The Atlanta Falcons franchise began on June 30, 1965, when MFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle granted ownership to 40-year-old Rankin Smith Sr., an Executive Vice President of Life Insurance Company of Georgia. He paid $8.5 million, the highest price in NFL history at the time for a franchise. Rozelle and Smith made the deal in about five minutes and the Atlanta Falcons brought the largest and most popular sport to the city of Atlanta. The Atlanta expansion team became the fifteenth NFL franchise.
In 1998, under recently acquired head coach Dan Reeves, quarterback Chris Chandler and running back Jamal Anderson the "Dirty Bird" Falcons had their greatest season to date. On November 8, they beat the New England Patriots 41–10, ending a streak of 22 losses at cold-weather sites. The team finished with a franchise-best 14–2 regular-season record and the NFC West division championship. On January 17, 1999, the Falcons upset the top-seeded Vikings at the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome in the NFC Championship Game 30–27, in an exciting overtime victory. However, in their first-ever Super Bowl appearance, they lost 34–19 to the defending champion Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XXXIII.
On January 23, Jacksonville Jaguars defensive coach and former linebackers coach for the 2000 Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens Mike Smith was named the Falcons' new head coach. In the 2008 season, the Falcons beat the Minnesota Vikings 24–17 to clinch a wild card spot, earning a trip to the playoffs for the first time since 2004. The Falcons would go on to lose in the wild-card round of the 2008 NFL playoffs to the eventual NFC champion Arizona Cardinals, 30–24.
Matt Ryan started all 16 games in his rookie season and was named the Associated Press Offensive Rookie of the Year. First-year head coach Mike Smith was named the 2008 NFL Coach of the Year. In 2012 Atlanta exploded out of the gate, going a franchise best 8–0 and remaining the last unbeaten team in the NFL that year. Their hopes to get an undefeated season came to an end with a 27–31 loss to the division rival Saints. The Falcons played the Seattle Seahawks in their first playoff game. Although they went down 28–27 with only 31 seconds left on the clock, Matt Ryan led the team to their first playoff victory, 30–28. It was the only playoff victory in the Mike Smith era.
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