By TJ Troup
|Falcon Cogdill catches a touchdown over Eagle Irv Cross|
COACHING: Norm Van Brocklin got a second chance as an NFL head coach part way through the '68 campaign. Atlanta wins twice under his guidance, yet no doubt after the debacle ended the Dutchman knew his team in '69 would be very different.
Van Brocklin believes that he must have men who are loyal and understand his type of teaching thus he brings aboard Walt Yowarsky to coach the running backs. Walt coached six years in Minnesota, and the last two with New Orleans; and this will be his first time coaching the running backs. The offensive line coach in his very first year ever at the pro level is former Ram All-Pro teammate Duane Putnam. Watching film of the Falcon running game definitely shows Putnam's impact with guard play as the Falcons are superb on both the trap and sweep. Putnam was superb as a player on those type of running plays. The receivers coach is Van Brocklin himself, and of course, he also works with the quarterbacks.
ATLANTA on Defense: The strength of the team should be the linebackers, but with the injury to Tommy Nobis (49 tackles) early in the season former Viking Don Hansen has to fill in. Hansen does an admirable job, but he is no Tommy Nobis.
|Nobis limping off the field in Baltimore|
Early in the season, there is a rotation at defensive tackle, but for most of the year Jerry Shay is the left defensive tackle, and Dave Cahill (acquired in trade) is the right defensive tackle. Neither man is much of a pass rusher, and though both men give a substantial effort they both struggle shedding blocks and fill running lanes.
Claude Humphrey (49 tackles, 10½ sacks) at left defensive end is coming off a stellar rookie season; but in the NFL playing left defensive end in the western conference simply means you will be compared to David Jones, Carl Eller, and Willie Davis. Humphrey has every physical attribute you want: size, quickness, and strength. How quickly can he get to the passer? How strong is he at shutting down the off-tackle run play? Claude shows improvement and is on his way to stardom.
|Claude Humphrey racing for a touchdown with a fumble forced by John Zook|
The 1968 Atlanta Falcons, with a defensive passer rating of 101.3, rank as one of the worst (most porous) secondaries ever, and as such Hecker is dismissed. Rangy, with excellent speed is the only returning member of the secondary; starting left corner Ken Reaves (51 tackles, 3 INT). He plays the ball well in flight, can turn and run with speedy receivers, and is willing and able to play the strong side sweep.
The Falcons do not register much improvement in the sack department from 1968 to 1969 though the rush is stronger. So, the youngsters in the secondary are just going to have to latch on in man coverage, and when asked play their zones with discipline and awareness. Lee Calland lost his job in Minnesota under Van Brocklin and released him in late October of '68.
|Rudy Redmon (47) and Mike Freeman (28) trying to stop Dan Reeves|
Nate Wright does not give Van Brocklin what he wants at right corner, and is sold on waivers to the Cardinals in November. Hard-hitting, quick and very aggressive Rudy Redmond steps into the breach and plays outstanding football for Atlanta in 1969.
The safety tandem to open the season is Jim Weatherford at strong safety (366th pick in the draft), and the aforementioned Mallory at free. Weatherford has a game for the ages against San Francisco early in the year, but late in the season loses his job to Al Lavan. Mallory is adequate at free safety, but he also loses playing time to Mike Freeman late in the year.
The league average passer rating in 1969 is 71.6. The Falcons defensive passer rating is 69.3; an incredible improvement over '68, but much more important let's take a look at opponent passers in the six games the Falcons won in '69. Opponent passers completed 97 of 191 for just 861 yards; and allowed just two touchdowns, and pilfered 14 for a rating of 36.1 in victory. A job was well done by Fred Bruney and these young men.
OFFENSE: The starting left tackle is massive free agent Bill Sandeman, while the starting left guard is rookie Dick Enderle. Malcom Snider is also a rookie and has an excellent season as the starting right guard, and with the second pick in the draft comes rookie George Kunz. While these four youngsters all are an improvement over the men who played in '68 they are much better as run blockers than pass protectors.
As a rookie in '56 Bosley played defensive end for the 49ers and chased Van Brocklin in games at Kezar and the Coliseum, and now he is the leader and "glue" for these youngsters on the o-line. Big Bruce has lost quickness, yet his savvy, and strong run blocking ability are there for all to see. The Falcons can and will run the ball down your throat. James "Cannonball" Butler (163 rushes for 655 yards, 3 TDs) showed flashes of ability with Pittsburgh, but his per carry average was abysmal. He was released by the Steelers in September of '68 and signed by Falcons almost immediately.
Former starter Junior Coffey is traded to the Giants, and as such who will be Butler's campanion in the backfield? Paul Gipson flashes ability at times during the year, but is not very consistent. Second-year man Harmon Wages was scolded on the sideline as a rookie in '68 by the Dutchman, but is he ever an improved player in '69.
|Harmon Wages and the Dutchman|
No doubt if Van Brocklin asked him to drive the team bus; Harmon would do that also. The Atlanta Falcons in 1969 lead the entire NFL in yards per carry average.
Rookie Jim Mitchell has a wonderful year at tight end in '69. He is not John Mackey (who is?), but is similar in style, and results. Big Jim is a go-to weapon in key situations, and sure has a bright future in front of him.
|Berry sacked by Jack Pardee|
|Berry sacked by Coy Bacon|
|Flatley scores a touchdown versus Saints|
Cogdill just does not make mental mistakes, and though still lean he was an excellent blocker in Detroit, and he continues to do just that in Atlanta. Film study shows him busting his ass downfield to block. His knee injury has slowed him down, but he can run every route, can read coverage, and his superb athletic skills can still serve him well.
Quoting narrator Pat Summerall from the highlight film "(I)f a pass was near him, he held onto it". Gail makes superb adjustments to the ball in flight and film study shows him doing this in games against Philadelphia, San Francisco, New Orleans, and Detroit. Cogdill caught 11 passes for 240 yards in Atlanta victories, and 13 passes for 134 yards in losses.
|Cogdill with a one-handed touchdown grab vs Saints|
My interview with him years ago is still one of my favorites ever. Steve Sabol and myself relished telling each other stories from folks around the league, and Steve laughed heartily when told the Codgill story from the film room on a Monday as Van Brocklin fell asleep on the floor, with the ash from his camel cigarette still on—while the film had ended and was flapping on the 16 MM projector.
|The Dutchman being carried off the field after a win over the 12-1 Vikings|
Let's end with a quote from Street & Smith's 1970 Pro Football Edition—"At the other striking positions in the backfield and at the ends of the line, Atlanta has become a good football team. Two retreads are doing a catching job for the Falcons, Paul Flatley, formerly of Minnesota, and 33-year old Gail Cogdill, formerly of Detroit. Flatley was presumed to be too slow in his pre-Atlanta days, and Cogdill was considered washed-up. Neither judgement had any merit" Amen to that.