A Head To Head History: The Atlanta Falcons and the San Diego Chargers

Although the Steelers-Raiders, Vikings-49ers and Eagles-Cardinals matchups may have had more history and even series such as the Buccaneers-Cowboys, Packers-Seahawks and Patriots-Ravens may have had more memorable moments, at The Gridiron Uniform Database we are first and foremost concerned with the visual impact of a series history, so have decided to go with the Falcons-Chargers this week for our weekly series "A Head To Head History."  With the rich and vibrant reds and blacks of the Falcons and the blues and golds of the Chargers, this was a matchup history that has visually impressed.

(Plus, did you know that the Eagles and Cardinals have played each other well over a hundred times?  I just didn't have the time this week to do that many matchups! I suspect this series may be leaning toward non-conference matches whenever possible.)

Rookie Dan Fouts looked for his first win against Atlanta, but the Chargers failed 41-0
[1973 meeting]
For a few years after the 1970 AFC-NFC merger teams were continually meeting various non-conference opponents for the first time.  While we continue to debate the usefulness and desirability of interleague baseball as it becomes a season-long proposition for the first time in 2013, in the 1970s the excitement for new rivals meeting in the new NFL was a positive thing.  Of course the NFL and AFL had only played as separate leagues for a decade since the AFL's founding and were attempting to merge into one cohesive league, while baseball had established nine decades of two-separate-league traditions, meeting only for All-Star Games and the World Series and had threatened to upset that tradition with the creation of interleague play in the 1990s that would let AL and NL teams meet in-season yet still maintain distinct leagues with
differing rules.

[1979 meeting]
So none of that interleague cynicism that now grips baseball was around in San Diego on October 21, 1973 when the NFC's Atlanta Falcons came to town for these two teams' first ever meeting.  Over 40,000 people showed up at San Diego Stadium for this game, the Chargers were 1-4 and rookie Dan Fouts was making his second career start.  Two weeks earlier he had relieved the aging John Unitas and rallied the Chargers from being down 38-0 at halftime in Pittsburgh with 21 fourth quarter points to make the final score 38-21 at Three Rivers and had been handed the reigns of the Chargers for good.  The Falcons, on the other hand, were 2-3, but things looked up as those two wins were a 46-6 defeat of the Bears the previous week and a 62-7 opening day drubbing of the Saints.  Those two wins were sandwiched around three losses in which the Falcons offense looked anemic, but head coach Norm Van Brocklin was optimistic as they faced a rebuilding Chargers club that the offense would continue to roll.  The Chargers were in the final year of their white helmet with powder blue and yellow pants years and they faced a mono-white with red helmet Atlanta team.  The Falcons offense did continue to roll, and they defeated the Chargers 41-0 and continued to win, eventually getting to 8-3 with two late-season losses keeping them out of the playoffs, but at 9-5, the 1973 season was the high point of Van Brocklin tenure as Falcons head coach.

[1988 meeting]
When they met the second time, again in San Diego in 1979, the fortunes of the two franchises would be reversed.  The heyday of "Air Coryell" -- the high powered offense of Head Coach Don Coryell and Fouts would be in full swing.  The Chargers would 10-3 and a top the AFC West while the Falcons, although they had made the playoffs in 1978 were struggling at 4-9 and two years away from the best year of the Leeman Bennett-Steve Bartkowski era when they would go 12-4 in 1981.  From 1978 through 1983 the Chargers were a White At Home team, so the Falcons wore red-over-gray this time, and Atlanta prevailed in an upset, 28 to 26 at Bartkowski threw a touchdown pass to William Francis with 21 seconds left in the game.  Chargers would go on to win the AFC West, but would be knocked out of the playoffs by Houston a month later.

The next time the two teams met, in 1988, would be the first time they faced each other in Atlanta.  The Falcons wore red at home, with a jersey patch honoring #30 David Crudup.  The two teams would be struggling, however, as the Chargers were 2-8 and the Falcons 3-7.  The Chargers would win a forgettable game 10-7, but it would be the only time the Chargers have defeated the Falcons so far.  Chargers head coach Al Saunders, in his second full season, would be fired at the end of the year, while third-year Falcons' head coach Marion Campbell would be fired the following season after a 3-9 start.

Even though the Falcons won in San Diego in 1991,
Jerry Glanville wasn't happy about something

Write-up of the 1991 game
In 1991, the teams met back in San Diego in September and the Chargers' John Carney missed a possible game tying field goal and the Falcons prevailed 13 to 10.  It would be Atlanta's first win in twenty road games, and they were again wearing their home colors in San Diego, although now they had black helmets and jersey instead of red, as the Chargers were mono-white in all sixteen games of the 1991 season.  Even with the Falcons win, Jerry Glanville apparently had a problem with the officiating, as you can see in this picture where he is being restrained by Jamie Dukes.  This was also the during the Deion Sanders primetime era in Atlanta.
A nice looking 1994 HOF Game

The teams would meet again in a colorful Hall Of Fame Game in Canton in 1994, where they would both wear their throwbacks, plus again in the 1994 regular season in San Diego, with the Chargers again White at Home, this time with blue pants, and the Falcons again in black.  Both teams, of course wore the NFL's 75th Anniversary patch in the Hall Of Fame Game, but by the regular season matchup the Falcons had added a jersey patch honoring longtime team equipment manager Whitey `Zeke' Zimmerman, who died on November 3, 1994.  Under first-year head coach June Jones, the Falcons won this matchup as well, 10 to 9, in the teams first meeting at the Georgia Dome.  Even though they beat the Chargers, they struggled to a 7-9 finish, while San Diego would go 11-5 and reach their only Super Bowl, losing to San Francisco.

In 1997 the Falcons again had a rookie head coach, as it was former Broncos and Giants head coach Dan Reeves first year at the helm of Atlanta.  The team would improve upon a 3-13 '96 campaign to go 7-9 in '97, but they would be on the ascension as the met the Chargers on the way down in '97.  The Falcons were in the midst of a five game winning streak, while the Chargers were losing their last eight of the 1997 season that would lead to a 4-12 finish and cost Head Coach Bobby Ross his job.  The Chargers were no longer a all-season 'White At Home' team, wearing navy for this matchup in San Diego.  The Falcons won this game 14-3, and Atlanta would go 14-2 and make it to their only Super Bowl the following year, losing to Denver.

[1994 meeting]
[1997 meeting]
[2004 meeting]
2004 meeting in Atlanta
These two teams wouldn't meet again until 2004 when they would meet in Atlanta, and the Falcons would again win 21-20.  The Falcons were now wearing their current uniform set, and wearing a red jersey at home.  Both teams were having good seasons and the Chargers, with Drew Brees at quarteback, went 12-4 and would fall in the Wild Card round to the Jets, while the Falcons, in Jim Mora Jr.'s first season and with Michael Vick at quarterback, went 11-5 and all of the way to the NFC Championship Game, losing to Philadelphia.

[2008 meeting]
The most recent time these two teams met was in San Diego on Thanksgiving Weekend in 2008, and the Falcons wore their black pants with the white-and-red-trimmed jersey, a look I've always liked.  In my opinion, the Falcons look better in black pants with their current uniform set than the white pants, in fact I think they would look best with a red helmet and red jersey over black pants for their primary home set and red helmet, white jersey, black pants on the road.  The Chargers had switched to their current set, with the white helmet, in 2007, and were no longer predominately going white at home, wearing their navy uniforms.  Atlanta won this game as well, 22 to 16, and they would go 11-5 in Mike Smith's first season as head coach and lose to Arizona in the playoffs.  San Diego, under second year head coach Norv Turner, would be 4-8 after this game, but would win the next four games to amazingly win the AFC West at 8-8 and defeat the Indianapolis Colts in the Wild Card round (in OT, Tony Dungy's final game) before losing to Pittsburgh in the Divisional Round.

Matt Ryan throws a pass in 2008 victory over Chargers in San Diego
Mike Smith and Norv Turner are still the head coaches for the 2012 meeting, the first time that the same coaches have met twice in this series.  The Chargers opened the home schedule with a mono-white look last week, but will they go white at home again for their ninth regular season meeting on Sunday?  The Falcons have owned this series, with a 7-1 mark, the only Charger win coming in Atlanta in 1998.  Even though these teams have had some pretty good seasons, some at the same time, these teams have never played in primetime.  Every game in this series in Atlanta has been at 1:00 PM Eastern, and every game in San Diego has been in the 4:00 PM hour (1:00 PM local).

The Falcons continue their run through the AFC West, opening 2-0 with big wins over the Chiefs and Broncos, while the Chargers are also undefeated with wins over Oakland and Tennessee.  Should be a good game in San Diego, but the Falcons look unstoppable, look for them to continue their dominance over the Chargers.

The only "Prime Time" in this series was Deion returning a punt in 1991

Week 2 Uniform Matchup Rankings (and R.I.P. Steve Sabol)

Week 2 already?

Yep, and now we get into the flow of the season. Here's my ranking from bottom to top:

#16. Texans-Jaguars: Texans in dark blue/white and the Jaguars in white/white. Yet another WAH team in Jax. This one does not do much for me. The Texans do have a nice outfit and all, but with the Jags seeming to want to distance themselves from their unique teal jerseys and I find this matchup...meh...

#15. Saints-Panthers: Saints in black/washed out vegas gold combo against the Panthers in their early season white at home (WAH) combo. The Saints gold 3/4 collar works better here than on the white jerseys. Not a thrilling matchup due to the heavy dose of black, but the hints of carolina blue helps this...some.

#14. Broncos-Falcons: Broncos in all white and Falcons in red/white. I know the striping wouldn't match, but just once, I'd like to see the Broncos wear their navy pants with the white jersey. This isn't the worst matchup, but it doesn't excite me much.

#13. Cardinals-Patriots: Cardinals in white/white and the Patriots in dark blue/silver. In recent years, the Patriots started the season going WAH. Not this season. And, I kinda like that. A bit of a bland matchup, truthfully.

#12. Raiders-Dolphins: Oakland in black/silver and the Dolphins in white/white. If you read last year's weekly rankings, you know how much I dig the Dolphs in white/aqua. But that's a look they reserve for away games. But, I can appreciate the look here. Raiders as always, looking nice in the black jerseys with the silver trim.

#11. Vikings-Colts: Vikings in the white/white combo with the Colts in the blue/white. Boy, if the Vikes would have sprung some purple pants on us, I would have had a lump in my throat. But alas. A little purple, a little blue and a lot of white. Rather a fair matchup.

#10. Jets-Steelers: The Jets in all white and the Steelers in the familiar black/yellow combo. The Jets go full white in this one, while the Steelers swing one of the more familiar looks in their black and yellows. Normally I can like this matchup, but I'm just not feeling it this week. Two teams with logo patches here, which is a rarity.

#9. Browns-Bengals: Browns in brown/white and Cincy in white/white. Thanks, Bengals for going WAH. and forcing the Browns to finally wear Brown for the first time since Week 17 when they hosted the Steelers. Bengals staying away from their black pants. But still, nice to see the uniqueness of the Browns wearing their color namesake for a change.

#8. Buccaneers-Giants: Not really a bad matchup. Giants definitely put an order to their unis this year, none of that weird stretchy stuff. Unis look much more organized.  The Bucs go with the pewter pants again and that's a plus for this encounter.

#7. Lions-49ers: Nice traditional matchup. Metals (silver and gold as I channel Burl Ives), scarlets and honolulu blues. Lions in white/silver and Niners in red/gold. Nothing fancy on their own, but when paired up, this works. 

#6. Cowboys-Seahawks: Dallas in white/mint and Seattle in monochrome dark blue. The Seahawks, continue to wear the dark/dark unis, even after the uni overhaul. And to my eyes, it looks even better than before. Cowboys with the usual. I do happen to think this is a good pairing.

#5. Ravens-Eagles: Ravens in purple/white and Eagles in white/green. Philly returns to WAH for their early home games after a year's absence. The Ravens, in a rare move, move the "Art" tribune from a helmet sticker to a jersey patch. The Eagles meanwhile have NO tribute to Steve Van Buren at all, perhaps because he played 60+ years ago? Ugh! Have a little sense of history, man! Back to today. Really not a bad matchup and credit to the Eagles for wearing the green pants or this might have been a thumbs down matchup.

#4. Titans-Chargers: Titans in two tone (columbia and navy) blue and the Chargers, for the first time in a LONG time, sport an all white look. And the Chargers did well to go with this combo. I happen to like the Bolts' white/navy combo, but two reasons why their decision to go all white really works here; 1) It's different and 2) It nicely offsets the Titans and their navy pants. A goody!

#3. Chiefs-Bills: Check this out: Chiefs: red/white/red/white. Bills: white/blue/white/blue. How about that for symmetry? Certainly one of the better matchups in Week 2.

#2. Redskins-Rams: Redskins in white/yellow and the Rams in all navy blue. If the Rams blue were more of the royal variety, this would probably be #1 on the charts with a bullet. But it's still a good one. Unlike most of my peers, I happen to like the dark/dark look. And coupled with the 'Skins in the hot yellow pants, I am a friend of this pairing.

#1. Bears-Packers: Traditional rivals and as always, one of my favorite matchups. Great colors, great contrasts, just 100% pure uni goodness. Greens, yellows, oranges and dark blues. Except for the TV numbers on the Bears going from sleeve to shoulder, Nike didn't mess with these too much.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Before closing, we at the GUD would be remiss if we did not note the passing of Steve Sabol, who was the President of NFL Films.  Steve passed away on 9/18 at the age of 69 after a long bout with brain cancer. While his father Ed was the founder of NFL Films, Steve was the visionary and guiding force of NFL Films.  He and his cohorts turned the visual documentation of the National Football League into an art form.  It is no secret that much of our research at the GUD involved a lot of viewing of NFL Films programming.  It is likely that no sports league on the planet has been as thoroughly on documented on film as the NFL, and the great majority of the credit for that goes to Steve.  He leaves behind an immense legacy for which the GUD and all fans of the NFL are eternally grateful.

We'll be back tomorrow with a new look at a head-to-head series of an upcoming Sunday matchup, but first here's Rob Holecko with a few additional thoughts about Steve Sabol.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Thanks, Tim...  I echo 100% your sentiments about Steve Sabol.  For the last day I have had playing in my iPod Sam Spence's iconic instrumental masterpieces that we all associate with NFL Films.  The classic NFL Films style -- slow-motion, tight-on-the-spiral, with the John Facenda / Harry Kalas narrations is how generations grew up enjoying the NFL.  That style is due to Steve.  He was NFL Films, and he subconsciously embedded in our collective psyche a heroic and entertaining quality to the NFL that in no small way continues to shape what we think of the sport today.  Whenever we hear that music or see an old NFL Films clip we think of how "it used to be", the good old days of football.  Whether it is that classic Sam Spence music that you hum along with with words that aren't there from an old sea shanty:  "What do you do with a drunken sailor/What do you do with a drunken sailor/What do you do with a drunken sailor/Early in the morning" or the visual image of Jackie Smith dropping a sure touchdown in Super Bowl XIII along with Verne Lundquist's radio call: "He's got to be the sickest man in America" or the visual image of Old Man Willie running for a touchdown in Super Bowl XI as we stared into his eyes, or simply John Facenda talking about the frozen tundra of Lambeau Field, or Franco Harris reaching down, just out of frame to catch the ball (or not) and go down the sideline with the winning touchdown, or Joe Montana rolling to his right and throwing the ball to just the right spot where Dwight Clark could reach up to the heavens to snatch it, a moment so perfect that we can call it simply "The Catch", all of these images, these iconic moments that we recall, the way that we recall them, is due to NFL Films and Steve Sabol.

For a certain generation of us when we were twelve years old, and depending on exactly what year we were born or what part of the country we were in, in the back yard we imagined we were Montana or Roger Staubach or John Elway or Terry Bradshaw, or Johnny Unitas, Joe Namath, Dan Marino, Bart Starr or even Vinny Testaverde, we dropped back to throw the winning touchdown in the Super Bowl.  In this imaginary fantasy, in our mind's eye we were the heroic champion snatching that moment of victory.  And it all played out in slow motion, because that was how we had seen it done -- John Elway backpeddaling on a cold winter's day in Cleveland and throwing a quick slant pass low to the ground to culminate "The Drive" or a million other moments like that -- in our mind those moments all occurred in slow motion, with Spence providing the soundtrack and Facenda the words.  That world, that emotional connection that so many of us have with football is largely due to the work of Steve Sabol.

Yesterday in Uni Watch, someone linked to an article that was written last summer for the Philadelphia Inquirer about how NFL Films is being dismantled due to the league's creation of and investment in the NFL Network.  Here is a link to that story, it is a good read, and it is sad to see what has become of the organization that for millions of us created how the NFL looked.

We leave you with a clip from NFL Films, and RIP Steve:

If Now Was Then...(Part 1)

I was watching a bit of a Tennessee Titans game early in the Preseason and a thought occurred to me. If the Titans were playing back in the 1940s era, what would the jerseys look like? The colored shoulder area likely would have extended all the way to the wrists, I imagined.  

Having recently completed graphical images for the 1920-1932 era over the summer, I decided to broaden my scope and have a bit of fun.  All work and no play, etc, etc. What would EACH current team look like if they were playing back in the times of the leather helmets and long sleeves? I made my first attempts at re-envisioning current uniforms of the Dolphins and Jaguars last year. But this was a horse of a different color.

Intrigued by the prospects, I started to lay some ground rules. But, in the words of Captain Barbossa, these rules are “more what you’d call guidelines than rules.”

White jerseys were not overly frequent so I tried to keep them to a minimum. (In fact, I was able to make due without white jerseys for more than half of all current teams.)

No logos (other than very early Redskins and Pirates/Steelers) ever appeared on jerseys.

Stripes around socks and sleeves tended to be without thin little border stripes and either had no separation or a large amount of separation between them.

One pair of pants allowed per team.

Stripes on pants are located on the backs of the legs…’butt-stripes’ if you will.  I used the model of the 1936 Giants who had 3 color strips in each stripe.

I only used 3 models of helmets – the basic leather, the flying wing with stripes, and the flying wing without stripes.

If the team already existed back in the 30s, 40s, and/or 50s, its design then could be used as a model but I was not putting any limitation on myself saying I HAD to use that exact design.

Unless black is one of the teams’ main ‘colors,’ it does not get used (i.e. Detroit, Philadelphia, & Arizona).

No chromatic limitations. Back in the day, could a manufacturer have made golden jerseys (not yellow – real gold) for a team? Hard to say.

No TV numbers or nameplates.

It’s important to keep in mind that ‘color vs. color’ match-ups were frequent at the time including Green Bay in navy playing Chicago in navy. When teams had secondary uniforms at the time, they saw little action, sometimes never more the two or three Sundays per season. Other teams, like Philadelphia, wore both jerseys interchangeably throughout the season both home and away.

That said, for the next 8 weeks, I will be bringing you these constructs division by division.  The first division to be presented is the ‘grandfather’ of them all, the NFC North…

The NFC North
CHICAGO – Boy, was this difficult! <sarcasm included> Aside from changing the numbers on the navy jersey to orange (as they were back then) and adding a reverse orange secondary combo that was routinely worn throughout the 30s, this IS the Bears.

DETROIT – As with Chicago (and later with Cleveland), I had little choice with Detroit. This is who they are. I removed the highlighting outlines from the northwestern stripes and the numbers and all is good. A grey jersey was not an option.

 GREEN BAY – With the Packers I had a little leeway. Their current design wasn’t established until the 1960s. I decided on using their current stripe pattern as opposed to that of the 60s with the 5 stripes. I eliminated the separation stripes. I opted for their secondary jersey to be yellow. Green Bay actually utilized a mono-yellow look in the late-40s and 1950.

 MINNESOTA – As a Bears fan, it pains me to say this but, for some reason, the Vikings models I put together are my favorites when you compare them to the current versions. I used the original darker purple for the base as opposed to the current "Barney" purple. When they were founded, they featured northwestern stripes on their sleeves and added them to the socks in subsequent years. Removing the yellow outlines and sticking with straight purple and white made for one BAD combination. I went with a white flying wing on a purple helmet that resembles their current design bearing the Viking horns.

Next week, I will continue with the NFC East.  Stay Tuned...
Bill Schaefer


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