The Atlanta Falcons are a professional American football team based in Atlanta, Georgia. The Falcons compete in the National Football League (NFL) as a member club of the league’s National Football Conference (NFC) South division. The Falcons joined the NFL in 1965 as an expansion team, after the NFL offered then-owner Rankin Smith a franchise to keep him from joining the rival American Football League (AFL). In their 51 years of existence, the Falcons have compiled a record of 350–450–6 (341–437–6 in the regular season and 9–13 in the playoffs), winning division championships in 1980, 1998, 2004, 2010, 2012, and 2016. The Falcons have appeared in two Super Bowls, the first being during the 1998 season in Super Bowl XXXIII, where they lost to the Denver Broncos 34–19, and the second being a 34–28 overtime defeat by the New England Patriots in Super Bowl LI.
The Falcons played their home games at the Georgia Dome in downtown Atlanta from the 1992 to 2016 NFL seasons. Construction began on Mercedes-Benz Stadium in May 2014. Play is projected to begin there during the 2017 season. Their headquarters and practice facilities are located at a 50-acre site in Flowery Branch, Georgia.
Professional football first came to Atlanta in 1962, when the American Football League staged two preseason contests, with one featuring the Denver Broncos vs. the Houston Oilers and the second pitting the Dallas Texans against the Oakland Raiders. Two years later, the AFL held another exhibition, this time with the New York Jets taking on the San Diego Chargers. In 1965, after the Atlanta–Fulton County Stadium was built, the city of Atlanta felt the time was right to start pursuing professional football. One independent group which had been active in NFL exhibition promotions in Atlanta applied for franchises in both the American Football League and the National Football League, acting entirely on its own with no guarantee of stadium rights. Another group reported it had deposited earnest money for a team in the AFL.
With everyone running in different directions, some local businessmen worked out a deal and were awarded an AFL franchise on June 7, 1965, contingent upon acquiring exclusive stadium rights from city officials. NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle, who had been moving slowly in Atlanta matters, was spurred by the AFL interest and headed on the next plane down to Atlanta to block the rival league’s claim on the city of Atlanta. He forced the city to make a choice between the two leagues. By June 30, the city picked Rankin Smith and the NFL.
Frederick “Freddie” Falcon is the official mascot of the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons. He was Atlanta, Georgia’s first mascot and has entertained fans for more than 35 years. He is not to be confused with the namesake mascot of Bowling Green State University or that of the Fresno state, of the ECHL’s Fresno Falcons.