My adventures with Rankin Smith, and other tales of Atlanta’s other sports teams

(A mostly Falcons flashback, with a Hawks cameo)

In Atlanta the 1980 Falcons were football’s version of the ’91 Braves. Not quite the same, because the NFL schedule can’t compete with the daily drama of a pennant race. And then there’s the recognition factor. Everyone knew the Lemmer and Smoltzie and TP. How many knew Bob Glazebrook or Jeff Yeates?

More than you think, actually. Edgar Fields’ “attackin’ ” and Billy Ryckman‘s “chewin’” merited a shout out in a musical ode to Rankin Smith‘s Falcons, along with the greatest Falcon of them all: “Bill Andrews’ moves.” Except no one called him Bill.

I had a strange connection to those Falcons, having spent some time as a child around the Falcons owner. Rankin was always good to me and, to a kid, the antics of an alcoholic are amusing (as long as he or she is not your parent).

I remember Rankin, after a few too many cocktails, blowing off firecrackers in our backyard with my forklift driving aunt (it wasn’t the 4th of July). Their introduction was also memorable.

Mom: “Barbara, this is Rankin Smith. He owns the Falcons.”

Babs: “I don’t give a shit what he owns. What am I supposed to do, kiss his feet.”

Rankin had found a drinking buddy.

When I was about 6 or 7 he took me and his young daughter out on a john boat to buy candy from a little general store off Lake Lanier. We got lost. Rankin had a few too many but did manage to find his dock before midnight.

Then there was the big neighborhood New Year’s party. Rankin, after a few too many, tumbled into a pit dug for a pig roast. Fortunately, the coals hadn’t been lit.

But the Falcons owner often was. My mom’s best friend, who was close with Rankin, came over one day early in 1987 amid the Falcons’ search for a new head coach. The rumor mill had everyone from Bill Parcells to John Madden taking  the job. Squirrely NFL insider Fred Edelstein’s “sources” had Bill Walsh looking for homes in the Atlanta area.

I was going to get the inside scoop.

“He’ll end up hiring Marion again,” my mom’s friend told me.

No. Can’t be.

Rankin had fired Marion Campbell 11 years earlier after the Swamp Fox managed but six wins in 25 games. He fared slightly better in Philly, leading the Eagles to a 17-29 record in three years. Coaches with 23-48 records usually don’t get a third chance, but Rankin and Marion were fishing buddies.

Two days later, Marion got his third chance. An 11-32 record guaranteed it would be his last.

The Hawks clip, from 1989, highlights the vaunted Moses Malone era. Frustrated by the team’s inability to get past the Celtics, Stan Kasten brought Moses Malone and Reggie Theus to the Hawks amid expectations they would bring Atlanta its first title.

Instead we ended up with Bob Weiss, “the only person to be affiliated with the Clippers’ franchise in all three cities of the organization’s history. He was a player with the Buffalo Braves, an assistant coach with the San Diego Clippers, and a head coach with the Los Angeles Clippers.” Some pedigree, but he was still better than Marion.

I had lost interest in the Hawks by then, having gone to college in Athens. But in the mid-80s they were the best ticket in town, and we had excellent seats.

My dad, a financial planner, had secured Scott Hastings and Randy Wittman as clients so sometimes we’d sit among the Hawks wives (Doc Rivers’ spouse was a knockout, BTW). Poor Jon Koncak‘s wife never missed a game, which says a lot since her husband was reviled by fans. I felt sorry for her but felt cheated that I couldn’t join in the chorus of boos for Jon Contract, who in 1989 made more than Magic Johnson or Larry Bird.

The new Cleveland

Mark Bradley reviews a sorry history:

Since big-time professional sports arrived in 1966, teams sailing under the Atlanta flag have completed 148 seasons. (We won’t count baseball in 1994, when the World Series was canceled by a players’ strike, or the 2004-2005 NHL campaign, which was scrubbed due to a lockout.) Only one has yielded a championship. That’s a batting average of .007, which is nice if you’re James Bond, less nice if you’ve invested financial and emotional capital in any of those 147 misses. …

Over the same span, the modest city of Pittsburgh has won 10 championships — 11 if you count the ABA crown taken by the Pipers. Long-suffering Philadelphia has six titles since 1966. Denver has four, one at Atlanta’s expense.