Top 50 Falcons: No. 1 Tommy Nobis/Claude Humphrey

Claude Humprhrey, Tommy Nobis, Atlanta Falcons

Falcons legends Claude Humphrey (left) and Tommy Nobis were fixtures on Atlanta’s early teams. (Curtis Compton/AJC)

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has counted down the Top 50 players in Atlanta Falcons history during the franchise’s 50th anniversary season. No. 1 was a difficult choice and is deserved to be shared by teammates, linebacker Tommy Nobis and defensive end Claude Humphrey.

Years played for Falcons: Tommy Nobis, the No. 1 pick in the NFL draft and No. 5 choice in the AFL in December 1965, played his college ball at Texas. Nobis is one of college football’s all-time greatest linebackers. In his tenure with the Texas Longhorns (1963–1965), he averaged nearly 20 tackles a game and, as the only sophomore starter, was an important participant on the Longhorns’ 1963 National College Football Championship team, which defeated No. 2 Navy led by Heisman Trophy winner Roger Staubach in the 1964 Cotton Bowl Classic. As a senior despite being slowed by a knee injury, he won the Outland Trophy for the best lineman in the country and the Maxwell Award for college’s best player. “Mr. Falcon” played from 1966-76 and was the original face of the franchise.

The third-overall pick in the 1968 draft out of Tennessee State, Claude Humphrey, played from ’68 to ’78 in Atlanta before finishing his career with three seasons in Philadelphia. In 2014, he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Jersey Nos.: Nobis, 60; Humphrey, 87

His impact on the team: It did not take long for the Falcons to get their first Pro Bowl selection as Nobis was elected his rookie season after being named Rookie of the Year and setting the unofficial record for most tackles in a season with a staggering and untouchable 294, which still stands today. Even more impressive, Nobis accomplished that feat in just a fourteen game season, meaning he averaged close to 18 tackles a game. In his 11-season career, Nobis made the Pro Bowl five teams and was selected to the NFL’s 1960’s All-decade team. The Falcons franchise was built around Nobis, which led to his nickname “Mr. Falcon”. Falcons coach Norm Van Brocklin once pointed to Nobis’ locker and proclaimed, “There’s where our football team dresses.’’ This tale continues to get passed down through the franchise’s history as Nobis set the standard for each guy to ever put on the uniform behind him. Nobis, who spent his entire NFL career bothered by knee injuries, was an inaugural member of the 2004 Falcons Ring of Honor and has his No. 60 jersey retired.

Tommy Nobis, Atlanta Falcons

Falcons linebacker Tommy Nobis went to five straight from 1970 to 74. (Vernon Biever/AP)

Humphrey earned Rookie of the Year honors and continued to play with the Falcons through the 1978 season. In that time, he earned All-NFL or All-Pro honors eight times and received All-NFC honors seven times. He is tied for the franchise lead with six Pro Bowl selections, including five straight from 1970-74. Teammates voted Humphrey as the team’s Most Valuable Player in 1976, after missing the entire 1975 season due to a knee injury. He came back and finished the 1976 campaign with career-high in sacks, ranking third in Atlanta history with 15.5 sacks in a single season. His play was an exemplary force and a part of the “Gritz Blitz” defense. The 1977 Falcons climbed to the No. 1 ranking defense and set an NFL record for the fewest points allowed per game (9.2), picked off 26 passes and recorded 42 sacks. Humphrey completed his career as the all-time sack leader in franchise history with 94.5. He was inducted into the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame in 2004. In 2008, he was inducted into the Falcons Ring of Honor.

Claude Humphrey, Atlanta Falcons

Claude Humphrey’s play was an exemplary force and a part of the “Gritz Blitz” defense. (AJC)

Claude on coming back from his injury: “People projected that [1975] was the end of my football career. That I wouldn’t play anymore. That I couldn’t. I had torn both cartilages in my knee and it was over for me. My football career was down the drain.” (AJC)

Falcons owner Arthur Blank on Humphrey’s legacy: “Throughout his 10-year career in Atlanta, Claude Humphrey was considered one of the most dominant pass rushers of his time and holds the club’s all-time sacks record with 94.5. Claude was what many offensive coaches called a ‘game-wrecker’ based on his ability to disrupt enemy offenses. He was voted to the Pro Bowl six times during his NFL career and his induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame – in my opinion – is long overdue.’’ (AJC)

Former All-Pro Falcons offensive tackle George Kunz on Nobis: “If you are going to start a franchise, you are going to start with a defense And if you are going to start with a defense, you are going to start with a signal caller and Tommy was all of that. Tommy is the epitome of the type of person a franchise could build on.I do not know if you can actually give anybody a bigger compliment than that.” (AJC)

AJC columnist Furman Bisher on Nobis: “There isn’t much more one can say about Tommy Nobis. In the glow of a winning team, where he would have been a star on the isolated camera, he would already have been residing in Canton. It’s not a Falcons thing, it’s a Nobis thing, and here is a man who lives up to all the ideals I would establish for admission to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.”

Nobis on his playing career: “I feel fortunate to have played 11 years and to have played as hard as I think I did. I did play hard. There were a lot of collisions. I remember a lot of good feelings bringing a guy down with a good hit.” (AJC)

Dolphins great Larry Csonka on Nobis: “I’d rather play against Dick Butkus than Nobis,” (Sports Illustrated)

Where they are now: Nobis, now 72, lives in Atlanta and is currently retired after spending over 40 years as a member of the Falcons organization. In 1975, he founded the Tommy Nobis Center, which provides job training and youth services for both youth and adults with disabilities. For his work with the Georgia Special Olympics, he won the Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr. award and has been named the NFL Man of the Year.

Humphrey is 71 and lives in Atlanta. He is an active member of Antioch Missionary Baptist Church.

The countdown to the Top 50 players in Falcons history.

Top 50 Falcons Countdown

50: Chuck Smith
49: Michael Haynes
48: Jonathan Babineaux
47: John Zook
46: Ken Reaves
45: Lynn Cain
44: Justin Blalock
43: Bobby Butler
42: Tim Mazzetti
41: Buddy Curry
40: Scott Case
39: Jeff Merrow
38: Elbert Shelley
37: Matt Bryant
36: Alge Crumpler
35: Michael Turner
34: Ray Buchanan
33: Chris Hinton
32: Terance Mathis
31: Devin Hester
30: Don Smith
29: Greg Brezina
28: Chris Miller
27: John James
26: Bob Whitfield
25: Rolland Lawrence
24: Alfred Jenkins
23: Billy Johnson
22: Chris Chandler
21: Morten Andersen
20: John Abraham
19: George Kunz
18: Jamal Anderson
17: Keith Brooking
16: R.C. Thielemann
15: Tony Gonzalez
14: Andre Rison
13: Julio Jones
12: Roddy White
11: Steve Bartkowski
10: Michael Vick
9: Bill Fralic
8: Gerald Riggs
7: Matt Ryan
6: Jesse Tuggle
5: Jeff Van Note
4: Warrick Dunn and William Andrews
3: Deion Sanders
2: Mike Kenn
1: Tommy Nobis and Claude Humphrey

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T-man1975
T-man1975

How does Jim Mitchell not make the list? One of the great right ends.