The 1998 Atlanta Falcons were somewhat of a surprise to the National Football League when they burst on the scene to capture the NFC Championship. Dubbed the "Dirty Birds" by their fans and followers, they danced their way to Super Bowl XXXIII behind the guidance of Coach Dan Reeves, the arm of Chris Chandler and the legs of Jamal Anderson.
Unfortunately, they ran into an orange crush in the form of John Elway's going-away party. Falling to the Denver Broncos, 34-19, the franchise would have to wait a little while to clinch another berth to The Big Game. Their patience was rewarded two Sundays ago, when they dismantled the Green Bay Packers and punched their ticket to Houston.
With this year's version of the Falcons all set to battle the Patriots for the Lombardi Trophy on February 5th, the franchise is at a historical turning point. This is their final season playing in the Georgia Dome, and young stars like Matt Ryan and Julio Jones are forming the nucleus of a potential powerhouse.
Still, football fans will undoubtedly raise a toast to the Dirty Birds as they prepare to watch the Red & Black go for it all again. They will reminisce about Andersen's kick and likely try to imitate that crazy dance.
The Dirty Birds' run nearly 20 years ago had the south rising... so we thought we would take a look at Atlanta's first Super Bowl team and catch up with them today:
15 Bob Christian
Bob Christian played ten seasons in the National Football League for the Bears, Panthers and Falcons from 1992 to 2002. He was one of the players selected by the Carolina Panthers in the 1995 NFL Expansion Draft.
He had his finest years with Atlanta, tallying 831 yards and 12 touchdowns on 193 carries in 135 games, including 85 starts. He had 230 receptions for 2,048 yards and seven touchdowns, establishing a reputation as pass-catching threat out of the backfield. During his tenure in the Dirty South, Christian only missed three games in six seasons.
After retirement, he worked as a personal trainer, specializing in speed and agility. He also became a licensed pilot and flying instructor.
14 Lester Archambeau
The defensive end out of Stanford was a late round pick of the Green Bay Packers, but spent the majority of his career in Atlanta.
In '98, Lester Archambeau (Pictured Left) was the Falcons' sack master, getting to the quarterback 10 times in the regular season. He also forced five fumbles, recovering two.
Unfortunately, he didn't get to Elway in the Super Bowl, as the Falcons never put Denver's QB on the ground in The Big Game.
While with the Falcons, he was approached by teammate Mike Kenn, then the president of the NFL Players Association. Kenn nominated the vocal pass rusher to be a player representative, and Archambeau went on to become a respected locker room leader.
The Stanford grad didn't stop there. After retiring, he went on to become a Player Advocate for the NFLPA, where he worked to educate the league's young athletes on aspects of the Collective Bargaining Agreement.
13 Keith Brooking
The Falcons selected Keith Brooking with the 12th overall pick in the 1998 NFL Draft, Shortly into his pro career, the linebacker from Georgia Tech would find his way into the lineup and on the field for the biggest game of the year.
In that baptism-by-fire rookie campaign, he registered 32 tackles and one interception while establishing himself as a young leader on defense. During the '98 postseason, he had eight tackles in the NFC title game against the Vikings en route to Super Bowl XXXIII.
The drubbing by the Broncos didn't damper Brooking's career. He would go on to have five Pro Bowl seasons for the Falcons, establishing a reputation as a run-stopping machine: In 2003, he had 207 total tackles with 130 solos.
He formed the Keith Brooking Foundation in 2002, and still lives in the Atlanta area. He was elected to the Georgia Tech Athletic Hall of Fame in 2007.
12 Bob Whitfield
Bob Whitfield played for the Falcons from 1992–2003, providing a steady rock on the offensive line.
He never missed a game from 1993-99 and held down the trenches with his 6'4", 325 lbs frame. Whitfield last professional game was for the New York Giants in a 2007 Wild Card playoff loss, before announcing his retirement live on Sirius NFL radio that offseason.
In 1993, Whitfield founded PatchWerk Recording Studios in Atlanta. Since then, the studio has recorded and mixed music for such artists as OutKast, Nelly, 50 Cent, Snoop Dogg, and Beyoncé.
He works a contributor on local Atlanta television and radio, and was formerly married to the Real Housewives of Atlanta cast member Sheree Whitfield.
11 Tony Martin
Just like his fellow receiver Terance Mathis, Tony Martin was originally drafted by the New York Jets. And, also just like his pass-catching partner, he put up a 1000 yard season in 1998. This pair of "TMs" were the compliment in the air to the ground game of running back Jamal Anderson.
Martin's best season in The League was in'96 with San Diego when he made the Pro Bowl and tied for the league lead in touchdown receptions. After arriving in the Peach State in '98, he registered 1181 yards and six TDs in the championship run.
Nine days after his team lost Super Bowl XXXIII, Martin was indicted on federal charges of laundering drug profits for a business acquaintance. He was acquitted on those charges. However, on March 26, 1999, Martin asked a federal judge for protection from his creditors in bankruptcy court.
He retired in 2001 and, for a time, was married to model LisaRaye McCoy.
10 Tim Dwight
Return specialist Tim Dwight was a rookie in 1998 when he came to camp and Coach Dan Reeves literally dropped the ball right into his hands. Despite being only 5'8" tall and weighing 185 pounds, the coaching staff felt the little speedster could provide some spark on special teams.
He did just that, averaging 27.0 yards per kick return with one touchdown in '98.
Dwight's 94-yard touchdown on a kickoff in Super Bowl XXXIII against the Broncos was one of the few highlights for his team. His most productive season as a receiver was in '99, when he had 32 catches for 669 yards.
He founded the Tim Dwight Foundation to help needy kids with scholarships and provide assistance to the Children's Hospital of Iowa. In 2008, he invested in Integrated Power Corporation, a solar energy company that specializes in business and industry. Today, Dwight is involved in day-to-day operations and works as a spokesman for solar energy.
9 Chuck Smith
Chuck Smith started all 16 games in 1998, knocking down 8.5 sacks and recovering three fumbles for the Dirty Birds. In the Super Bowl, he couldn't get to the elusive Elway, as the Falcons' defense found itself down early and often.
Smith was an All-Pro in 1997, and had 58.5 sacks and three interceptions over the course of a nine year career.
Since retiring in 2000 due to multiple knee injuries, he worked as a radio host with V-103 in Atlanta. Smith served as the defensive line coach at his alma mater, the University of Tennessee, before departing in 2011.
Hailed as the "best defensive end I ever coached" by former Vols sideline stomper Johnny Majors, Smith also represented UT as an SEC Football Legend in 2015.
8 Terance Mathis
Originally drafted by the Jets in 1990, Terance Mathis was an established veteran by the time the Falcons were ready to make their postseason push. Having signed with the team in 1994, he was the established leader of the receiving corps.
Mathis made a three-yard touchdown grab for the Falcons in Super Bowl XXXIII. He led the team in receiving in the losing effort, with seven catches for 85 yards.
The next year, he passed Andre Rison as the club's all-time reception leader. In 2000, he also passed Rison on the franchise's touchdown list. He would go on to sign with Pittsburgh, before retiring because of multiple conclusions in 2002.
Mathis founded the Terance Loves Children Foundation (now The Terance Mathis Foundation) in 1996, and went on to form his own motor sports team, Victory Motorsports. He was later named Vice President of Marketing for Sprint Cup Series team Leavine Family Racing.
He was also the offensive coordinator at Savannah State University for two seasons from 2011-13.
7 Eugene Robinson
In a wild and woolly 16-year NFL career, Eugene Robinson played for the Seahawks, Packers, Falcons and Panthers before finally retiring in 2000. Along the way, he won a Super Bowl ring with Green Bay in Super Bowl XXXI.
Two years later, he would feel the other side of glory. The night before Super Bowl XXXIII, Robinson was arrested by an undercover police officer for soliciting a prostitute. Awash in a firestorm and lacking sleep, he was burned for a 80-yard TD in the game. He was vilified after the loss and would only spend one more season in Atlanta.
(To make matters even worse: Robinson had just received the Athletes in Action/Bart Starr Award, given annually for outstanding character and leadership. The press had a field day with this particular sidebar to the story, and Robinson agreed to return the award amidst the controversy.)
Robinson has rebounded well since that arrest 18 years ago. He currently serves as a color analyst for the Carolina Panthers Radio Network.
He's also been a high school coach at Charlotte Christian since 2001 and once coached Golden State Warriors superstar Steph Curry in track.
6 Morten Andersen
"The Great Dane" was a masterful left-footed kicker who just seemed to never go away.
Morten Andersen is the all-time leader in games played in the NFL at 382... AND the all-time leading scorer in NFL history (2,654 points). He owns the Falcons record book, sitting atop the franchise rankings for most field goals made (184), PATs (254), most consecutive games scoring (124) and most field goals from 50-yards-plus (15).
"The Kicker That Time Forgot" finally retired on December 8, 2008, as the second oldest player in NFL history- behind George Blanda.
He has a place in Falcons lore as the man who kicked a game-winning field goal in overtime of the 1998 NFC Championship Game to clinch the franchise's first-ever Super Bowl appearance.
Morten Andersen started a company in 2009 called Morten Andersen Global that does international business consulting.
Now 56, he has a non-profit organization that he founded in 2009, The Morten Andersen Family Foundation, that raises money for quality life programs for children and youth and also quality life programs for our servicemen and women.
5 Cornelius Bennett
If it wasn't for hard luck, Cornelius Bennett would have no luck at all.
The outstanding linebacker went 0-5 in Super Bowl appearances, losing four consecutive times with the hard-luck Buffalo Bills before falling to the Broncos along with his Falcons teammates.
Outside of those losses in the Big Game, he had a fabulous career. Bennett was a five-time Pro Bowler, (1988, 1990–1993), and won the AFC Defensive Player of the Year in both '88 and '91. He played a total of 14 NFL seasons for the Bills, Falcons and Colts.
Upon retirement, he took up golf and organized tournaments to benefit children's charities. Bennett was also part of the NFLPA's Board of Former Players, and served as its chairman.
Now 51, Bennett has been inducted into the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame in 2004 and the College Football Hall of Fame in 2005. He is often mentioned as a candidate for the pro Hall, as well.
4 Ray Buchanan
"Big Play Ray" was an All-Pro at cornerback for The Dirty Birds in 1998, grabbing seven interceptions and making 54 tackles.
Drafted out of Louisville in 1993, by the Indianapolis Colts in the third round, Ray Buchanan would later go on to play for both the Falcons and Raiders. He would finish his nine year career with 819 tackles, 47 interceptions, and four defensive touchdowns.
After stepping away from football, Buchanan recorded a rap album in 2002. In 2016, he was inducted into the Kentucky Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Currently, he works as a weekend host and analyst for Fox Sports Radio. His son, Baylen, is a defensive back for the University of Tennessee.
3 Chris Chandler
The Falcons' quarterback was once considered a journeyman and potential career backup. Perhaps he would spend his life with a ballcap and a clipboard, moving from city to city, up and down The League.
But in 1998, he transformed from hitchhiking handy man to pivotal play caller.
Coming into the NFL from the University of Washington in 1988, Chris Chandler (Pictured Middle) had already played in four different cities before he unpacked his bags in Atlanta. During the Super Bowl season, he threw for 3,154 yards and 25 TDs, striking a perfect balance with Jamal Anderson's rushing dominance.
He departed the Falcons in 2002. It was the beginning if the end, however. Chandler only lasted in the league until 2004, when he was released by the Rams after a six-interception performance.
Chandler is an incredibly avid golfer and is a regular competitor at the American Century Championship, an annual tournament among sports and entertainment celebrities. He won the tourney in 2007 and has a total of eight top ten finishes there.
2 Jamal Anderson
Considered a long shot coming out of The University of Utah, Anderson was drafted by the Atlanta Falcons in the seventh round of the 1994 NFL Draft. Before long, he would emerge as the jet stream behind the Dirty Birds' offense.
After stepping into the starting lineup, Jamal Anderson would make it to the Pro Bowl in that magical year of 1998. The 5'10", 230 lb back went to on rack up 1,846 yards and lead the NFC in rushing. He also scored 14 TDs.
He would be Atlanta's number one offensive weapon heading into the Super Bowl.
In the battle with Denver, Anderson played well, rushing for 96 yards but without a score. Little did he or the team know at the time, but it would be the apex of Anderson's NFL life. He would go on to suffer a career-ending knee injury in 2001, finishing off his eight-year career with 41 touchdowns.
In 2010, he went on to appear as an analyst for CNN Sports.
Anderson was arrested in February 2009 on suspicion of cocaine possession and for DUI on June 24, 2012. He was also detained in Suwanee, Georgia on December 14, 2016 for an incident that reportedly involved public intoxication.
1 Dan Reeves
Head Coach Dan Reeves was the most battle-tested of the Dirty Birds. As a player or coach, he would participate in nine Super Bowls throughout his career.
During week 14 of the '98 season, Reeves was diagnosed with heart complications that would require quadruple bypass surgery. Defensive coordinator Rich Brooks stepped in for two weeks, until Reeves returned for Week 17 and the postseason.
The Dirty Birds eventually finished 14-2, by far Reeves' best year in Atlanta and his only division title. He would go 49-59-1 with the organization before being fired midway through the 2003 season.
Reeves would go on to work as a color analyst for the Westwood One Network and make public speaking appearances. Now 73, he still makes his home in Atlanta with his wife, Pam.
If the 2016-17 incarnation of the Atlanta Falcons can somehow conquer the Patriots on February 5th, they will capture the their first-ever title. Undoubtedly, there will be a ticker tape parade and a visit to the White House. If somehow, Matt Ryan and the boys hoist the Lombard Trophy in Houston, this will be remembered as the franchise's greatest season ever.
But, win or lose, there's perhaps no team in the history of the city that captured their hearts like the Dirty Birds. And even though they fell short of the NFL's ultimate goal, they certainly danced their way into the hearts of fans everywhere.
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