By the time we reach mid-July the anticipation for a new football season is almost boiling over.
It doesn’t matter if it’s action at the high school, college or professional level. It has been several months since we have been able to enjoy games and die-hards are running out of patience.
One of the great things about the first game of any season is the fact there is always hope for our team. No one has lost a game yet and the dream of “this could be the year” is alive and well.
One of the more memorable season openers I attended came way back in 1990 when the Atlanta Falcons hosted the Houston Oilers. It was similar in some ways to a pro wrestling event. There was plenty of talk, some questionable officiating and in end the good guys won (if you were from Atlanta).
The game was featured in Sports Illustrated, making it seem even more special.
Going into the 1990 season the Falcons were one of the worst teams in the NFL. I sat in a near empty Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium on a frigid day in December of 1989 watching the team lose to the Washington Redskins.
Fortunately for Falcon fans, new life was injected with the hiring of Jerry Glanville as head coach. Glanville was already known to long-time Atlanta fans for creating the famed “Gritz Blitz” defense in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
Glanville had decided to leave the Houston Oilers and return home to Atlanta. He promised a new attitude and that started with a return to the team’s black uniforms from decades earlier.
An undefeated preseason had Falcon fans thinking things were going to be different and for a hot Sunday afternoon in September 1990 they were.
Houston was clearly the better team on paper that day but Glanville’s Falcons used an all-out assault on Oilers quarterback Warren Moon. Fumbles were caused and returned for touchdowns. Deion Sanders returned an interception for a score. The Gritz Blitz was back.
The stadium was full this day as fans ignored the past history of the team and despite it being near 100 degrees at kickoff. A violent thunderstorm also passed over the stadium that day as the Falcons emerged with a 47-27 victory. Family watching back home later told me the lightning even knocked the game off the air for a few minutes.
Glanville, in true pro wrestling style, was not a fan of new Houston Oilers head coach Jack Pardee. After Glanville’s departure, Pardee was hired from the University of Houston to coach the city’s professional team.
“The new coach must really be something,” Glanville said. “They are paying him three times as much as the old one.”
During the 1989 season, Pardee’s Houston Cougars defeated an overmatched SMU team 95-21. Yes, you read that correctly. Houston almost put triple digits on the board, never easing off the throttle.
Pardee used a pass every play offense and SMU, which had been given the college death penalty only a couple of years before, looked like a high school team trying to keep up.
Once the Falcons defeated the Oilers, Glanville presented a game ball to SMU noting how “some jerk tried to score 100 points on them last year.” For his efforts the new Atlanta coach gained some fans at SMU but was fined by the NFL. Pardee responded by saying “it’s his game ball, he can do with it what he wants.”
The city was abuzz about the Falcons after week one of the 1990 season. Unfortunately, it would take a season of rebuilding before Glanville guided the team to the playoffs in 1991.
Still, for one Sunday afternoon in “Hot Atlanta,” the Birds had fans believing again.
It’s a game that has always stayed with me, even more than 30 years later. Season openers often have a way of doing that. Now if I can just remember what I need at the grocery store.