ATLANTA (AP) - They were known as the “Dirty Birds,” a colorful cast of characters who came closer than any other team to bringing a Super Bowl championship to Atlanta.
Now they’re rooting on a new group of Falcons to win that last game of the season.
“I still say ‘we.’ I can’t help myself,” said Jamal Anderson, the star running back of the only Falcons team to reach the biggest game of them all. “Wherever I go, any airport, any city … people are screaming ‘Dirty Bird!’ That’s my reality. I’ve accepted it. I’ve even copyrighted it, so wear it out!”
The comparisons are plentiful between the team that reached the Super Bowl a dozen seasons ago and this year’s squad, which is 11-2, has won seven in a row and leads the NFC heading into Sunday’s final road game of the regular season at Seattle.
“The potential is there,” said Terance Mathis, who caught 11 touchdown passes in 1998 and still lives in Atlanta. “They play together, they overcome adversity and they believe they can win every week. That’s the way we were.”
A punishing ground game is the starting point for both teams. With Anderson rushing for a franchise-record 1,846 yards, the ‘98 Falcons led the league in time of possession (33:10). This offense features 1,174-yard rusher Michael Turner and almost identical control-the-clock number (33:05).
Throw in the steady-as-a-rock quarterbacks who don’t make many mistakes (Chris Chandler then, Matt Ryan now) and opportunistic defenses (the ‘98 Falcons led the league in takeaways, the current group ranks 10th), and it’s sometimes hard to tell the teams apart.
“There’s a lot of eery comparisons, huh?” Anderson said.
But bring up that Super Bowl team to this group of players and all you’ll get is a puzzled look. Ryan was just 13 years old when the Falcons played in their only Super Bowl. Star receiver Roddy White was still in high school. Chris Redman, who is Ryan’s backup, was playing his college ball at Louisville.
“Obviously, I remember the ‘Dirty Bird.’ That’s about it,” the 33-year-old Redman said. “We don’t want to compare ourselves to anybody else. We want to go out there and make our own identity.”
In all likelihood, that identity won’t be nearly as outrageous as the one established by the ‘98 team. Start with the nickname, which came from an arm-flapping dance that Anderson insists he invented but first came to prominence when tight end O.J. Santiago used it _ complete with a squawking sound that was picked up on television _ during an end-zone celebration at New England.
From then on, they were known as the “Dirty Birds.” Everyone in Atlanta, it seemed, was flapping their arms _ even no-nonsense coach Dan Reeves, who joined the celebration after the Falcons pulled out a thrilling overtime win over the favored Minnesota Vikings in the NFC championship game.
Anderson said he purposely invented the dance and nickname, hoping it would bring some attention to a franchise known mostly for losing until that magical year.
“That’s the reason the thing came about,” he said. “We were playing too good to have nobody talking us.”
Certainly, there was no shortage of talkers on that team.View Entire Story
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