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|
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
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.
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.
|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.
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|