touchdown. That score helped the Falcons beat the New Orleans Saints in the dying seconds and ultimately reach the playoffs for the first time in team history.
Wallace caught 244 passes for 3,695 yards and 27 yards during his time in Atlanta, as well as a game that will live on forever.
Jersey n ° 90
Best player: Falcons DE Chuck Smith (1992-99)
Honorable mentions: Falcons DT Grady Jackson (2006-08)
Total Atlanta Athletes To Wear No.90: 9
Summary: Chuck Smith is one of the best pass hunters the Falcons have ever had. He had three seasons with double-digit sacks, including a career-best 12 in 1997. Smith was a key part of the 1998 Falcons Super Bowl run, and he had a playoff sack.
I interviewed Smith once for a story, and I remember him talking about the two games he spent with the Carolina Panthers in 2000, his last season in the NFL. He said the number of sacks he had on the Panthers Kerry Collins and Steve Beuerlein quarterbacks over the years had created real animosity between him and half of the locker room. He had made real enemies because he was so dominant against Carolina, which is exactly the kind of mentality every fan wants in a player.
Grady Jackson was, when I first saw him play for the Falcons, the fattest person I have ever seen in my life. Jackson was a bit of a companion during his 13-year NFL career, but some of his best seasons came in Atlanta. While he didn’t play a very flashy role, Jackson kept the blockers out of the Atlanta linebackers and allowed them to be very productive. Jackson was also another bridge between the Michael Vick and Matt Ryan eras, earning him bonus points.
Next step: 91-95
Who is the best player to wear the No.85-90
96 votes in total