Editor Note: Over the next several weeks we will be bringing you a couple of features that will help you get to know our writers. Yesterday we introduced you to “Our Favorite Falcons Memories”. Today we start talking about “Our Favorite Falcons”. Each week come back to the blog and we will introduce you to another one of our favorite Falcons and tell you why that player has found a spot in one of our writers hearts.
Ask anyone who knows me – I have a bit of a chip on my shoulder about being an Atlanta sports fan. I was born here in 1978, about 2 months after my parents moved here from Upstate New York. Despite that – my dad always rooted for the local teams. I think the fact that you couldn’t just buy a TV package or stream games helped him quickly adopt the local outfits.
Being that he was a huge football fan, the Falcons were our first love. I knew who Steve Bartkowski was before any other athlete…even if I couldn’t say his name properly at 5 years old. Bart, however, isn’t my favorite Falcon.
I quickly became accustomed to rooting for a losing NFL team. Then, as the team evened out a bit, with the odd playoff appearance here and there (3 in the 90s, 3 in the 00s), I quickly learned that our players not named Vick or Deion were going to be under-appreciated nationally. Especially the “lunch-pail” guys – the guys that showed up and did their job on a consistent basis, made plays, and were the leaders of the franchise. This seems to be the case with every Atlanta team.
That’s why Jessie Tuggle was a no-brainer for me. No one in this franchise’s modern era more embodies the Forgotten Falcons. He goes up there with Claude Humphrey, Tommy Nobis, Mike Kenn, and Jeff Van Note as guys that would be sure fire Hall of Famers if they had played anywhere else. Much like another beloved Atlanta sports icon, Dale Murphy, Jessie is destined to be passed over because he was a shining light on some very bad teams.
It made me sick to watch Neon Deion, after playing a whole 5 seasons here, claim the mantra of the Falcons first Hall of Famer. This after he set off in pursuit of Super Bowl rings, and left his original franchise in the lurch. I couldn’t stand knowing that a selfish, showboat, of a player could steal that from guys like The Hammer.
I know – there was another Hammer in Atlanta – one that hit 715 at Fulton County Stadium…but this one lived up to that name just as much. For 14 seasons, Jessie Tuggle stalked the middle of the Atlanta defense, piling up bonecrushing hits, and startling tackle totals, year after year.
Consider this – according to Pro Football Reference – from 1989 to 1992, the pride of Griffin, GA piled up tackle totals of 183, 201, 207 (!), 193, and 185. The highest total any NFL player has reached in the last 10 years is Jerod Mayo’s 175 last season. Imagine a QB or RB so dominating a statistical category for 5 straight seasons, but not being considered even close to Hall of Fame worthy.
That’s just the problem – tackles, while a statistic that is nominally kept by the NFL, still seems to hold no weight in measuring a player’s worth. With Middle Linebackers – it’s almost more about your persona than anything. While Tuggle hit hard, played hard, and was an example for all who played for him – he never wanted to be the center of attention, like Ray Lewis, or be the assassin that Dick Butkus was. He just did what was asked of him, year after year, and did it better than anyone in the 1990s.
Playing for numerous mediocre to bad teams, though, he gets unfairly labeled as having inflated stats. He was “always on the field”, and “had to make the tackles because no one else would”, don’t you know?
He has one “elite” NFL statistic – 5 Fumble Return TDs was all his for 11 seasons, before sure fire Hall Of Famer, Jason Taylor (he played for the Dolphins and sacked people!), surpassed it in 2009.
So – Jessie Tuggle will take his 5 hard earned Pro Bowls, his College Football Hall of Fame induction, and his ’98 NFC Championship ring, and have to be happy just being in the Falcons Ring of Honor. He didn’t play for NFL Royalty, and played in a city the National Sports Media alternately loves to hate, and loves to ignore.
Regardless, I tip my hat to the man that most embodied the Falcons of my formative years – The Hammer, the greatest football player to come out of Griffin High School, and Valdosta State, and a man who deserves more consideration than he gets as one of the best players of the ’90s.
Follow Eric on Twitter @GentlemanMashr
If you would like to share your Favorite Falcons player with our readers then e-mail us at gritsblitzblog at gmail.com with your favorite player and why they are your favorite.